The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University

Opening Sessions: 2019 ITMS General Meeting


1:00 PM – 2:30 PM

1. First-Timers Orientation–Judith Valente and Cassidy Hall

Cassidy Hall is the author of Notes on Silence, filmmaker (In Pursuit of Silence), podcaster (Encountering Silence), and holds a masters degree in counseling. Cassidy’s writing has been published in the Convivium Journal, and the Merton Seasonal.

Judith Valente has worked for national PBS-TV, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Her most recent book is “How To Live: What The Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community." She is a popular retreat leader and serves on the ITMS board.

This orientation session is designed for those attending their first ITMS meeting. The session will include a brief introduction to Thomas Merton, then consider the meeting theme and offer a preview of meeting events and sessions. The orientation is an opportunity to meet other first-timers.


2. ITMS Chapters Workshop–Mike Brennan                 

Mike Brennan serves as ITMS Coordinator of Chapters and is director of the Chicago ITMS Chapter. A former ITMS president, he loves medieval and Church history. He works at O’Hare Airport and lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter.  

If you are interested in discovering what ITMS chapters are doing, locating a chapter near you, or learning how you might go about founding a chapter, attend this session.


3. Creating a Community of Merton Scholars—Deborah Kehoe, Patrick F. O’Connell, Paul M. Pearson

Deborah Kehoe teaches English as Northeast Mississippi Community College and the University of Mississippi. She is a frequent presenter at ITMS General Meetings and is Co-Editor of The Merton Annual. 

Patrick F. O’Connell ITMS founding member and former president, is editor of The Merton Seasonal, coauthor of The Thomas Merton Encyclopedia, and editor of six volumes of Merton’s monastic conferences. 

Paul M. Pearson is Director and Archivist of the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University, resident secretary and treasurer of the ITMS and chief of research for the Merton Legacy Trust. He is editor of Seeking Paradise: The Spirit of the Shakers.

This session will include a panel presentation regarding the publications of The Merton Seasonal and The Merton Annual, the process for submitting to either journal, and opportunities to discuss ways to support persons interested in Merton, contemplation and the social issues of the 21st century.


4. Merton and Journey                                                                                                      

a. Kathleen Tarr—“From the Inner Frontier to the Last Frontier: Thomas Merton’s 1968 Alaska Journey.”

Kathleen Tarr is the author of We Are All Poets Here (2018). She earned her MFA at the University of Pittsburgh and serves on the board of the Alaska Humanities Forum.

In 1968, Merton spent 17 days in the land of tundra, glaciers, rain forests, and sacred and majestic mountains—Alaska. An intimate interpretation will be offered about Merton’s short, yet profound, sojourn north. New spiritual insights and physical details will deepen our understanding of this mostly overlooked aspect of Merton’s biography. 

b. Joseph Quinn Raab—"Madness and Meaning: Thomas Merton and the Sixties."

Joseph Quinn Raab is professor of Religious Studies and Theology at Siena Heights University.  He received a Ph. D. in theology from the University of St. Michael’s College, at the University of Toronto (2000). He is co-editor of The Merton Annual: Studies in Culture, Spirituality and Social Concerns.

Thomas Merton produced his most poignant social critiques in the nineteen sixties.  With Foucault’s Madness and Civilization in 1961 and Hannah Arendt’s Eichman in Jerusalem in 1963, the problem of what madness means was in the public discourse.  This paper explores the problem of “madness” in the final years of Merton’s life and considers their continued relevance in our own mad world. 

5. Merton in Correspondence

a. Gordon Oyer—" Peace and Person in Merton's Correspondence."

Gordon Oyer received his MA in history from the University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of Pursuing the Spiritual Roots of Protest.

Thomas Merton’s views of personhood and the “unique self” provided a cornerstone for many facets of his worldview, including his reflections on monastic prayer, contemplation, and community. This paper explores ways in which his personalism also underpins his engagement with social issues and his relationships with social activists.

b. William Apel—" How to Disagree: Peace Building in the Interfaith Letters of Thomas Merton and Dona Louisa Coomerwaswamy."

William Apel is an emeritus professor in religion and spirituality at Linfield College in Oregon.  He has presented papers on Thomas Merton at numerous ITMS and Merton Society of Britian and Ireland meetings and is the author of Signs of Peace: The Interfaith Letters of Thomas Merton published by Orbis Books.

Dona Louisa Coomeraswamy wondered whether something like a Sufi order could be established within Christianity. This paper explores the manner in which Merton responds to Dona Louisa's proposal and how his response offers a model for peacebuilding - especially when disagreement occurs. Merton could not fully agree with Dona Louisa's proposition. It can be said that Merton presents us with a way to disagree without being disagreeable or worse. His correspondence with Dona Louisa contains a way that could prove to be a valuable model for dialogue in our present polarized times.