Profession: Catholic Writer and Trappist Monk
Why Famous: Merton is perhaps best known as the author of ‘The Seven Storey Mountain,’ an autobiographical account of his path to becoming a Trappist monk. He is particularly interesting for having travelled the ordinary path, attending Columbia University with no uncertain success, and yet turning back at the last to enter into a monastery. Something in his tale of confronting emptiness and searching for more must have resounded, as the book became a best-seller.
During his time as a monk, Merton continued to write and kept journals throughout. He saw his monastic vows not as a retreat from the world, but rather a way to engage more thoughtfully through contemplative prayer and writing. This is apparent in the works he produced, including ‘News Seeds of Contemplation’ and ‘Raids on the Unspeakable.’
He was also noteworthy for engaging with other religions at a point when this was rare. His death came in the middle of a tour of monastic conferences, with Merton dying on December the 10th, 1968 in Bangkok, Thailand.
More recently, Merton was named by Pope Francis as one of his lesser-known American heroes in his speech to Congress in 2015.
- 2015-09-24 Pope Francis becomes the 1st pope to address the US Congress. Names Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day as his American heroes.