|Birth Day:||January 31, 1915|
|Death Date:||Dec 10, 1968 (age 53)|
|Birth Place:||Prades, France|
|Height:||in centimeters - N/A|
|Weight:||in kg - N/A|
As per our current Database, Thomas Merton died on Dec 10, 1968 (age 53).
He loved to write, travel, and paint growing up. He underwent his ordination to the priesthood in 1949, after which he was acknowledged as Father Louis.
Thomas Merton was born in Prades, Pyrénées-Orientales, France, on January 31, 1915, to Owen Merton, a New Zealand painter active in Europe and the United States, and Ruth Jenkins, an American Quaker and artist. They had met at painting school in Paris. He was baptized in the Church of England, in accordance with his father's wishes. Merton's father was often absent during his son's childhood.
During World War I, in August 1915, the Merton family left France for the United States. They lived first with Ruth's parents in Queens, New York, and then settled near them in Douglaston. In 1917, the family moved into an old house in Flushing, Queens, where Merton's brother John Paul was born on November 2, 1918. The family was considering returning to France when Ruth was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She died from it on October 21, 1921, in Bellevue Hospital. Merton was six years old and his brother not yet three.
In 1922, his father took Thomas with him on a trip to Bermuda, where Owen fell in love with American novelist Evelyn Scott. She was in a common-law marriage. Still grieving for his mother, Thomas never quite warmed to Scott.
Happy to get away from Scott, Thomas was returned to Douglaston in 1923 at the age of eight to live with his mother's family, who were also caring for his brother. Owen Merton, Scott, and her common-law husband, Frederick Creighton Wellman, sailed to Europe. They traveled through France, Italy, and England, and crossed the Mediterranean to Algeria. During the winter of 1924, while in Algeria, Owen Merton became ill and was thought to be near death. By March 1925, He was well enough to organize a show of his paintings at the Leicester Galleries in London.
In 1926, when Merton was eleven, his father enrolled him in a boys' boarding school in Montauban, the Lycée Ingres. There, Merton felt lonely, depressed and abandoned. During his initial months at the school, Merton begged his father to remove him. With time, however, he grew comfortable with his surroundings. He befriended a circle of aspiring writers at the Lycée and he wrote two novels.
In 1930, Merton was boarded at Oakham School in Rutland, England. From there, he traveled with his paternal grandparents to visit his hospitalized father. Owen died on January 16, 1931. Merton was assured by his grandfather Merton that he would provide for the youth, and Tom Bennett, Owen's physician and a former classmate in New Zealand, became Thomas's legal guardian. Bennett allowed Merton to use his unoccupied house in London during the holidays. In 1931, Merton visited Rome and Florence for a week. He traveled by ship to New York to see his maternal grandparents. After returning to Oakham, Merton became joint editor of the school magazine, the Oakhamian.
At that time, Merton identified as agnostic. In 1932, on a walking tour in Germany, he developed an infection on his foot; he ignored it but developed severe blood poisoning. He wrote later that
In February 1933, Merton lived in a small pensione by Palazzo Barberini and San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, from where he came to appreciate the beauty of Rome. He was drawn to its varied, ancient churches. In the apse of Santi Cosma e Damiano, he was transfixed by a great mosaic of Jesus Christ come in judgment, and began to discover "Byzantine Christian Rome". He read the New Testament, from the Latin Vulgate, and had a mystical experience of his father's presence. He confronted the emptiness of his life, and began to pray more regularly. He visited Tre Fontane, a Trappist monastery in Rome, where he first thought of becoming a Trappist monk.
In October 1933, Merton, now 18, entered Clare College as an undergraduate to study Modern Languages (French and Italian). He drifted away and became isolated there, drinking to excess, and frequenting local pubs instead of studying. He began to see young women, and some friends called him a womanizer. He spent so freely that his guardian Bennett summoned him to London to try to talk sense to him. Most of Merton's biographers agree that he fathered a child with a woman he had a liaison with at Cambridge. Bennett discreetly settled a threatened legal action. This child has never been identified in published accounts. Professor Alan Jacobs suggests that at least some of Merton's conduct may have been related to delayed grief from his father's death two years earlier.
