Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Faithful servants rebuilding: St. Joseph's Abbey and Seminary in Covington, LA

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.John 16:33, King James Version

     Tribulation is something the Benedictine monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey and Seminary near Covington, LA understand. The facility has overcome disaster before, including a devastating fire in 1906-07 and a flood in 1927. They persevere and overcome, in God’s name. This year, however, brought something brutal to the tranquil buildings and grounds.

     On March 11, 2016, a flood rolled over the campus as the nearby Bogue Falaya inundated the surrounding area. Every building was damaged in some way, but none of the students or staff was injured. Restoration work goes on and no tour visitors are allowed on campus at present. Damages loss estimates have topped $30 million and the Abbey had no flood insurance. No flood since 1927 had damaged the property.

The sanctuary before the flood

     The beautiful church building, the seminary classrooms and housing, the Retreat Center, the Gift Shop – all the buildings suffered damage to one degree or another. None of the priceless art work of the Abbey was destroyed, but immediate conservation efforts kicked in to prevent damage from the standing water. The raised sanctuary was not damaged, but the lower level (which housed the physical plant for the church) was heavily damaged and required extensive renovations before the church could reopen for public services on June 19. 

Another view of the church before the flood

Loaves cooling in the bakeshop before the flood
        The volunteer-staffed ministries of the Abbey suffered, too. The Pennies for Bread bakeshop once baked a thousand loaves a week to distribute to indigent ministries across the area. The woodworking shop built caskets for the monks of the Abbey as well as by order for others. The apiary ministry boasted twenty hives and honey produced by the hives was sold in the Gift Shop.

Pre-flood bee hives

     Most of the bee hives were destroyed, but beekeeper Jeff Horchoff has begun rebuilding the program with bee swarms captured from other locations. Anyone with a swarm which needs relocation can contact him and he will remove the swarm, relocating it to the Abbey grounds. Horchoff was able to recover many of the physical hive parts when the waters receded, enabling him to provide new homes for the captured swarms. Donations came from many directions, including a school group, to help repair and replace hives, too.

Woodworking shop before the flood
      All of the equipment in the woodworking shop and bakery requires extensive cleaning and testing before either of the programs can begin operations again. Electricity powers most of the tools; any undiscovered damage could prove catastrophic. The bake shop has not resumed activity yet. The woodworking shop came back on line several weeks after the flood.

     I had the privilege of visiting St. Joseph’s a week before the flood. I saw the ministries at work and had a chance to worship in the beautiful church. Reports of the flooding and damage brought tears of sorrow, even as I rejoiced that no lives had been lost. The deeply rooted faith and commitment to Christian service which I witnessed during my visit will bring the facility back even stronger than it was. I can’t wait to see what God will do through them next.

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified. And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.Isaiah 61:3-4, King James Version

The ministries of St. Joseph’s Abbey and Seminary have been dealt a setback, but will return as the restoration is completed. Modular classrooms will house the students when they return for the autumn sessions. Tours will resume on September 1. St. Joseph's overcomes through faith and diligent effort.

To donate to the rebuilding efforts, go to To view photos of the flooding and recovery efforts, go to

No comments: