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Merton had a hard time leaving the place, though he was unsure why. Merton had found the Rome he said he did not see on his first visit: From this point on in his trip he set about visiting the various churches and basilicas in Rome, such as the Lateran Baptistery , Santa Costanza , the Basilica di San Clemente , Santa Prassede and Santa Pudenziana to name a few. One night in his pensione , Merton sensed for a few moments that Owen was in the room with him.

The mystical experience focused him on the emptiness he felt in his life, and, for the first time, he really prayed, asking God to deliver him from darkness. While visiting the church there, he was at ease, yet when entering the monastery he was overtaken with anxiety. Alone that afternoon, he remarked to himself, "I should like to become a Trappist monk. Merton took a boat from Italy to the United States to visit his grandparents in Douglaston for the summer, before entering Clare College. Initially he retained some of the spirit he had had in Rome, continuing to read his Latin Bible.

He wanted to find a church to attend, but had still not quite quelled his antipathy towards Catholicism. Merton appreciated the silence of the atmosphere but did not feel at home with the group. By mid-summer, he had lost nearly all the interest in organized religion that he had found in Rome. At the end of the summer he returned to England. In October , Merton entered Clare College as an undergraduate. Merton, now 18, seems to have viewed Clare College as the end-all answer to his life without meaning. In The Seven Storey Mountain , the brief chapter on Cambridge paints a fairly dark, negative picture of his life there but is short on detail.

Some of Merton's Oakham schoolmates, who had gone up to Cambridge at the same time, recalled that Merton drifted away and became isolated there. He drank to excess, frequenting local pubs public houses, the rough equivalent of a bar in other countries instead of studying. He also indulged in sexual license, with some friends calling him a womanizer. He spent freely—far too freely in Bennett's opinion—and was summoned for the first of what was to be a series of stern lectures in his guardian's London consulting rooms.

Although details are sketchy—they appear to have been excised from a franker first draft of the autobiography by the Trappist censors—most of Merton's biographers agree that he fathered a child with one of the women he encountered at Cambridge and there was some kind of legal action pending that was settled discreetly by Bennett. By any account, this child has never been identified. By this time Bennett had had enough and, in a meeting in April, Merton and his guardian appear to have struck a deal: Merton would return to the States and Bennett would not tell Merton's grandparents about his indiscretions.

In May Merton left Cambridge after completing his exams. He lived with the Jenkins family in Douglaston and took a train to the Columbia campus each day. Merton's years at Columbia matured him, and it is here that he discovered Catholicism in a real sense. These years were also a time in his life where he realized others were more accepting of him as an individual. In short, at 21 he was an equal among his peers. At that time he established a close and long-lasting friendship with the proto- minimalist painter Ad Reinhardt.

Merton began an 18th-century English literature course during the spring semester taught by Mark Van Doren , a professor with whom he maintained a friendship until death. Van Doren did not teach his students in any traditional sense; instead he engaged them, sharing his love of literature.


  1. JSTOR: Access Check.
  2. Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani (Trappist, Ky.).
  3. A Pristine Suicide.
  4. Putting Down Roots: Gardening Insights from Wisconsin’s Early Settlers.
  5. Author Corner.
  6. "Thomas Merton's Gethsemani: Landscapes of Paradise" by Harry L. Hinkle and Monica Weis SSJ.

Merton was also interested in Communism at Columbia, where he briefly joined the Young Communist League ; however, the first meeting he attended failed to interest him further, and he never went back. The two brothers spent their summer breaks bonding with each other, claiming later to have seen every movie produced between and He began working for two school papers, a humor magazine called the Jester and the Columbia Review. Lax and Merton became best friends and kept up a lively correspondence until Merton's death; Rice later founded the Catholic magazine Jubilee , to which Merton frequently contributed essays.

Merton also became a member of Alpha Delta Phi that semester and joined the Philolexian Society , the campus literary and debate group. The Casa Italiana, established in , was conceived of by Columbia and the Italian government as a "university within a university". Merton also joined the local peace movement, having taken "the Oxford Pledge" to not support any government in any war they might undertake.

In , Merton's grandfather, Samuel Jenkins, died. Merton and his grandfather had grown rather close through the years, and Merton immediately left school for home upon receiving the news. He states that, without thinking, he went to the room where his grandfather's body was and knelt down to pray over him.

