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November 19, 2007     547 Words

Benedictine Christmas Tree Farm

CINCINNATI—Starting the weekend after Thanksgiving, many families will begin the quest for the perfect Christmas tree. For some people that quest will take them to Marmion Abbey, on the northeast side of Aurora, Illinois, in the western suburbs of Chicago. It is a yearly event that began in the late ’60s, when the Benedictine monks of the abbey stopped raising dairy cows and growing crops, and started planting trees.

The beloved tree farm—which sits on 100 acres of the abbey grounds and consists of approximately 150,000 Austrian, White and Scotch Pines and Spruce trees—has been enriching the Christmas season for thousands of people for decades.

The story of the Benedictine monks at Marmion Abbey and their Christmas tree business are the subjects of St. Anthony Messenger’s December cover article entitled, “Benedictine Christmas Trees,” by Assistant Editor Susan Hines-Brigger, with photos by Karen Callaway. After November 20, the article will be posted at:

The farm started from a federal soil-bank program. Instituted to help stabilize the price of farm produce and conserve soil, it paid farmers on a monthly basis not to grow crops, but rather let the soil go back to grass or plant trees that the government would provide. The monks picked the latter. As part of the agreement, the monks could not sell anything for 10 years.

“After 10 years we had a lot of Christmas trees out there and we went into the Christmas tree business,” says Father Andrew Wahmhoff, who runs the Abbey’s tree farm.

Father Andrew says the tree farm is a ministry on a number of levels. “It’s a ministry to the abbey especially because the proceeds from the Christmas trees are a big help to putting dinner on our table, paying insurance and all that stuff,” he says.

The height of the tree farm’s business centers around Christmas, but work goes full-steam year-round. Throughout the year, Father Andrew is responsible for ordering seedlings, preparing the ground for the next planting and planting the seedlings.

With the help of a tree-planting machine, Father Andrew says, “We can plant 500 in an hour so that adds up pretty quick. We plant 8,000 a year now.” Father Andrew estimates that the farm has sold 5,000 trees each year for the past several years. He also tackles weed control, such as herbicides and mowing, and pest control.

But it’s worth the work. “It is exciting the first two weekends in December with approximately 1,000 cars all over the campus on each Saturday and Sunday, with families going on their tree hunt. Everyone is happy and having such fun,” he says

Father Andrew, who grew up on a farm, finds great joy in planting and cultivating the trees. But the real joy, he says, comes when people start arriving to find their Christmas tree. “You see those families coming and the kids are just excited as can be. It’s a lovely family day,” he says. “It’s very gratifying to be a part of that.”

The second article posted will be, “‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’: The Story Behind the Song,” by Richard W. O’Donnell, with Gabrielle Regney.


Permission is granted to reprint this release.


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