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Former Catholic priest finds new calling building reasonably priced caskets


Simple Pine Box - Facebook - Fair Use

J-P Mauro - published on 07/18/18

Mark Coen considers his new vocation another kind of service.

For 20 years, Mark Coen served the community of Duluth, Minnesota, as a Catholic priest. Coen enjoyed serving the Lord, but he found the job to be isolating, with a stressful workload, he explained to KARE11 News:

“It got to be lonely. Sometimes I wished the phone wouldn’t ring and sometimes I looked at my desk full of papers and just wanted to go take a walk. I began to know this wasn’t going to get any better.” Mark added, “I didn’t go away from being a man of faith or serving the Lord, I just decided to go a different way.”

It was about eight years ago that Coen received laicization from the Vatican and began looking for his new calling. Unfortunately, his new mission would only be found through tragedy. He explains on his website that when his father died, he couldn’t find an affordable casket to lay him in.

My father died five years ago and our family needed to rent a casket for his wake and funeral, then his body was cremated. The 24-hour rental fee for the casket was $1,000. The only casket for sale near that price was made of cloth-covered particle board. Couldn’t someone make a simple yet dignified casket out of wood for less than $1,000? I felt called to be that person. I now make that Simple Pine Box casket for $650.

With the faithfulness of the “Holy Fools” of old, Mark heard the calling and began making affordable caskets, with no formal woodworking training. He started a formal business called Simple Pine Box, which along with caskets produces cremation urns for $125.

Fittingly enough for the former priest, when he was looking for a place to base his new business, he settled on an old Lutheran church that had been on the market for several years and had a nice discount. Now, Coen lives in the adjoining rectory and works out of the nearly 100-year-old building’s basement. Each casket takes him between 20 and 30 hours of labor to construct.

The caskets look professionally made, with a sectioned top that can be removed for viewing and a comforter laid across the bottom for padding. He joked with KARE11 reporters, saying, “I’ve actually taken a nap in [the casket], just to test it out.” He chuckled to himself, “Someday I’ll take a long nap in there.”

Indeed he seems to have a great sense of humor about his new job. He writes on his website:

I am also trying to “urn” a living. If you have read my website this far and are not in the market for one of my products, could you please remember me when you speak with someone who is “dying” to buy an urn or casket? (Ok … yes … I have a sense of humor … hope you do too.) It is difficult to market this product so I really need to “think outside the box.” With your help I will be able to stay busy and perhaps someday I will be “buried in my work.” … God Bless! Mark

If you are interested in a Simple Pine Box, you can order them up to 2 years in advance on Coen’s website.


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