Show Me the Honey: Maryland Sisters Find Divine Touch in Beekeeping

By George P. Matysek Jr., Catholic News Service

CATONSVILLE, Md. (CNS) – Wearing an apron protecting her long, black religious habit, Sister Deborah Rose Rosado marveled at the steady stream of thick, gold gunk she poured into a small glass jar.

Careful to stop the flow when the gooey substance reached the capacity of one pint, Sister Deborah Rose screwed on a metal cap before one of her fellow All Saints Sisters of the Poor put a label on it.

“Produced by bees-in-residence at the All Saints Sisters of the Poor Convent,” the label proudly proclaims. “Harvested and bottled in Catonsville, Maryland.” Hundreds of thousands of honeybees living in 12 colonies spread across the religious community’s 100-acre rural campus helped produce the bottled honey held in the hands of Sister Deborah Rose.

Sister Deborah Rose Rosado of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor in Catonsville, Maryland, pours honey into a jar on Aug. 16, 2022. (CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)

The existence of the substance is an achievement, Sister Deborah Rose believes, which emphasizes the intent behind God’s creation.

The bees collect nectar from flowers and plants all over the property and within a three-mile radius, Sister Deborah Rose said, returning it to the hives where they turn it into honey. Over the course of each worker bee’s 6-week lifespan, each insect produces only 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey. Still, that honey is enough to fill more than 200 jars.

“The process of working with nature and having this honey—this beautiful, golden honey—is very meditative,” said Sister Deborah Rose. “God created these little creatures who do so much and work so hard.”

The All Saints Sisters of the Poor first became involved in cultivating bee colonies three years ago when two of their neighbors, both amateur beekeepers, asked if they could build beehives on the nuns’ property.

The beekeepers, Clement Purcell of Mount Calvary Catholic Church in Baltimore and Martin Kersse of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City, tend the beehives and extract the honey. The sisters’ job is to bottle the sweet product, which is distributed among Purcell, Kersse and the sisters.

The raw honey is sold for $20 a jar at the All Saints Sisters of the Poor gift shop, and the proceeds are reinvested in beekeeping.

The honey jar labels include an image of Our Lady of Walsingham, one of the earliest apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially loved by English Catholics and many Anglicans. That’s important to the All Saints Sisters of the Poor who came to Maryland in 1872 as an American branch of an Anglican religious community for women in England.

The Baltimore Sisters were inducted into the Catholic Church in 2009 by then-Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore and are now recognized as a “diocesan institution” of religious women overseen by the Archbishop of Baltimore.

Mother Emily Ann Lindsey, Superior General of the religious community, said five sisters spend several hours each afternoon bottling the honey when it is harvested in the summer.

The sisters have long been concerned about wildlife: caring for bluebirds, rehabilitating injured or sick animals, and promoting the conservation of troubled species. In recent years, they have raised monarch butterflies.

“We are a community that is part contemplative and part active,” explains mother Emily Ann. “When you interact with creation, you actually participate in that creation in a different way. It nourishes us spiritually because it brings us closer to our Lord through what he has created. He gives us the opportunity to participate almost as co-creators as we bring forth and sustain new life.”

Purcell, a biologist by training, said there are many examples of God’s hand in beekeeping. For example, he noted that when the temperature reaches exactly 57 degrees or lower, the bees’ wings stop functioning.

“So they form a cluster,” says Purcell, who wears protective gear and uses calming smoke when handling the bee colonies. “They let go of their wings and they vibrate and that generates heat. They protect the queen bee. This is the miracle of God.”

Mother Emily Ann said the honey produced by the sisters’ bees is always sweet, but has different properties every year depending on what the bees eat. This year’s batch is a slightly darker shade of gold and thicker than previous years.

The hardest part of the sisters’ job, she said, is dealing with all the stickiness. The sisters are constantly cleaning bottles and keeping surfaces clean, she said. They rely on the intercession of St. Ambrose, patron saint of beekeepers.

Keeping bees and the tedious process of collecting and bottling honey takes time and effort, said mom Emily Ann. But it’s worth it.

“It’s a perfect use of our property and helps conserve bees,” she noted, “and you get something great in return.”

– – –

Matysek is editor-in-chief of the Catholic Review, the news channel of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: