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At St. Joseph Abbey, Rebuilding Both Big And Small After Floods

Jeff Horchoff points out bee boxes
Ryan Kailath
Volunteer Jeff Horchoff points out rot growing in pieces of the broken bee hives he retrieved from the woods outside of St. Joseph Abbey, north of Covington, La., after severe flooding.

Recovery efforts are in full swing on the Northshore, where some areas received record flooding. At Saint Joseph Abbey -- a seminary college just north of Covington -- the campus, which last flooded in 1926, received between 20 and 24 inches of flooding.


The 1,200 acre campus at Saint Joseph Abbey looks like something out of Downton Abbey. It’s elegant and stately, with a grand church overlooking a perfectly manicured lawn. Driving up this morning, nothing seems amiss, until you see the massive dumpster on the front lawn. It’s full of carpeting, sheetrock, furniture and debris—and it’s full to overflowing. A truck drops off a new, empty dumpster, and gets ready to haul the full one away.

St. Joseph Abbey was hit hard by flooding on Friday night. “Every building here—over 14 buildings were flooded,” says Abbot Justin Brown, the spiritual father of the monastery. “A lot of damage. Classrooms and housing, library, and dining facility, all were affected. It’s just so massive it’s gonna take a while.”

To make things worse, the Abbey did not carry flood insurance. “I guess we thought we wouldn’t need it,” says Brown. “This is the place generally known for its high ground in the area.”

Last weekend’s flood has changed that picture. And St. Joseph Abbey isn’t alone. Of the more than 700 people rescued in St. Tammany Parish, around 500 of them were on similar, small back roads north of Covington.

138 students of the seminary college were sent home, and Abbot Brown hopes to resume classes on Monday. Besides stopping classes, the flooding also knocked out the Abbey’s commercial enterprises, like their woodworking shop. The monastery makes and sells caskets in the community. They also have a gift shop where they sell homemade products.

Jeff Horchoff raises bees at the Abbey and sells their honey. He lost 300,000 bees overnight when 15 of his beehive boxes filled with water and floated away.

“They traveled I’d say a good 100 yards up into the woods,” Horchoff says. “We were anticipating about 140 gallons of honey this year. Now? Zero.”

Three of Horchoff’s hives survived, and he’s using them to slowly rebuild, with the help of a friend in Mississippi who can provide new queen bees.

Despite the large—and tiny—stresses of rebuilding at the monastery, Abbot Justin Brown recognizes the bigger picture.

“We’re certainly aware that there are thousands of people out there in the state who are dealing with this same situation and in some cases much worse than we are,” Brown says. “So we’re very much with them in prayer, and our thoughts go out to so many others.”