In January 1935, Merton, age 21, enrolled as a sophomore at Columbia University in Manhattan. He lived with his Jenkins grandparents in Douglaston, traveling daily by train and subway to the Columbia campus in Morningside Heights of upper Manhattan. There he established close and long-lasting friendships with Ad Reinhardt, who became known as a proto-minimalist painter, and poet Robert Lax.
In October 1935, in protest of Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, Merton joined a picket of the Casa Italiana at the university. It had been established in 1926, jointly sponsored by Columbia and the Italian government as a "university within a university". Merton also joined the local peace movement, having taken "the Oxford Pledge" against supporting any government in any war.
In 1936, Merton's grandfather, Samuel Jenkins, died. In February 1937, Merton read The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy by Étienne Gilson, which enlarged his sense of Catholicism. He had bought the book for a class on medieval French literature. He felt its explanation of God was logical and pragmatic. "That book, and the extraordinary variety of Catholic churches in Manhattan, almost all of which he seems to have visited, led Merton inexorably to an embrace of Catholicism." Merton also began reading was Aldous Huxley, whose book Ends and Means introduced him to mysticism. In August that year, Tom's grandmother died; she had been known in the family by the French term Bonnemaman (good mother).
Merton was first exposed to and became interested in Eastern religions when he read Aldous Huxley's Ends and Means in 1937, the year before his conversion to Catholicism. Throughout his life, he studied Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Sufism in addition to his academic and monastic studies.
In January 1938, Merton graduated from Columbia with a B.A. in English. He continued there, starting graduate work in English. In June, his friend Seymour Freedgood arranged a meeting with Mahanambrata Brahmachari, a Hindu monk visiting New York from the University of Chicago. Merton was impressed by him, believing the monk was profoundly centered in God. While Merton expected Brahmachari to recommend Hinduism, instead he advised Merton to reconnect with the spiritual roots of his own culture. He suggested Merton read The Confessions of Augustine and The Imitation of Christ. Merton read them both.
Merton decided to explore Catholicism further. Finally, in August 1938, he decided to attend Mass and went to Corpus Christi Church, located near the Columbia campus on West 121st Street in Morningside Heights. The ritual of Mass was foreign to him, but he listened attentively. Following this, Merton began to read more extensively in Catholicism. As part of his graduate work, he was writing a thesis on William Blake, whose spiritual symbolism he was coming to appreciate in new ways.
One evening in September, Merton was reading about Gerard Manley Hopkins' conversion to Catholicism and becoming a priest. Suddenly, he could not shake the sense that he, too, should follow such a path. He headed quickly to the Corpus Christi Church rectory, where he met Fr. George Barry Ford, and expressed his desire to become Catholic. In the following weeks Merton started catechism, learning the basics of his new faith. On November 16, 1938, Thomas Merton underwent the rite of baptism at Corpus Christi Church and received Holy Communion. On February 22, 1939, Merton received his M.A. in English from Columbia University. Merton decided he would pursue his Ph.D. at Columbia and moved from Douglaston to Greenwich Village.
In January 1939, Merton had heard good things about a part-time teacher named Daniel Walsh, so he decided to take a course with him on Thomas Aquinas. Through Walsh, Merton was introduced to Jacques Maritain at a lecture on Catholic Action, which took place at a Catholic Book Club meeting the following March. Merton and Walsh developed a lifelong friendship. Walsh convinced Merton that Thomism was not for him. On May 25, 1939, Merton received Confirmation as a Catholic at Corpus Christi, and took the confirmation name James.
