Beekeeping Benedictine brother noted for his kindness, faith (2024)

Industrious and hard-working, giving their all for the good of the community — that’s how people describe bees. That description also fits the late Brother Blaise Heuke, Oceanside’s beekeeping Benedictine monk.

Heuke, noted for his ability and expertise in all things apiary, died June 21 at age 80 at Prince of Peace Abbey. His death was noted in the August edition of the Southern Cross, the newspaper of the Roman Catholic diocese of San DIego.

Services were held June 29 and 30 at the abbey, where he made his home for nearly 50 years. He was buried in the abbey cemetery.

Heuke was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer in 2015 after being successfully treated earlier, but chose not to have further treatment.

“He was so serene about the whole thing,” recalled Father Abbot Sharbel Ewen, who presides over the abbey. “He didn’t complain. He said, ‘I’m ready to go home.’ I think that’s pretty positive.

“He was just a gentle person, actually. He was easygoing, so compassionate with people — if someone was irate about something, after they talked to him, they had settled down.”

Heuke was born Joseph Francis Heuke in 1938 in Louisville, Ky., the son of Charles (Carl) and Florence Hurst Heuke. He had seven siblings, all of whom survive him.

He knew early on that he wanted the religious life, and began his novice training in 1958 at St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana. He took his first vows in 1959, receiving the religious name Blaise. In 1962, he took his solemn vows and became a Benedictine monk.

While studying in Rome, Heuke began learning about beekeeping and was stung so severely on his first efforts that his whole body swelled up. But after that experience, he had no problem with bee stings and seemed to be immune to allergic reactions to them.

His expertise eventually led him to be called whenever people had swarms landing on their property, or especially, when they had hives that needed tending or relocating. The bees also provided honey that was used at the abbey and sold in the gift shop.

For 30 years, he also taught Bible classes for children at Camp Pendleton — “bee-ology,” as he called it. “I used the bees as a way to explain how Christ came down to give his life and imbue the church with his spirit,” Hueke said in a 2015 interview with the San Diego Union Tribune. “I think it’s a really beautiful message.”

At the abbey, he was not only a beekeeper but the main plumber and handyman, skills he had acquired at St. Meinrad’s. “Any problem, he could fix,” said Ewen. “He was very knowledgeable, and he loved to work.”

Will Jones has volunteered at the abbey for four years and lived there for two, helping Heuke with the hives. “The first time I met him, he invited me to go get a swarm with him,” recalled Jones, 73. “I thought I was going to be an observer, but instead I got stung. Not only does it hurt, but it itches afterward! But we started talking right away and became friends.”

Their bond was so strong that it was Jones who nursed Heuke when the brother became ill.

“I elected to be his caregiver,” Jones said. “That’s what I did that (last) year and a half. He was just an all-around guy. He could do anything. I could barely believe that such a man was so full of love and joy and happiness.”

Brother Peter Khoa has been designated as the abbey’s beekeeper, said Jones, but he will still work with the hives. “I’m just happy that we’re continuing on with it,” he said.

Jones admired Heuke and everything he did at the abbey. “His faith was so strong. He gave everything he had for living a life as a monk. He was living his dream. He was a little guy with a big heart and was a good friend to his brothers and to the community.”

And a friend to the bees, though they may not always have realized it. About 13 years ago, said Jones, a huge die-off nearly put an end to all the beekeeping.

Heuke theorized that cellular signals from two newly installed towers had disoriented and disturbed the bees, hastening the hives’ collapse. He scouted the property until he found a place where cellphone reception was poor, and moved the remaining hives there, where they began again to thrive. An infusion of nutritious syrup donated by another beekeeper is also helping keep them healthy.

“And I can tell you that the last time we went out to visit the hives, Brother Blaise got stung,” said Jones.

Beekeeping Benedictine brother noted for his kindness, faith (2024)


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