Students taking C877, Merton, Ministry, and Contemporary Life, visited the Abbey of Gethsemani, a short distance from Bardstown, KY, on April 11th and 12th. This was part of a Spring semester course on the life, thought, and legacy of Thomas Merton.
Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk who lived at Gethsemani Abbey for more than 20 years during the middle of the 20th century. A prolific writer, Merton wrote voluminously about prayer, meditation, and contemplative practice to wide readership. Toward the end of his life, he turned his attention increasingly to socio-political and ecumenical concerns before dying tragically in 1968 on a trip to Southeast Asia. Throughout his time as a monk, he maintained lengthy correspondences with notable figures such as Dorothy Day, Czesław Miłosz, Boris Pasternak, Daniel Berrigan, Jacques Maritain, and Thich Nhat Hanh. His writings remain among the most widely read and influential texts on Christian spirituality.
The course, co-taught by Prof. Bill Kincaid and Nick Buck, was designed around readings of Merton’s journals and a variety of other primary texts, as well as some secondary material. Cassidy Hall, MDiv student, class TA, and current Secretary of the International Thomas Merton Society, helped to organize the trip to Gethsemani. The trip offered an opportunity for students to experience the landscape and communal life of the abbey, as well as a chance to meet and talk with a few monks who knew Merton personally.
Students were invited to explore the grounds of the abbey as part of their own contemplative practice and joined the monks for prayer services and Mass. They were joined for dinner by Brother Paul Quenon, who shared about life at the abbey. Though not open to the public, the next morning students were guided by Brother Paul to Merton’s hermitage, a private, remote house built in the surrounding woods for Merton to pursue a more isolated life of contemplation. There, Brother Paul read some of his own poetry, excerpts from Merton’s works, and shared many of his memories of Merton, who served as his novice master.
Upon returning from the trip, students will reflect on their time at the abbey as they work toward completing their final papers for the course.