In October 1939, Merton invited friends to sleep at his place following a long night out at a jazz club. Over breakfast, Merton told them of his desire to become a priest. Soon after this, Merton visited Fr. Ford at Corpus Christi to share his feeling. Ford agreed with Merton, but added that he felt Merton was suited for the priesthood of the diocesan priest and advised against joining an order.
By 1940 Merton began to doubt about whether he was fit to be a Franciscan. He felt he had not been candid about his past with Fr. Murphy or Dan Walsh. Merton arranged to see Fr. Murphy. Compassionated during the meeting, Fr. Murphy told Tom he ought to return the next day after the priest could consider this new information. At that time, Fr. Murphy told Merton that he no longer felt Merton was suitable material for a vocation as a Franciscan friar, and that the August novitiate was now full. Merton believed that his religious calling was finished.
In September 1940, Merton moved into a dormitory on campus. (His old room in Devereux Hall is marked by a sign above the door.) While Merton's stay at Bonaventure would prove brief, the time was pivotal for him. While teaching there, he entered more deeply into his prayer life and his spiritual life blossomed. He all but gave up drinking, quit smoking, stopped going to movies, and became more selective in his reading. In his own way he was undergoing a kind of lay renunciation of worldly pleasures. In April 1941, Merton went to a retreat he had booked for Holy Week at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky.
At St. Bonaventure with Gethsemani on his mind, Merton returned to teaching. Still unsure about his future plans, in May 1941 Merton resorted to the ancient bibliomantic ritual of the Sortes Sanctorum. Using his old Vulgate Bible, purchased in Italy in 1933, he would randomly point his finger at a page, to see if a chance selection would reveal a sign. On his second try Merton laid his finger on a verse reading "ecce eris tacens" (Luke 1:20 DR.LV.NVUL; Latin for '"behold, thou shalt be silent"'). Immediately Merton thought of the Cistercians.
In August 1941, Merton attended a talk at the school given by Catherine de Hueck. Hueck had founded the Friendship House in Toronto and its sister house in Harlem, which Merton visited. Appreciative of the mission of Hueck and Friendship House, which was racial harmony and charity, he decided to volunteer there for two weeks. Harlem was such a different place, full of poverty and prostitution. Merton felt especially troubled by the situation of children being raised in that environment. Friendship House had a profound influence on Merton, and he would refer to it often in his later writing.
In November 1941, Hueck asked if Merton would consider becoming a full-time member of Friendship House, to which Merton was noncommittal. In early December Merton let Hueck know that he would not be joining Friendship House, explaining his persistent attraction to the priesthood.
On December 10, 1941, Thomas Merton arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani and spent three days at the monastery guest house, waiting for acceptance into the Order. The novice master would come to interview Merton, gauging his sincerity and qualifications. In the interim, Merton was put to work polishing floors and scrubbing dishes. On December 13 he was accepted into the monastery as a postulant by Frederic Dunne, Gethsemani's abbot since 1935. Merton's first few days did not go smoothly. He had a severe cold from his stay in the guest house, where he sat in front of an open window to prove his sincerity. During his initial weeks at Gethsemani, Merton studied the complicated Cistercian sign language and daily work and worship routine.
In March 1942, during the first Sunday of Lent, Merton was accepted as a novice at the monastery. In June, he received a letter from his brother John Paul stating he was soon to leave for the war and would be coming to Gethsemani to visit before leaving. On July 17 John Paul arrived in Gethsemani and the two brothers did some catching up. John Paul expressed his desire to become Catholic, and by July 26 was baptized at a church in nearby New Haven, Kentucky, leaving the following day. This would be the last time the two saw each other. John Paul died on April 17, 1943, when his plane failed over the English Channel. A poem by Merton to John Paul appears in The Seven Storey Mountain.
Merton kept journals throughout his stay at Gethsemani. Initially, he felt writing to be at odds with his vocation, worried it would foster a tendency to individuality. Fortunately his superior, Dunne, saw that Merton had both a gifted intellect and talent for writing. In 1943 Merton was tasked to translate religious texts and write biographies on the saints for the monastery. Merton approached his new writing assignment with the same fervor and zeal he displayed in the farmyard.
