The Brigittine Monks
The Brigittine monks, originally founded in 1370 and “reborn” in 1976, are well-known today for their confections. Editor Elizabeth Herzing interviews one of the monks, Br. Steven Vargo, about the history and mission of the Oregon-based order.
Q. Please provide a brief history of the Brigittine monks and their mission.
The Order of the Most Holy Savior, popularly known as the Brigittine, was founded in 1370 by St. Bridget of Sweden. Its primary purpose is to give praise and honor to God. Characteristics of the Brigittine order include a deep love of Christ, especially in remembrance of his sufferings, fullness of liturgical worship, and an authentic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the holy Mother of God. All of these traits are incorporated into a simple monastic lifestyle. We live according to the Rule of St. Augustine, and we are given to prayer and contemplation.
The community celebration of the Eucharist is the apex of our monastic day. The entire Liturgy of the Hours is sung at scheduled times throughout the day with the rosary and spiritual reading, including Scripture, at specified times.
The Brigittine monks existed from the fourteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century, when they were dispersed, largely due to the European wars.
In March 1976, Br. Benedict Kirby founded a new branch of the Brigittine monks. Our monastery is dedicated to Our Lady of Consolation and located in the tranquil countryside of Amity, OR. It has the canonical status of a priory Sui Iuris, an independent mission.
Q. How did your work with gourmet confections get started?
When the community first started, we made carrot and zucchini cakes as a means of self-support. Those items sold very well, but had a limited shelf life. In the 1980s, many monasteries were making fruitcakes or cheese. We wanted to do something different, so we started to experiment with making fudge. We started by using a basic recipe and making small batches in our kitchen. After reading books on candy making and consulting with other home candy makers, we formulated our own gourmet fudge recipe. The assistance of a professional candy maker further advanced our endeavors. That’s when we learned how to improve our fudge and how to make truffles. We started producing our gourmet fudge in 1982 and truffles in 1983.
Q. Are some of your sweet treats seasonal?
Yes, some of our gourmet confections are seasonal. The mint and butter rum truffle, along with our chocolate cherry nut fudge and amaretto fudge, are seasonal. They are available from mid-September until they’re sold out after Christmas. The truffles can’t be shipped in hot weather, so online availability is based on location. They are shipped from May until September in areas where weather permits. They are available at the monastery gift shop year-round and sold locally.
Q. What do you think makes your confections stand out from others?
Monasteries are known for making quality products. We take the extra time and effort to make something special. Our fudge is hand-finished with a swirl on top, and our truffles are hand-rolled. Select ones are hand-dipped. Quality ingredients and attention to detail ensure that each batch has the same taste and texture. That’s why our customers keep returning year after year.
Q. What are some challenges you face? How do you foresee overcoming them?
Our biggest challenge is one that is evident in all religious communities: a decline in individuals pursuing religious vocations. We’ve tried to extend our reach by expanding our means of communication, using the internet and social media to get our message out to young people. In addition, we have begun considering candidates from other countries, where there are limited options for engaging in the contemplative monastic life.
We also invite prospective candidates to visit the monastery for a weekend. And we extend invitations to local Catholic school groups to learn more about our religious life by visiting the monastery on field trips.
We are constantly challenged to increase revenue through sales. Currently we’re evaluating our marketing endeavors. We have revamped our website and added a new “shopping cart.” One of our Facebook sites, “The Brigittine Monks Gourmet Confections,” keeps people informed about our latest monthly special and offers visitors an inside view of our gourmet confections through pictures of the monks making fudge and truffles.
Q. How can people learn more and order your products?
We have several ways people can reach us:
23300 Southwest Walker Lane
Amity, OR 97101
To learn more about the Brigittine order on Facebook, see:
The Brigittine Monks of the Order of the Most Holy Savior.
To learn more about the monks’ confections on Facebook, see:
The Brigittine Monks Gourmet Confections.