Resident Spotlight: An Unexpected Ministry

The following article appears in the summer 2018 Villa Voices newsletter.

Resident Spotlight: An Unexpected Ministry

By Sister Mary Ann Flannery, SC

One spring morning, five years ago, Sister Helen Therese Scasny, SC, [former executive director at Light of Hearts Villa] made an announcement at breakfast.

“I’m going to become a beekeeper.”

We were incredulous. “That’s a lot of work, Helen.”

“I know but I met a man at Light of Hearts Villa who was telling me how wonderful it is to raise bees. And, I have read that bees are on the decline and this is catastrophic for the environment. I can do my part to help,” she said.

Ross Oriti, the beekeeper she met, began teaching Sr. Helen the rudiments of beekeeping. Ross was retiring from the business of beekeeping and donated his supplies and equipment to Sr. Helen, and spent the summer training her.

A fellow beekeeper in town, Jim Hensley, learned of Sr. Helen’s initiative and the two joined efforts in helping each other. On warm spring and summer days, Sr. Helen and Jim don their protective suits and work on the four hives she has at her home in Bedford, checking for production, providing water and noting any concerns. 

“Bees are industrious and clever,” explained Sr. Helen, “they usually solve their own problems.”

Sr. Helen and Jim usually harvest honey in early summer and late fall, at the beginning of floral blooms and when they begin to fade. Harvesting honey is a major project. Once removed from the combs of the hives, it is placed in a large extractor to sift debris and impurities such as wax, pollen, propolis, and even bee wings and legs. This process takes place in the barn where jars are arranged to capture the honey. In addition to honey, Sr. Helen has created wax items for sale, like small wax candles.

Selling the honey happens at Light of Hearts Villa and other venues where Sr. Helen is asked to speak on beekeeping. Proceeds go to the Villa for the Sr. Helen Scasny, SC, Benevolent Fund, which assists residents who have outlived their financial recourses.

The lives of bees have been a constant source of intrigue for many writers, including dissertations written on the bee imagery so prolific in Emily Dickinson poetry. But for Sr. Helen, at age 85, the message is simple: “I respect what my bees can teach me. They are among the guardians of the environment and I love learning from them every day. They are remarkable creatures of God and I love telling people that.”

As a visitor timidly approaches the hives to observe the work in progress, a line from Dickinson’s poem, “The Bumble of a Bee,” seems appropriate: “If anybody sneer, Take care—for God is here—”.

This article originally appeared in the spring 2018 issue of Intercom, the quarterly magazine of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, and has been edited for space.


All praise and glory are Yours, Lord our God. For You have called us to serve you and one another in love. Bless our sick today so that they may bear their illness in union with Jesus' sufferings and restore them quickly to health. Bless those who have grown old in Your service and give them courage and strength in their faith. Lead us all to eternal glory. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.