Sweetness and light
O sting, where is thy death?
Father George Jacquemin, longtime beekeeper, sees analogies between his honey-making colonies and our collective spiritual lives. He notes, for example, how the insects’ sacrificial sting will send individual honeybees to the sweet by-and-by.
“Bees are willing to give their lives for the good of the hive,” said the pastor of St. Clare parish in Cincinnati’s College Hill neighborhood. “We’re called to be selfless for the overall good. That analogy fits the martyrs who died for the faith so that the faith would live in others. One of my heroes is Bishop Oscar Romero, who was willing to die so the faith of the community would live.
“In a hive, bees all have part to play – you might say their talents or gifts. You have the ones guarding the hive, the ones making wax, the other roles. It parallels the scripture message we had [a few weeks ago] from I Corinthians. The body has many parts. Everyone has their role but we’re all part of one body.”
Father Jacquemin, 69, is avid in his study of bees — “if doing it for 30 years makes you avid,” he said.
He grew up on a family farm in Fairfield, where his father stored beekeeping equipment related to agriculture studies at Ohio State. As a boy Father Jacquemin would play with the equipment, but his interest remained dormant until he became pastor at St. Bernard in Winton Place, the Cincinnati neighborhood now known as Spring Grove Village.
There, he took an interest in the beekeeping activities of a deacon intern, Tom Stricker. Soon the pastor was minding his own beeswax.
“I told him ‘I think I’d like to try that,’” Father Jacquemin recalled.
“The next spring he had a swarm of bees and said ‘Here you are.’ Then I caught a swarm of my own in the field. Now, at any given time I have 15-20 hives.”
It became apparent he couldn’t keep his growing colonies at the parish, but plenty of room remained at Centennial Farm, so named because it’s been in his family for more than 100 years.
“Prudence has prevailed,” Father Jacquemin said. “I now keep them on the farm. The parishioners humor me, so once a year I have a honey sale. We keep it in the rectory.”
The increasing popularity of locally grown produce has helped boost honey sales, he said.
Meanwhile, his work with wax hasn’t waned, and his wares include an assortment of candles and other beeswax gift items. “I had bags of wax hanging from the barn, and my mother said I needed to get them out of there before they started a fire,” he said. “I finally learned how to purify the wax and to makes molds and welds.”
Ordained in 1972, Father Jacquemin has been a spiritual shepherd since 1998 at St. Clare parish (whose patron saint had a famous affection for God’s creatures). “After 12 years at a parish, normally you move on, but not always if you’re 64 or 65. So I re-upped for another six-year term.”
With priests, naturally, “retirement” doesn’t mean the same thing as in lay jobs.
“Usually what it means is he retires from administrative duties but not the pastoral and sacramental,” Father Jacquemin said. “Priests continue to live longer. We used to die with the boots on, for the most part.”
(His uncle, Father John Jacquemin, once the procurator of St. Gregory Seminary, died in 1996 at age 83.)
Caring for Retired Priests is among the priorities for One Faith, One Hope, One Love, a campaign generously embraced by St. Clare parishioners. The effort there has exceeded its goal by more than 10%.
There’s a strong need to build the pension fund for priests in the archdiocese, Father Jacquemin said. “If you look back on history some of the larger ordination classes were in the early 70s. Those guys are getting ready to retire.”
St. Clare’s campaign has gone “very well,” he added. “The captains who were asked to serve were very generous and giving, and I’m very grateful for the support of our generous donors.”
As for his own retirement plans, Father Jacquemin plans to remain as busy as a bee.
“If the Lord gives me good health I’ll continue to serve,” he said.
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