In it he encountered an explanation of God that he found logical and pragmatic. Tom had purchased the book for a class on medieval French literature , not seeing the nihil obstat in the book denoting its Catholic origin. This work was pivotal, paving the way for more encounters with Catholicism. In August that year, Tom's grandmother, Bonnemaman, died. In January , Merton was graduated from Columbia with a B. He then continued at Columbia, doing graduate work in English. Merton was impressed by the man, whom he saw him as profoundly centered in God, but expected him to recommend his religion in some manner.

Instead, Brahmachari recommended that they reconnect with their own spiritual roots and traditions. Although Merton was surprised to hear the monk recommend Catholic books, he read them both. He also started to pray again regularly. Merton began to consider Catholicism as something to explore further. Mass was foreign to him, but he listened attentively.

Following the experience, Merton's reading list became increasingly geared toward Catholicism. While doing his graduate work, he was writing his 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.

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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.


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  • Merton decided he would pursue his Ph. In January , Merton had heard good things about a part-time teacher named Daniel Walsh, so he decided to take a course on Thomas Aquinas with Walsh. Merton and Walsh developed a lifelong friendship, and it was Walsh who convinced Merton that Thomism was not for him. In October , 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 epiphany, 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. Soon after, Merton met with his teacher Dan Walsh, whose advice he trusted.

    Walsh disagreed with Ford's assessment. Instead, he felt Merton was spiritually and intellectually suited for a priestly vocation in a specific order. They discussed the Jesuits , Cistercians and Franciscans. Merton had appreciated what he had read of Saint Francis of Assisi ; as a result, he felt that might be the direction in which he was being called. Walsh set up a meeting with a Fr.

    Edmund Murphy, a friend at the monastery of St. Francis of Assisi on 31st Street.

    The interview went well and Merton was given an application, as well as Fr. Murphy's personal invitation to become a Franciscan friar. He noted that Merton would not be able to enter the novitiate until August because that was the only month in which they accepted novices. Merton was excited, yet disappointed that it would be a year before he would fulfill his calling. By 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.

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    It is possible this may have concerned his time at Cambridge, although The Seven Storey Mountain is never specific about what he felt he was hiding. Merton arranged to see Fr. Murphy and tell him of his past troubles. Murphy was understanding during the meeting, but told Tom he ought to return the next day once he had time to consider this new information.

    That next day Fr. Murphy delivered Merton devastating news. He no longer felt Merton was suitable material for a Franciscan vocation as a friar, and even said that the August novitiate was now full.

    Thomas Merton

    Murphy seemed uninterested in helping Merton's cause any further, and Merton believed at once that his calling was finished. In early August , the month he would have entered the Franciscan novitiate, Merton went to Olean, New York , to stay with friends, including Robert Lax and Ed Rice, at a cottage where they had vacationed the summer before. This was a tough time for Merton, and he wanted to be in the company of friends. Merton now needed a job. In the vicinity was St. Bonaventure University , a Franciscan university he had learned about through Bob Lax a year before.

    The day after arriving in Olean, Merton went to St. Bonaventure for an interview with then-president Fr. Fortuitously, there was an opening in the English department and Merton was hired on the spot. Bonaventure because he still harbored a desire to be a friar; he decided that he could at least live among them even if he could not be one of them. Bonaventure University holds a repository of Merton materials. In September , Merton moved into a dormitory on campus. His old room in Devereux Hall has a sign above the door to this effect. While Merton's stay at Bonaventure would prove brief, the time was pivotal for him.

    While teaching there, his spiritual life blossomed as he went deeper and deeper into his prayer life. 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. At once he felt a pull to the place, and he could feel his spirits rise during his stay. Bonaventure with Gethsemani on his mind, Merton returned to teaching.

    In May he had an occasion where he used his old Vulgate , purchased in Italy back in , as a kind of oracle. The idea was that he would randomly select a page and blindly point his finger somewhere, seeing if it would render him some sort of sign. Immediately Merton thought of the Cistercians. Although he was still unsure of his qualifications for a religious vocation, Merton felt he was being drawn more and more to a specific calling. In August , 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 the environment there.

    Friendship House had a profound impact on Merton, and he would speak of it often in his later writing. In November , Hueck asked if Merton would consider becoming a full-time member of Friendship House, to which Merton responded cordially yet noncommittally. He still felt unfit to serve Christ, hinting at such in a letter to Hueck that month, in which he implied he was not good enough for her organization. In early December Merton let Hueck know that he would not be joining Friendship House, explaining his persistent attraction to the priesthood.

    Fearing the Draft Board , on December 10, , 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 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.

    But Merton devoted himself entirely to adjusting to the austerity, enjoying the change of lifestyle. During his initial weeks at Gethsemani, Merton studied the complicated Cistercian sign language and daily work and worship routine. In March , 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 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, , when his plane failed over the English Channel.

