Monk in Oklahoma puts chickens to work in support of mission

An AP Member Exchange shared by The Oklahoman

SHAWNEE, Okla. (AP) — The Rev. Boniface Copelin has worn many hats at St. Gregory’s Monastery, from tailor, formation director and carpenter to associate professor, vocation director and prior.

Two years ago, he added yet another — unlikely — title: chicken wrangler.

Copelin, a priest with the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, is part of the monastic community at St. Gregory’s.

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As the sun comes up, this Benedictine monk on the Oklahoma prairie often may be found tending to about 40 squawking chickens and a handful of turkeys and blustering roosters.

The Oklahoman ( ) reports that Copelin said he took charge of his feathered friends at the request of Brother George Hubl, another monk at St. Gregory’s. Hubl was preparing to attend a state college and worried about the well-being of the chickens he had been caring for as pets.

Copelin said he didn’t hesitate to offer his help.

“I said I would take care of them if I could make them work for a living,” Copelin said, tongue in cheek.

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The chickens had been residents of the picturesque monastery for quite some time, so they were fair game for the enterprise the clergyman had in mind.

The priest said he had always been interested in animals and earned a master’s degree in zoology from Ohio State University. So he was excited to take over the chicken coop.

He set about creating a mobile laying house for the laying hens among Hubl’s pets.

When people clamored for the project’s results, Copelin knew his idea had borne fruit or, specifically, eggs.

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Each morning, 55-year-old Copelin feeds the laying hens, along with some other chickens, roosters and turkeys in a separate movable shelter. In the afternoons, Copelin visits the laying hens to retrieve eggs.

He said the hens produce two dozen to three dozen eggs each day.

Hubl had been giving eggs to people on the St. Gregory’s University campus who had expressed an interest.

When Copelin started his egg enterprise, he told people around the campus that the eggs were still available but wouldn’t come cheep, er, cheap, anymore.

He created an email list to let the St. Gregory’s community know how many eggs were available in a cooler at the monastery’s office each week.

The email list grew as word spread of the bounty of brown eggs available on Tuesdays and Fridays. Money from the sale of the eggs helps meet assorted needs at the monastery.

Meanwhile, some folks are a little bit surprised to learn of the egg venture.

“I think most people don’t know exactly what monks do. They might think we sit around and pray all day long, and while prayer is a very important part of our life, so is work,” Copelin said.

Benedictine monks have been working in Oklahoma since the late 1800s, particularly in the area of education, he said. They have worked on their sprawling property in Shawnee in other ways as well, just as other landowners have done for years.

“If you have land and you’ve got animals, you’ve got to take care of it, so we’ve always had some involvement in agriculture,” Copelin said.

So what about Hubl? What did he think of the eggs-ellent mission?

Grinning, Copelin said his fellow monk is very supportive and is now part of the project.

“I still call him the founder of the flock.”

The Rev. Lawrence Stasyszen, abbot of St. Gregory’s, said he thinks the chicken project is a good example of sustainable farming.

He said he has had fun with the project, particularly when Copelin asked for suggestions for names for the movable chicken coop.

“I submitted a name in Latin: Currus Optissimus Ovum Pullarumque, roughly translated as The Most Excellent Chariot of Eggs and Chickens. That would be C.O.O.P. for short, a bit of a Latin joke,” Stasyszen said.

“However, my suggestion apparently did not survive the chopping block!”