Volunteer Works for Heavenly Reward at Abbey

No matter where you see him, Jeff Horchoff, with his ebullient demeanor and Cheshire grin, always seems to be the center of attention. It's easy to picture Jeff in his previous life as a mailman in Mandeville for 27 years, where he could often be found chatting up residents at their front doors or in their driveways.

Horchoff, one of Saint Joseph Abbey's most visible and audible volunteers, has been working in the Abbey's casket making operation, Saint Joseph Woodworks, for more than 10 years. He also runs ABBEE Honey, the beekeeping operation here. You may recognize him as the "Bee Wrangler" from his many bee catching You Tube videos, one of which has more than 8 million views.

Born and raised in New Orleans, Horchoff's father was in the Air Force and a talented cabinetmaker. Recognizing his own penchant for woodworking, Horchoff took some cabinet making courses at Delgado before moving to the Northshore to work with a local woodworker. He later joined the Post Office in 1982.

"It was a great job. It went along with my personality and being able to talk to everyone. Other postal employees started calling me Mr. Ed there (after the TV sitcom character Mister Ed, the Talking Horse); it stuck through my whole career," Horchoff said.

As a parishioner at St. Jane de Chantal in Abita Springs, Horchoff visited the Abbey once or twice over the years. He says there was a mystique about the place and that it always seemed surreal. Also at St. Jane was Deacon Mark Coudrain, director of Saint Joseph Woodworks. Coudrain knew Horchoff was thinking about retiring and thought he would be a perfect fit for Woodworks. The joy of volunteering here is what drew him in.

Horchoff has been keeping bees at his home since 1978. When one of the monks asked him to help launch a beekeeping operation at the Abbey, Horchoff was all in.

"The reason I continue with bees is the connection between the bee and the spiritual life. While working and keeping bees, that is when I see God's hand in them. I also see a connection to monastic life. Monks and bees both live in a community, they each have common goals and a service to others. Their lives are geared to the continuation or perpetuation of the colony or monastery," Horchoff said.

This connection to a spiritual life has a personal meaning to Horchoff. Already an Abbey oblate, Horchoff is making plans to become a Claustral Oblate of the Abbey. Under these unique circumstances, Horchoff will enter the monastic community and live the life of a Benedictine monk, but not profess vows.

"If you pray with the monks long enough as I have, something happens to you. I already had been teaching catechism and RCIA, so I had background in the faith. Through prayer there's a deeper meaning to the knowledge I have gained through teaching. I discovered a sense of peace and tranquility here at the Abbey, something I also felt before when I was married. My plan is to eventually call Saint Joseph Abbey home," Horchoff stated.

For now, Horchoff continues to cut up (literally and figuratively) in Saint Joseph Woodworks and stay busy with his hives. He's also developing a new breed of bee at the Abbey, which will take about seven years. Only two years in, Horchoff plans to develop a line of bees that are able to survive on their own and get their own food source.

"To be able to volunteer, circumstances really need to be in place. I think it is difficult for people who have lives and responsibilities to set apart time to just give for the sake of giving. What you find in that self sacrifice of time, there's no price tag. It's invaluable. For me, I'm no longer working for my earthly reward, just my heavenly reward," Horchoff said.

To support ABBEE Honey, please visit www.youtube.com/jeffhorchoff. Viewing Mr. Ed's videos helps generate income that supports the program.