CATONSVILLE, Md. — With an apron covering her long black religious habit, Sister Deborah Rose Rosado marveled at the steady stream of thick, golden goo she poured into a small glass jar.
Anxious to stop the flow as the sticky substance reached the container’s pint capacity, Rosado screwed on a metal cap before one of her fellow All Saints Sisters of the Poor attached a tag.
“Produced by resident bees at All Saints Sisters of the Poor Convent,” the label proudly proclaims. “Harvested and bottled in Catonsville, Maryland.” Hundreds of thousands of bees living in 12 colonies scattered across the religious community’s bucolic 100-acre campus helped produce the bottled honey held in Rosado’s hands.
The existence of substance is a feat, according to Rosado, highlights the intentionality behind God’s creation.
Bees collect nectar from flowers and plants across the property and within a three-mile radius, Rosado said, bringing it back to beehives where they process it into honey. During the 6-week lifespan of each worker bee, each insect produces only 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey. Yet, taken together, this 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,” Rosado said. “God created these tiny little creatures that do so much and work so hard.”
The All Saints Sisters of the Poor first got involved in growing bee colonies three years ago when two of their neighbors, both hobby beekeepers, asked if they could establish hives on the property. nuns.
Beekeepers, Clement Purcell of Mount Calvary Catholic Church in Baltimore and Martin Kersse of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City, take care of hive maintenance and honey extraction. The sisters’ job is to bottle the sweet product, which is divided between Purcell, Kersse and the sisters.
Raw honey sells for $20 a jar in the All Saints Sisters of the Poor gift shop, with profits plowed back into beekeeping.
The honey jar labels include an image of Our Lady of Walsingham, one of the first apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, particularly beloved by English Catholics and many Anglicans. This is important to the All Saints Sisters of the Poor who came to Maryland in 1872 as the American branch of an Anglican religious community of women in England.
The Baltimore Sisters were received into the Catholic Church in 2009 by then-Archbishop of Baltimore, Edwin F. O’Brien, and are now recognized as a “diocesan institute” of nuns 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 honey when it is harvested during the summer.
The sisters have a long-standing concern for nature – raising bluebirds, rehabilitating injured or sick animals and helping to preserve endangered species. In recent years they have bred monarch butterflies.
“We are a part contemplative and part active community,” Lindsey explained. “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. It gives us opportunities to participate almost in as a co-creator as we bring new life and sustain it.
Purcell, a biologist by training, said there are many examples of the hand of God in beekeeping. He noted, for example, that when the temperature reaches exactly 57 degrees or less, the bees’ wings stop working.
“So they’re a group,” said Purcell, who wears protective clothing and uses soothing smoke when handling bee colonies. “They release their wings and they vibrate and that generates heat. They protect the queen bee. It is the miracle of God.
Lindsey said the honey produced by the sisters’ bees is always sweet, but has different characteristics each year depending on what the bees eat. This year’s batch is a slightly darker shade of gold and is thicker than previous years.
The hardest part of the sisters’ job, she said, is dealing with all the stiffness. The sisters constantly clean the bottles and keep the surfaces clean, she said. They rely on the intercession of Saint Ambrose, patron saint of beekeepers.
Beekeeping and the tedious process of collecting and bottling honey takes time and effort, Lindsey said. But it is rewarding.
“It’s a perfect use of our property and helps with bee conservation,” she noted, “and you get something wonderful in return.”
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Matysek is editor of the Catholic Review, media outlet for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.