On March 19, 1944, Merton made his temporary profession of vows and was given the white cowl, black scapular and leather belt. In November 1944 a manuscript Merton had given to friend Robert Lax the previous year was published by James Laughlin at New Directions: a book of poetry titled Thirty Poems. Merton had mixed feelings about the publishing of this work, but Dunne remained resolute over Merton continuing his writing. In 1946 New Directions published another poetry collection by Merton, A Man in the Divided Sea, which, combined with Thirty Poems, attracted some recognition for him. The same year Merton's manuscript for The Seven Storey Mountain was accepted by Harcourt Brace & Company for publication. The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton's autobiography, was written during two-hour intervals in the monastery scriptorium as a personal project.
By 1947 Merton was more comfortable in his role as a writer. On March 19 he took his solemn vows, a commitment to live out his life at the monastery. He also began corresponding with a Carthusian at St. Hugh's Charterhouse in England. Merton had harbored an appreciation for the Carthusian Order since coming to Gethsemani in 1941, and would later come to consider leaving the Cistercians for that Order. On July 4 the Catholic journal Commonweal published an essay by Merton titled Poetry and the Contemplative Life.
In 1948 The Seven Storey Mountain was published to critical acclaim, with fan mail to Merton reaching new heights. Merton also published several works for the monastery that year, which were: Guide to Cistercian Life, Cistercian Contemplatives, Figures for an Apocalypse, and The Spirit of Simplicity. That year Saint Mary's College (Indiana) also published a booklet by Merton, What Is Contemplation? Merton published as well that year a biography, Exile Ends in Glory: The Life of a Trappistine, Mother M. Berchmans, O.C.S.O. Merton's abbot, Dunne, died on August 3, 1948, while riding on a train to Georgia. Dunne's passing was painful for Merton, who had come to look on the abbot as a father figure and spiritual mentor. On August 15 the monastic community elected Dom James Fox, a former US Navy officer, as their new abbot. In October Merton discussed with him his ongoing attraction to the Carthusian and Camaldolese Orders and their eremitical way of life, to which Fox responded by assuring Merton that he belonged at Gethsemani. Fox permitted Merton to continue his writing, Merton now having gained substantial recognition outside the monastery. On December 21 Merton was ordained as a subdeacon. From 1948 on, Merton identified as an anarchist.
On January 5, 1949, Merton took a train to Louisville and applied for American citizenship. Published that year were Seeds of Contemplation, The Tears of Blind Lions, The Waters of Siloe, and the British edition of The Seven Storey Mountain under the title Elected Silence. On March 19, Merton became a deacon in the Order, and on May 26 (Ascension Thursday) he was ordained a priest, saying his first Mass the following day. In June, the monastery celebrated its centenary, for which Merton authored the book Gethsemani Magnificat in commemoration. In November, Merton started teaching mystical theology to novices at Gethsemani, a duty he greatly enjoyed. By this time Merton was a huge success outside the monastery, The Seven Storey Mountain having sold over 150,000 copies. In subsequent years Merton would author many other books, amassing a wide readership. He would revise Seeds of Contemplation several times, viewing his early edition as error-prone and immature. A person's place in society, views on social activism, and various approaches toward contemplative prayer and living became constant themes in his writings.
In 1959, Merton began a dialogue with D. T. Suzuki which was published in Merton's Zen and the Birds of Appetite as "Wisdom in Emptiness". This dialogue began with the completion of Merton's The Wisdom of the Desert. Merton sent a copy to Suzuki with the hope that he would comment on Merton's view that the Desert Fathers and the early Zen masters had similar experiences. Nearly ten years later, when Zen and the Birds of Appetite was published, Merton wrote in his postface that "any attempt to handle Zen in theological language is bound to miss the point", calling his final statements "an example of how not to approach Zen." Merton struggled to reconcile the Western and Christian impulse to catalog and put into words every experience with the ideas of Christian apophatic theology and the unspeakable nature of the Zen experience.
