People often ask, “Why Raven?” They assume the name of the business alludes to the poem of the same name by Edgar Allen Poe. Too obvious. The story behind RAVEN consists of much more. As strange as it may seem – for a troubled kid from a broken home growing up and attending school in the city of Detroit – I was fortunate enough to be educated for 12 years by Benedictine Monks.
The founder of the Benedictine order, Saint Benedict, was known for having a raven as a regular companion; hence, our school mascot was a raven. I attended Benedictine High School and we were the Benedictine Ravens. The reason for the name of the business then: to honor the Monks and acknowledge their impact on my life. Not to create, with my background story, a false image of myself as a practicing Catholic, but there is even more to the story of RAVEN which involves a Mercy nun, but I’ll get to that later.
When I attended high school in the late 1970’s to early1980’s there were only three Benedictine monasteries in all of North America. One of these monasteries was in Oxford, MI, about 40 miles north of where I lived in northwest Detroit. St. Scholastica was the name of my parish, and the Benedictine monks had a satellite monastery there. The mission of the Benedictine order is the preservation of literature and the arts. True to form, the monks on campus were very learned men of letters and the fine arts.
Most of the faculty at my high school attended college in the late 60’s and early 70’s, several of the monks as well. Enough said. A result of the times, the guiding principle when I attended Benedictine was critical thinking. The mantra would echo in every humanities class, stressed repeatedly by every instructor. We were to trust nothing at face value, and we were encouraged to, in fact, required to, question everything. While this educational philosophy did not bode well for the dropout rate amongst the monk population on campus, it made for a free spirited, open-minded educational experience where individuality thrived for students, teachers, and monks alike.
There was one monk in particular, Father Livious, from Italy, who was talented in the art of mosaics. Over the years the church grounds and campuses were decorated with much of his work. He was also a fine writer and scribed a very popular column in the church paper each week, Monk’s Musings, where he reflected on his daily experiences as they pertained to the scripture of the week. Many a Sunday morning, or Saturday evening, a monk could observe me from his pulpit, sneaking into the vestibule of the Church to grab a church paper. Thanks to one monks musings, I could review the column and not only appear to have attended Mass, church paper in hand as proof, but adequately discourse with my mother regarding the message of the Gospel that week. (Today, a monk’s blog could serve the same purpose, relieving the guilty party from having to endure the shame of slithering in and out of a blessed sanctuary, mindful of the watchful eye of a holy man overseeing a sacred ceremony!). Later in life, as an upper class-men at Benedictine High School and as a college student, I came to love these musings and indeed looked forward to reading them each week. I collected them for years and there were stacks of them in my library at the house in Detroit.
Yes, a library. A wayward teen, who for a time lived on the streets of Detroit, ended up with his own library – no doubt the long term effect of a Benedictine education. You see, in the 11th year of my retreat, the monks message finally took some root in me.
But here is the disharmony intrinsic of new enlightenment: born the fifth of six children from a big three family presented a contrary set of cultural mores, key among them – finish high school and work the same automotive job for the next 30 years. So at age 17, I found myself sandwiched between two of the largest corporations in the world: General Motors and the Catholic Church. If I would endure the ridicule, follow my new found calling, and – really as I saw it – honor the privilege of my education, then I would be the first and only of my generation to attend college. I chose the Church, in particular, Mercy College of Detroit, located kitty corner to Benedictine High School. It was here where I met a Mercy nun named Sr. Christian, and how the Raven Writing Studios began its story.