Mendel, Langstroth, Warre, and Kehrle: Research on Bees by Clergymen Motivated Faith to Find Practical Ways to Help the Poor

As a beekeeper and person-motivated-by-faith to care for the poor, I often reflect on the work of four men-of-the-cloth who, as part of their faith, worked with honeybees:

  • Gregor Mendel (1822-1884)
  • Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth (1810-1895)
  • Abbé Émile Warré (1867-1951)
  • Karl Kehrle (aka “Brother Adam” 1898 to 1996)

Gregor Mendel: An Augustinian Friar, Mendel is best known for the theory of genetic inheritance he developed studying peas.  Less well know is that Mendel also kept and studied honeybees, in a bee house he himself designed.  Mendel undertook his study of bees, after completing his study of peas.  However, he was stymied in his attempts to explain the inheretance of genetic traits in bees by their reproductive strategy and consequent mating behaviours. For me, what I find most meaningful, was his motivatioin: as a friar and scientist, Mendel saw himself carrying on the great tradition of the church in seeking to improve the daily lives of people through the study of practical concerns.

Reverend Langstroth: A Congregational pastor, Langstroth studied the behaviour of honeybees in the hive. Reverend Langstroth developed the first hive with movable frames.  Langstroth’s hive remains the standard hive among commercial beekeepers today.  Langstroth wrote A Practical Treatise on the Hive and Honey-Bee. As with Mendel, though, it is Langstroth’s motivation I am most concerned with: In his day, honey was the principal sweetener of foods in America but costly;  Langstroth was motivated by the desire to lower the cost of commercial production of honey, and thus make honey more available to all.

Abbé Émile Warré: Like Langstroth, Warre’s beekeeping was also motivated by concern for the poor. Like Langstrogh, Warre turned his attention to hive design.  Unlike Langstroth, Warre focused not on creating something that would lower the costs of commercial beekeeping, but rather, Warre focused on lowering the costs for individuals to keep bees.  Towards that end, Warre developed a hive that required less material to build in conjunction with developing a bee-management routine that would be less labor intensive. Warre called his hive the Ruche Populaire (people’s hive) .  He gave instructions for the construction of his hive, the principles behind it, and how to use it, in a book he wrote Beekeeping for All (L’ Apiculture Pour Tous). Regarding making beekeeping profitable, and incidently giving insight to his motivations, Warré wrote, ”

“Beekeeping can be profitable. This profit should be the aim of the beekeeper.
And just as no beekeeper says that for him beekeeping is only a hobby, none do it only for its
profits. We have brothers, do not forget, unfortunate brothers who have no experience of beneficent
work. Give to them what nature gives to you in excess.
But how can we get the maximum profits from beekeeping?”

Brother Adam: A Benedictine Monk, In 1917 Brother Adam began developing the strain of bees now called “Buckfast Bees”.  Brother Adam undertook his work in response to the devastation a parasite, Acarapis woodi, was wreaking on English bees.  As his reputation as a bee breeder spread, Brother Adam was called on more and more often to travel and teach.  Though travelling was difficult on him personally, as he was in somewhat frail health, and took him away from the quiet of the monastery, Brother Adam none-the-less did so chearfully. Of his motivations, Brother Adam once wrote:

Everyone is familiar with the guiding principle of St. Benedict – ora et labora – (pray and work). But those who know his writings better will soon see that a further obligation derives from this teaching, namely that of passing on to others the experience gained in ones life and work.”

The lives of these men suggest to me that in the past members of the clergy were quite concerned with, and active in, research on practical matters.

About the Author

Our Executive Director, Stu Richardson, is a former teacher with 25 years in K-12 classrooms. Currently an MDiv. student at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary preparing for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Stu has an M.Ed from Chapman University and an Ed.D. from the University of San Francisco. Outside of work, Stu is a beekeeper with 30 hives of his own set in an organic herb garden. He uses a Worksman Low-Gravity Platform Bike with Extra-Cycle Freetail and a 6 foot Bike-to-Work Trailer for most local errands.