Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose Barbara Hagel and Jeanette De Young became accidental beekeepers after a friend offered the community a single beehive two years ago.

Both said they have been “swept away” by what they have learned since then, not the least of which is the parallels between bees and community life among women religious.

“Every bee could not exist without the rest of them,” said Sister Hagel, who oversees the community garden where tomatoes, asparagus and other organic vegetables are grown to feed the sisters who reside there. She is the community’s care for creation coordinator.

“It’s the colony that’s the organism, not the individual bee,” she said.

When it comes to living in community and working together and everyone doing their share, “bees do it beautifully,” said Sister De Young.

The grounds of the community’s motherhouse hugs the Fremont hills behind the old mission. Rows of ancient fruit and olive trees shade the peaceful grounds and hawks circled above a chicken coop that produces the sisters’ eggs.

“We found we were participating in an ancient tradition that has helped sustain our planet over thousands of years,” Sister Hagel said about their beekeeping venture which has grown to a dozen hives. It also produces enough honey to sweeten the sisters’ tea and to jar and sell once a year along with Mission olive oil.

Through the 1950s or so, beekeeping was “just part of who we were” as a self-sufficient community, she said, the bees pollinating the property’s olive trees, the largest remaining mission-era grove in California.

Black-and-white photos on the community’s website attest to the fact that the sisters once tended over 30 beehives and produced 80 gallons of honey a year.

Beekeeping, they keep discovering, is still a good fit for the community which lists ‘care for creation’ as one of its critical concerns.

“Bees provide pollination for a third of our food crop,” said Sister Hagel, who explained that while California has “tons” of native bees, there are no native honeybees. Honeybees were brought from Italy with early settlers.

“We need them all,” she said….

The above comes from a June 3 story by Christina Gray in Catholic San Francisco.