On Earth Day’s 50th anniversary, bees buzz with hope for California sisters

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Sr. Barbara Hagel with a frame from one of her hives on the property of the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose in Fremont, California. All of the bees in a hive are genetically related to the queen, making all of the worker bees sisters. (Melanie Lidman)

FREMONT, CALIFORNIA — A few times a week, Sr. Barbara Hagel of the Dominican Sisters of the Queen of the Holy Rosary suits up in a very different type of veil, a mesh facemask that zips to a large white jacket known as a bee suit. Carefully, she reaches in to check on one of the 13 beehives on her property. As she pulls out a frame of honeycomb, it vibrates with bees, a frenetic mass of activity shimmering in black and gold.

Hagel said it can be a spiritual moment, the first glimpse of the bees dancing over honeycomb cells.

“I’m constantly in awe of what I see and what is happening with the bees, and how the more I learn, the more I think about how God made this so incredibly complex and beautiful,” said Hagel, who serves as the Care of Creation and Sustainability coordinator for her congregation, which is also referred to as the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose.

The world celebrates Earth Day on April 22 in the shadow of a global pandemic. This year is the 50th anniversary of the original Earth Day celebrations that birthed the modern environmental movement, though the realities of the COVID-19 outbreak will push most of the celebrations and demonstrations online.

With the widespread collapse of bee colonies and the danger this poses for ecosystems, beekeepers are a small but essential part of the larger fight against climate change.