Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is likely the most famous American monk. His autobiography, The Seven-Storey Mountain, is still in print 70 years after it was published. He was a prolific writer, poet, essayist, speaker, and even a Vietnam War protestor. He was a member of the Trappist Monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky – and was likely the man who put the American Trappists on the awareness map.
But he also had a family, and a history. He had a path to faith that was uneven, broken, and confusing (this may be truth of faith in general). While it’s not an exhaustive biography, Thomas Merton: A Life Inspired, published by Wyatt North, is a succinct summary of the facts of Merton’s life and journey to faith.
Merton was born in 1915 in Prades, France, to an American mother and a New Zealand father.
Because of the war, they went to the United States, and after the armistice in 1918 returned to Europe, Living in France and then England. His mother died of stomach cancer when he was still a young child; years later his artist father would succumb to brain cancer.
He studied first at Cambridge (which he hated) and then transferred to Columbia University in New York City. He studied poetry and philosophy, but found himself drawn again and again to faith, and especially the Catholic Faith. He converted to Catholicism, and explored various religious traditions and groups until finally settling on the Trappists.
The Wyatt North biography also covers the life he led before Catholicism (somewhat dissolute but likely not out of the ordinary for a college student) and even the relationship he had with a nurse in Kentucky. What emerges from the account is not a stereotyped saint but a man of faith who struggled and strove. In other words, a real person. He died in 1968 during a trip to Thailand.
Wyatt North Publishing publishes a series of short works on both Catholic and Protestant subjects, including Mother Teresa, St. Anthony, Pope Francis, St. Patrick, C.S. Lewis, the life and times of Jesus, and other subjects.
Thomas Merton is a good summary of the facts of Merton’s life, how he came to faith, and how he both was inspired and proved inspirational to others.