It was said that when St. Bernard of Clairvaux preached, it was as if honey flowed from his mouth.
So it’s fitting that St. Bernard parish, under the guidance of Father Charles D. Walker, has become home to a couple of hives of bees — producers of honey.
Father Walker said he’s found the life of bees fascinating since the days of his youth, but had never had the opportunity to become an active beekeeper until now.
On the Sunday before the Kentucky Derby, St. Bernard at 7500 Tangelo Drive, took ownership of two hives of bees. Those hives rest on elevated platforms at the rear of the parish rectory — they’re in Father Walker’s back yard.
And how they came to be there is a lesson in serendipity.
According to Father Walker, the bees-to-St. Bernard tale began to take shape when Julie Perdue became principal of the parish school in the 2019-2020 school year.
“She’s a native parishioner,” he noted, adding that she came to the job full of enthusiasm, even if her impact was muted a bit when COVID-19 came to call.
“She started by putting up lots of signs with “B” themes,” Father Walker explained. “There were images of honeycombs, signs saying ‘B’ kind, ‘B’ studious, ‘B’ holy. And I found out that St. Bernard is one of several patron saints of beekeepers.”
Father Walker also has friends who are beekeepers.
“I thought that maybe if we could get a couple of hives, it would be a good thing,” he said. “It would be good for the kids in school, they could learn about how bees help with pollination, how they organize the hives, produce their honey, that kind of thing.”
And it would be good for the neighborhood, too, he added. Bees help flowers and fruit trees, keeping them pollinated and healthy.
It turned out that Dale and Betty Pike, Father Walker’s friends, had been raising bees since their retirement. “They have ten hives,” he explained. “Four on their own property and the rest on (former University of Louisville basketball coach) Denny Crum’s farm.”
In March Dale Pike heard through bee-club friends that someone in Shelbyville was selling a couple of nearly-new hives valued at about $900 for the sweet price of just $350.
A honey of a deal you might say.
So Father Chuck told his parish about the bees and recruited a dozen or so volunteer beekeepers. They built the platforms for the hives; most bought beekeeping suits. But the spring weather didn’t cooperate.
“It was too wet and too cold to move bees,” the priest said.
Then as the weather began to turn, Greg and Karen Shade — also friends of Father Walker and beekeepers in the Highlands — stepped up to help, too.
“Karen said she’d donate a set of bees she found in a swarm on a tree,” he explained. With that set and the bees from the Pikes, both with queens, the hives at St. Bernard were in business.
“So far one of the hives is really thriving,” said Father Walker. “You can stand at the back of the hive and hear them really humming; it’s like it’s almost vibrating.”
The other hive, while healthy, has been a bit slower to get established. Either way, no honey will be taken from the hives for at least a year, maybe two, to allow both communities of bees to become established.
In the meantime, students at St. Bernard School have paid visits to the hives.
“The young kids, the kindergartners, first-graders and such will get right up to the hives,” said Father Walker. “I told them they have nothing to fear; that if a bee lands on them they just have to shimmy like a horse and the bee will leave.”
Sure enough, one little boy put the shaking to a test after a bee landed on his arm. “He said ‘Father Chuck, I did what you said; I shook like a horse and the bee flew off.’ ”
Older kids are more wary, Father Walker said. “They stand so far away from the hives I practically have to shout at them to be heard. Those older kids are the most fearful by far.”
Father Walker’s friend, Dale Pike, told the priest that he has enough frames of honey that perhaps some of the students “might get a chance to take a little honey home with them.”
That would be sweet.