Merton Center events mark 50th anniversary of Thomas Merton's death

November 29, 2018


It has been 50 years since monk and author Thomas Merton died at age 53 in Thailand. Bellarmine University's Thomas Merton Center is observing that anniversary with three events to remember Merton's life and celebrate his legacy.

merton-50th-anniversary-logoMerton (1915-1968) was a writer, social activist, artist, photographer and Trappist monk at Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey near Bardstown, Ky. He wrote more than 70 books that include poetry, personal journals, collections of letters and social criticism, including such classics as “The Seven Storey Mountain” and “Zen and the Birds of Appetite.”

"His life and writings are not merely historically important, but offer a prophetic witness to a vision that points a way into the future," said Dr. Paul Pearson, the Merton Center's director. "Merton continues to be widely read. His writings on contemplation and prayer, on social issues such as violence, war and racism, and on the necessity for inter-religious dialogue and understanding continue to resonate with readers in the 21st century. Merton’s writings, as Pope Francis said this past summer, 'help shed the light of Christ on the pressing spiritual and cultural challenges of our time.'"

Merton died on December 10, 1968.

Searching for Thomas Merton: An Artistic Tribute 1968-2018
November 30, 2018 to January 12, 2019
McGrath Art Gallery, Bellarmine University's Wyatt Center for the Arts
Gallery hours: Mondays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m.
The gallery will be closed during Bellarmine's winter break, from December 21 through January 2.

Louisville artists Penny Sisto and Joe McGee will have a series of paintings and fabric art on display in Bellarmine’s McGrath Gallery starting Friday, November 30. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

“In my Merton Series, I am not painting Merton in the literal sense," said McGee. "I use his writing as inspiration to attempt to show an idealized monk/mystic out in nature. The works give me great peace. They are fun to do!”

The series is full of vibrant illustrations that are also on display in hopes of discovering what it is about Merton that “draws so many of us together like a magnet 50 years after he left this Earth in 1968,” McGee said.

Noted author and poet Lynnell Edwards will read poetry at an opening reception on Friday, November 30, from 5 to 7 p.m. in the gallery.

Tibetan Sacred Sand Mandala by monks of Drepung Gomang Monastery
December 3-6, 2018
Daily, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Thomas Merton Center, Bellarmine University's W.L. Lyons Brown Library

Sand mandalas are colorful, temporary pieces of artwork expressing aspects of Buddhist philosophy. They've been part of Tibetan artistic expression for centuries. Learn more about sand mandalas.

Merton expressed interest in Buddhism and other Eastern religions and, in the month before he died, met with the Dalai Lama in India.

An opening ceremony takes place on Monday, December 3, at 11 a.m., with a closing ceremony on December 10 (the date of Merton's death) at 11 a.m.
Mass to mark the 50th anniversary Thomas Merton's death
December 10, 2018, 7 p.m.
Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 South Fifth Street 
Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz will celebrate the Mass, which features a homily by   
Rev. Lawrence Morey, novice master and archivist for the Abbey of Gethsemani.

The Thomas Merton Center is the the official repository of Merton's artistic estate and a global destination for research about Merton. It curates Merton’s writings, along with more than 1,300 photographs and 900 drawings. The Merton Center archives more than 50,000 Merton-related materials and hosts events that celebrate Merton’s life and legacy. 

Molly Jett, intern in Bellarmine's Office of Communications & Public Affairs, contributed to this article.


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