Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is among the most popular American Catholic authors of the twentieth century. After converting to Catholicism in college, he spent nearly 30 years residing in the ascetic monk community of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani.
He had a spiritual epiphany at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in 1958, through which he realized a connection to the world beyond the solitary confines of the monastery. That moment propelled him to be a voice for civil rights.
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.” — Thomas Merton
According to https://wfpl.org, “There couldn’t have been a more appropriate location for the completion of Merton’s transition. Walnut Street was one of the primary commercial thoroughfares for Louisville’s African-American community.”
According to http://merton.org/chrono.aspx, “His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, has sold over one million copies and has been translated into over fifteen languages. He wrote over sixty other books and hundreds of poems and articles on topics ranging from monastic spirituality to civil rights, nonviolence, and the nuclear arms race.” The Seven Storey Mountain was published in 1948.
He recalled his epiphany in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966). Read it here: http://www.invialumen.org/uploads/3/7/5/4/37541063/thomas_merton_fourth_and_walnut.pdf.
For a list of his books and reviews of them, click here: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/authorpage/thomas-merton.html.
Bellarmine University Thomas Merton Center
Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY, is the home of the Thomas Merton Center at 2001 Newburg Road. (A marker commemorating his epiphany is at Fourth and Muhammad Ali Blvd.)
Researchers are welcome on an appointment basis. We recommend reading this article to learn more about the writer and determine whether to visit: Merton Collection.
Fittingly, this is the fourth stop on the Kentucky Author Adventures Trail.