By the 1960s, he had arrived at a broadly human viewpoint, one deeply concerned about the world and issues like peace, racial tolerance, and social equality. He had developed a personal radicalism which had political implications but was not based on ideology, rooted above all in non-violence. He regarded his viewpoint as based on "simplicity" and expressed it as a Christian sensibility. His New Seeds of Contemplation was published in 1962. In a letter to Nicaraguan Catholic priest, liberation theologian and politician Ernesto Cardenal (who entered Gethsemani but left in 1959 to study theology in Mexico), Merton wrote: "The world is full of great criminals with enormous power, and they are in a death struggle with each other. It is a huge gang battle, using well-meaning lawyers and policemen and clergymen as their front, controlling papers, means of communication, and enrolling everybody in their armies."
Merton finally achieved the solitude he had long desired while living in a hermitage on the monastery grounds in 1965. Over the years he had occasional battles with some of his abbots about not being allowed out of the monastery despite his international reputation and voluminous correspondence with many well-known figures of the day.
In April 1966, Merton underwent surgery to treat debilitating back pain. While recuperating in a Louisville hospital, he fell in love with Margie Smith, a student nurse assigned to his care. (He referred to her in his diary as "M.") He wrote poems to her and reflected on the relationship in "A Midsummer Diary for M." Merton struggled to maintain his vows while being deeply in love. It is not known if he ever consummated the relationship.
On December 10, 1968, Merton was at a Red Cross retreat center named Sawang Kaniwat in Samut Prakan, a province near Bangkok, Thailand, attending a monastic conference. After giving a talk at the morning session, he was found dead later in the afternoon in the room of his cottage, wearing only shorts, lying on his back with a short-circuited Hitachi floor fan lying across his body. His associate, Jean Leclercq, states: "In all probability the death of Thomas Merton was due in part to heart failure, in part to an electric shock." Since there was no autopsy, there was no suitable explanation for the wound in the back of Merton's head, "which had bled considerably." Arriving from the cottage next to Merton's, the Primate of the Benedictine Order and presiding officer of the conference, Rembert Weakland, anointed Merton.
A quote from Merton is referenced in the show The West Wing's Season 3 Episode 23, entitled "Posse Comitatus". A quote by Thomas Merton was referenced in two episodes of the TV show Criminal Minds in 2013.
Merton's life was the subject of The Glory of the World, a play by Charles L. Mee. Roy Cockrum, a former monk who won the Powerball lottery in 2014, helped finance the production of the play in New York. Prior to New York the play was being shown in Louisville, Kentucky.
The 2015, in tribute to the centennial year of Merton's birth in The Festival of Faiths in Louisville Kentucky honored the life and work of Thomas Merton with Sacred Journey’s the Legacy of Thomas Merton.
Merton was one of four Americans mentioned by Pope Francis in his speech to a joint meeting of the United States Congress on September 24, 2015. Francis said, "Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions."
In 2016, theologian Matthew Fox claimed that Merton had been assassinated by agents of the Central Intelligence Agency. James W. Douglass made a similar claim in 1997. In 2018, Hugh Turley and David Martin published The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton: An Investigation, questioning the claim of accidental electrocution.
Thomas's parents were named Ruth Jenkins and Owen Merton.
Currently, Thomas Merton is 106 years, 11 months and 26 days old. Thomas Merton will celebrate 107th birthday on a Monday 31st of January 2022. Below we countdown to Thomas Merton upcoming birthday.
Thomas Merton 96th Birthday 2011, 31st January
From my inbox today from "Dating God:": This is the beginning of the entry in Merton's journal from January 31, 1968, the last birthday he w...