Beekeeper part of community's ecological sustainablity initiative

Saturday, June 17, 2017 - Updated: 5:00 pm

Honey bees from hives on the motherhouse grounds have traveled to the pages of a newly published children’s book called, “Barbee the Bee Visits Sr. Lyn’s Beehives.”

With beautiful photographs and clever dialogue from “Barbee the Bee,” the 32-page book takes readers on a journey to Baden with Sister Lyn Szymkiewicz, a certified beekeeper. The book is sprinkled with interesting facts about bees, how they adapt through the seasons, and how Sister Lyn cares for them.

The project was made possible through an organization called Grow a Generation, which was begun by Dr. Ellen Cavanaugh. Sister Lyn served as a resource mentor, and students from the Baden Academy Charter School (BACS) worked as research fellows in the school’s Media Lab. The school, which is located on the motherhouse grounds, has easy access to Sister Lyn’s bee-keeping and honey-harvesting operations.

The idea for the book was conceived by Alysa Armstrong, then a fifth-grader at BACS. She says she is on a personal mission to save the honey bees and hopes someday to become a beekeeper.

“Alysa had the thought of creating a book about a beekeeper who would teach children that bees are helpful to the environment and don’t want to hurt people,” Sister Lyn says.

The book, which is dedicated to the Sisters of St. Joseph, also highlights their commitment to caring for all creation by conserving resources and living in sustainable ways. All proceeds from the sale of “Barbee the Bee Visits Sr. Lyn’s Beehives” benefit ministries of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

“We always seek to create intergenerational connections with groups working on or with our sisters or through programming so that we might broaden and strengthen our relationships and our community.”

In addition to educating children about the importance of bees, Sister Lyn collaborates with other beekeepers through the Beaver Valley Area Beekeepers Association. The association encourages good beekeeping practices, assists new beekeepers, and educates the general public and government of the honey bees’ crucial role in the natural world.

The beekeepers gathered recently at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse in Baden to discuss a timely topic, the devastation of bee colonies caused by varroa mites. While honey bee losses have slowed in the past year, the losses are still unacceptably high, according to the Bee Informed Partnership. Sister Lyn joined twenty four other beekeepers at a two-day workshop where they discussed how to control the mites.

Sister Lyn is following in the tradition of the pioneering sisters who worked the farm and operated an apiary in the early 1900s on their grounds.

Under the umbrella of Earth Tones ministry, the sisters are raising more than a dozen egg-laying hens, coordinating two community gardens, and training youth in sustainable gardening. Since 2010, the sisters and community garden participants have donated more than 7,500 pounds of fresh produce to local food banks and soup kitchens.

In 2005, two beehives were added to their 94-acre grounds. Sister Lyn typically tends to about a dozen hives, and during a good year, harvests an average of nearly 100 pounds of honey per hive. 

The beeswax is used to make all-natural products, such as moisturizing cream and soap and lip balm. The honey, apiary products and the bee book — as well as other hand-made items by sister artisans — are sold in the motherhouse gift shop as well at as newly opened online gift store at www.stjoseph-baden.org. Click on “support us.”

Sister Lyn often draws inspiration from ‘Laudato si’ (Praise be to you), the second encyclical of Pope Francis on caring for our common home:

“When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a hu­man embryo, a person with disabilities — to offer just a few examples — it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.”

This quote particularly resonates with Sister Lyn.

“It speaks of the reality into which we were created — one that is connected to everything. By coming into relationship with creation — we come to know humanity more deeply and vice-a-versa. It is through the recognition of God in each and every thing that we are drawn into communion,” she says.

Hecht is director of communications for the Sisters of St. Joseph.

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