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Thomas Merton, 1915 - 1968

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Born: 31 January 1915, Prades, Pyr
Died: 10 December 1968, Bangkok, Thailand

Merton, known in the Catholic church as Father Louis, was a Trappist monk and author of over seventy books, as well as many essays and reviews, mostly on spirituality. His mother died when he was six, and he didn't get along with his father's new partner, author Evelyn Scott. He was happy living with his grandparents while growing up and spent a great deal of time in boarding schools, since his father, a famous sculptor, was often away from home. His father died the day after Thomas' sixteenth birthday, his father's friend and attorney Tom Bennett got custody and let him use a house at London before Thomas enrolled at Clare College, Cambridge in 1933.

In his youth, he was uninterested in religion but did have a few experiences which presaged his involvement in spirituality. After graduation in 1933, he visited Rome, he found himself drawn to churches and monasteries, and even thought that he might like to become a monk. Later that year, he came to the United States to visit his grandparents and attended services of various denominations, but didn't feel at home in any of them, losing the interest in religion that he developed in Rome.

At Cambridge he was adrift, drinking and sleeping around rather than studying, and spending his inheritance freely. Two years later, Bennett tired of bailing him out of trouble and transferred him to Columbia University, where he lived with his grandparents while attending classes. He became politically active, protesting for peace and developing an interest in interfaith dialogue and cooperation. He would maintain this interest throughout his life. After an attempt to enter the Franciscan Order in 1939 didn't work out, he took a position at St. Bonaventure University as a teacher and joined the Cistercian Order in 1942.

His abbot saw the quality of his writing and encouraged him to continue. He wrote extensively and was active in interfaith discussions before accidentally electrocuting himself getting out of the shower in a hotel. His works celebrated the Christian mystical tradition, the best known being The Seven Storey Mountain.

Biography from Wikipedia and the Thomas Merton Center

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