Thomas Merton

1915-1968

Thomas MertonThomas Merton was born in 1915 in Prades, France. He had a difficult and often unhappy childhood, after his mother died when he was 6 and his father died when Thomas was 15. Through his teens and early 20s, Thomas Merton led a worldly and confused life, but he was always searching for meaning. In his mid-20s, he experienced a deeply religious conversion and joined the Catholic Church while a student at Columbia University. After teaching English for a while and working in a Harlem settlement house, he entered Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky at age 26 and continued his search for God and for ultimate human meaning as a Trappist monk. Ironically, Merton’s withdrawal from the world was his door to greater involvement with all of humanity. He was the author of more than 70 books that included letters, personal journals, poetry, meditations and interreligious reflections. His pointed works of social criticism on racism, peace and economic justice brought him prominence in American literature. His writings include such classics as The Seven Storey Mountain (which remains in print after more than 50 years), New Seeds of Contemplation and Zen and the Birds of Appetite. Seeing parallels between Asian mysticism and Western tradition, Merton gained permission to attend an ecumenical conference of Buddhist and Christian monks in Bangkok, Thailand. While attending that meeting in 1968, he was accidentally electrocuted and died at age 53.