Brother Raphael Maurice Olson, OSB
Monk of Saint John’s Abbey
Born: 25 May 1929
Professed: 21 March 1949
Died: 29 August 2013
Maurice Andrew Olson was born on May 25, 1929, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the third child of Oscar William and Mary Margaret (Foley) Olson. Maurice attended Holy Rosary Parish grade school in Minneapolis from 1934-1945. After grade school, Maurice enrolled in the MacPhail School of Music and took piano lessons for one year. He also worked as an usher at the East Lake Theater. Struggling to discern a vocation, Maurice sought out the advice of an archdiocesan priest, Father Gorman, who suggested that Maurice visit Saint John’s Abbey on the Feast of Saint Benedict, July 11, 1947. After the festal ceremonies, Maurice made arrangements to enter the abbey as a brother candidate.
Maurice arrived at Saint John’s on September 20, 1947, and entered the novitiate in March 1948, receiving the name Raphael in honor of Raphael the Archangel. After completing his novitiate, Brother Raphael professed vows as a Benedictine monk on March 21, 1949.
Following profession, Brother Raphael began working in the sacristy, refectory, and the book bindery. From 1949 to 1950, he was the refectorian for the abbey. Brother Raphael described his work there: “The refectorian was a one-man crew for the entire abbey dining room. The hours were long, 5 AM-9 PM, with time out for prayers and recreation. But the three daily settings for meals, clearing of tables, sweeping and mopping, and putting particular items out for different meals kept me really busy.”
In September 1950, Brother Raphael was sent to Saint John’s mission community at Saint Maur Priory in South Union, Kentucky, the first interracial monastery in the United States. While there, he assisted in the kitchen. In a letter to Abbot Baldwin Dworschak, OSB, in 1951, Brother Raphael described his experience there: “I’m cooking for 14 now. I make pies, cakes, and rolls. Our water is a little dirty at times, but we can still drink it. I like my work very much. I have succeeded in making good bread. I make most of our bread.”
Returning to Saint John’s in 1953, Brother Raphael again took up his job as refectorian for the abbey, a position he kept until in 1963. His next job took him to the abbey woodworking shop, and in the summers he helped out in the abbey gardens and campus flower beds. He also worked as the night watchman for the abbey and university, as a custodian, and in the abbey infirmary as a nurse assistant.
In 1977, Brother Raphael accepted a position at Benilde-Saint Margaret’s Preparatory High School in Saint Louis Park, Minnesota, as a cook and head custodian for the Benedictine community which worked at the school. In an April, 1978 article in the National Catholic Reporter, Brother Raphael was profiled in one of a series of articles on church vocations: “What Olson doesn’t tell about himself is supplied eagerly by the office staff at Benilde-Saint Margaret, where Olson is ‘Brother Raphael,’ accomplished performer of Mozart and distinguished baker of legendary fruitcakes and pies. ‘Brother Raphael’—his ample head of wavy hair is now gray—is convinced of his own worth and his vocation. But it was not always that way. Vatican II gave brothers their ‘monastic civil rights,’ he jokes. ‘We don’t have the distinctions in community life that we used to have.’ No longer does he feel like a second class member of the monastery. Yes, he admits, he had once considered becoming a priest rather than a brother—but only briefly. ‘It boils down again to the vocation that God gives you,’ he says.”
Returning to Saint John’s in 1985, Brother Raphael continued as a baker (making “Johnnie Bread” on weekend shifts, he baked 400 to 500 loaves a night), as a gardener, and assistant sacristan (1985-2007). Over the years, he also enjoyed a number of personal hobbies: fashioning wreaths and figures from local pine cones and molding “della robbia” style ceramics for varied Nativity sets and ornaments.
Brother Raphael will be best remembered by confreres as a baker of desserts on feasts of the liturgical year and other special occasions. His most popular pies were apple, pumpkin, mincemeat, and pecan.
Brother Raphael died on August 29, in the Saint Cloud Hospital. He is survived by his sister, Donna Pukay; nephews, Michael, James and Anthony Pukay and niece, Karen Pukay; and the community at Saint John’s Abbey. The monks, family, and friends will celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial for Brother Raphael on Tuesday, September 3, in Saint John’s Abbey Church with interment in Saint John’s Cemetery following the service.
We ask each community member to offer two Masses according to the manner of his participation in the priesthood of Christ. We commend our brother Raphael to your prayers.
Abbot John Klassen OSB
and the monks of Saint John’s Abbey