Human Interest

These monks handcraft tiny wood caskets for children lost to miscarriage and stillbirth


For over 20 years, the cloistered monks of New Mellaray Abbey in Iowa have been crafting made-to-order wood caskets for adults as a way of financially sustaining their small community. But according to a November 2020 article at The American Conservative, “Whenever anyone calls to arrange a child’s burial, the monks always send the casket as a gift.” The monks, who have provided handcrafted infant caskets completely free of charge to grieving parents and families as their ministry to bereaved parents experiencing infant loss, do so with the prayer “that all children will be commended to God’s love and care forever.”

The entire manufacturing process and shipping costs, including overnight shipping when necessary, are a completely gratuitous offering of generous grace and sturdy hope at a time when devastated families are most in need of both. Each casket is prayed over by the monk who creates it, and the name of the child it is to be used for is entered into a special book of remembrance that includes every other person who has been buried in one of the caskets.

Marjorie Lehmann, the director for administration at Trappist Caskets, commented that the Trappist-made infant caskets often stand in stark contrast to the Styrofoam-like or plastic bag-resembling receptacles that hospitals use to release children’s remains to their parents.

READ: In remembrance: I am one of the women silently grieving the loss of a baby

One Minnesota family was particularly grateful for the work of the New Melleray monks after they lost their days-old twin daughters to complications of twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome in 2016. While mom Laura Fanucci was vaguely familiar with Trappist Caskets around the time they lost Maggie and Abby, it took several months and a tiny cross another mother brought to a grief support group meeting she participated in that led her to take action. The small wood cross, mere inches in length and diameter, came with the Trappist infant casket, and when Fanucci held it she knew she wanted a Trappist casket for the cremated remains of her precious girls.

While Fanucci goes to visit the cemetery where her girls are buried once or twice a month, the tiny crosses she herself received with the casket that holds both girls are most comforting to her on a daily basis. She gave voice to the common refrain from mothers of miscarriage: “The fear is that your child will be forgotten. Anything that has your child’s name on it is so precious and such a validation of the truth of their existence.”

The work of Trappist Caskets gives silent witness to the beauty and dignity of every single human life, from womb to tomb. As our society increasingly acknowledges the humanity of preborn life lost to miscarriage or stillbirth, the fault lines of the abortion debate inevitably begin to crack. The reality is that our children are just that — children, not clumps of tissue or cells, and their loss is absolutely worthy of grieving.

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