    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 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, , Merton made his temporary profession of vows and was given the white cowl , black scapular and leather belt. Merton had mixed feelings about the publishing of this work, but Dunne remained resolute over Merton continuing his writing. In 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 Seven Storey Mountain , Merton's autobiography , was written during two-hour intervals in the monastery scriptorium as a personal project. By 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 , and would later come to consider leaving the Cistercians for that Order. In 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: Merton published as well that year a biography, Exile Ends in Glory: The Life of a Trappistine, Mother M.

    Merton's abbot, Dunne, died on August 3, , 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. 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 on, Merton identified as an anarchist. On January 5, , Merton took a train to Louisville and applied for American citizenship. 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 , 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 December a fellow monk allowed Merton to take the monastery jeep for a drive on the property.

    Merton, who had never learned to drive, hit trees, ran into ditches, and upset the jeep. He never used the jeep again. During long years at Gethsemani, Merton changed from the passionately inward-looking young monk of The Seven Storey Mountain to a more contemplative writer and poet. Merton became well known for his dialogues with other faiths and his non-violent stand during the race riots and Vietnam War of the s. By the s, 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 In a letter to Nicaraguan Catholic priest, liberation theologian and politician Ernesto Cardenal who entered Gethsemani but left in to study theology in Mexico , Merton wrote: 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 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. Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Landscapes of Paradise by Monica Weis ,.

    Landscapes of Paradise 4. For twenty-seven years, renowned and beloved monk Thomas Merton belonged to Our Lady of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery established in amid the hills and valleys near Bardstown, Kentucky. Hinkle and artful text by Merton scholar Monica Weis converge in a unique experience fo For twenty-seven years, renowned and beloved monk Thomas Merton belonged to Our Lady of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery established in amid the hills and valleys near Bardstown, Kentucky.

    Hinkle and artful text by Merton scholar Monica Weis converge in a unique experience for lovers of Merton. Hinkle was allowed unprecedented access to many areas inside the monastery and on its grounds that are generally restricted. His photographs invite the reader to experience the various knobs, lakes, woods, and hermitages Merton sought out for times of solitude and contemplation and for reading and writing.

    These unique images, each accompanied by a passage from Merton's writings, evoke personal reflection and a deeper understanding of how and why Merton came to recognize himself as a part of his Kentucky landscape. Woven throughout the book, Weis's text explores Merton's fascination with nature not only at Gethsemani, but during his early childhood, throughout his spiritual conversion to Roman Catholicism, and while a member of the Trappist community.

    She examines how Merton's lifelong interaction with nature subtly revealed and informed his profound spiritual experiences and his writing about contemplation. Hardcover , pages. Published June 10th by University Press of Kentucky. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Thomas Merton's Gethsemani , please sign up. Be the first to ask a question about Thomas Merton's Gethsemani.

    Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani (Trappist, Ky.) [WorldCat Identities]

    Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Jun 22, Cynthia rated it it was amazing. Reading this at Gethsemani was especially wonderful. I met Monica Weis when I won her book at a book draw at a conference and I'm so grateful to have had this book to read while at the Abbey. I am very impressed with the gentle way in which she takes us by the hand and talks to us as this is how it feels about Thomas Merton and his views on nature and the abbey in Kentucky where he would spend many of his years.

    There are interesting tidbits of his life, of which I was unaware, that Weis inser Reading this at Gethsemani was especially wonderful. There are interesting tidbits of his life, of which I was unaware, that Weis inserted very gracefully while staying the course to help us understand Merton's connection to this place. The photographs a few by Merton, but most by Harry Hinkle were lovely and the pairing of the photographs with writings by Merton worked well.

    While I respect Merton and have appreciated reading more by and about him from this book, I think this book stands alone in that the aesthetics of the combined force of the narrative, photographs, and excerpts of text. The overall impression was an experience that worked together seamlessly to produce a whole that was quite moving.

    It did give me a different perspective on Merton that I found helpful, since I am neither Catholic nor very religious so his writings that are more religious in nature are not especially interesting to me. His other writings sometimes, to me, seem overly dense and somewhat stilted.

    The choices here work well for the purpose. The only downside was the introduction by another author whose "loose ladies" comment made me hope he wasn't going to write anything else in the book. He didn't, I moved on to Weis's narrative, Hinkle's photograph's, and Merton's excerpts, and I was pleased. Feb 24, Jen rated it really liked it. This book has little snippets of Merton's life with helpful context, photography, and quotes from his writings.