The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University

Plenary Sessions for ITMS 2021

Marie Dennis is senior advisor to the secretary general of Pax Christi International, the global Catholic peace movement. She was co-president of Pax Christi International from 2007 to 2019 and serves on the executive committee of Pax Christi's Catholic Nonviolence Initiative and on the Vatican's COVID-19 Commission. Marie was previously director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. She holds a master's degree in moral theology from Washington Theological Union and honorary doctorates from Trinity Washington University and Alvernia University. Marie is author or co-author of seven books; editor of Choosing Peace: The Catholic Church Returns to Gospel Nonviolence; and co-editor of Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World.

Nonviolence: Essential to a Laudato Si' Future - With increasing clarity we have seen that the destruction of earth's ecosystems and the suffering of the creatures living on this planet are intrinsically interconnected with human violence. The cultural violence of indifference and domination; the direct violence of war and militarization; the violence of economic injustice and what Thomas Merton called "the polite, massively organized, white-collar murder machine" have seriously damaged earth's ability to sustain life. Pope Francis' powerful reflection in Laudato Si' on the cry of the earth; his assertion that everything is connected.


David Golemboski is an Assistant Professor of Government & International Relations at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he writes and teaches on politics, law, and religion. His writing has appeared in academic journals such as Political Research Quarterly and Law & Philosophy, as well as in popular journals such as Commonweal and America. His work on Merton has appeared in the Merton Annual, the Merton Seasonal, and the Merton Journal. David holds an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School and a Ph.D. from Georgetown University. He is a former Daggy Scholar and the current President of the International Thomas Merton Society. David lives in Sioux Falls with his wife and twin daughters.

David's ITMS presidential address is "Absurdity and Imagination in a Time of Upheaval".


Carrie Newcomer is a singer, songwriter, and author. She has produced 17 nationally released albums and has received numerous awards for her music and related charitable activities. Newcomer speaks and teaches about creativity, vocation, activism, and spirituality at colleges, conventions, and retreats. She has shared the stage with performers like Alison Krauss and writers like Parker J. Palmer, Jill Bolte Taylor, Philip Gulley, Scott Russell Sanders, Rabbi Sandy Sasso and Barbara Kingsolver. Newcomer has written two collections of essays and poetry as companion pieces to recent albums: A Permeable Life: Poems and Essays, and The Beautiful Not Yet: Essays, Poems and Lyrics. In 2016, Goshen College awarded her with an honorary degree of Bachelor of Music in Social Change during a ceremony in which she delivered the college’s commencement speech. Newcomer lives in Indiana.

Carrie Newcomer and Parker Palmer - Encountering the Stranger: Finding the Hidden Wholeness in a Broken World

Join Carrie Newcomer and Parker J. Palmer for an evening of music and spoken words-both of them have long felt a personal connection to Thomas Merton's life and work. In song, story, and conversation, they will celebrate the inspiration found in Merton's insights about welcoming the stranger, the interconnections of all of life, and the role of inner work in guiding and supporting transformational work in a challenging world."

Parker Palmer is a writer, speaker and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality, and social change. Palmer is the founder and Senior Partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal. He is the author of ten books, including several best-selling and award-winning titles: On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old; Healing the Heart of Democracy; The Heart of Higher Education (with Arthur Zajonc); The Courage to Teach; A Hidden Wholeness; Let Your Life Speak; The Active Life; To Know As We Are Known; The Company of Strangers; and The Promise of Paradox. In 1998, the Leadership Project, a national survey of 10,000 educators, named Dr. Palmer one of the thirty "most influential senior leaders" in higher education and one of the ten key "agenda-setters" of the past decade. In 2010, he was given the William Rainey Harper Award whose previous recipients include Margaret Mead, Elie Wiesel, Marshall McLuhan, and Paolo Freire. A member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Dr. Palmer and his wife, Sharon, live in Madison, Wisconsin.


Andrew L. Prevot, associate professor of theology at Boston College, writes and teaches at the intersection of spiritual, mystical, systematic, and liberation theologies; phenomenology; and continental philosophies of religion. Recent publications include, Theology and Race: Black and Womanist Traditions in the United States, Thinking Prayer: Theology and Spirituality Amid the Crises of Modernity, Anti-Blackness and Christian Ethics edited with Vincent W. Lloyd, and “Ignacio Ellacuría and Enrique Dussel: On the Contributions of Phenomenology to Liberation Theology” which appeared in A Grammar of Justice: The Legacy of Ignacio Ellacuría, edited by. J. Matthew Ashley and Kevin Burke. He earned his B.A. from Colorado College and his Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame.

"Contemplation in Times of Crisis" explores two themes in Merton's writings: (i) Merton's belief that the great social and political crises of this world begin deep inside each of us and, therefore, require some sort of contemplative remedy and (ii) Merton's sober recognition that, if understood and practiced in certain problematic ways, contemplation can fail to yield the transformative results we want from it and, in fact, make us complicit in violence. Prevot clarifies the conditions under which Merton suggests contemplation can help, rather than hinder, our navigation of contemporary crises such as anti-black racism and ecological devastation.


Bonnie Thurston resigned a Chair and Professorship in New Testament to live quietly in her home state of West Virginia. She is author or editor of 22 theological works and six collections of poetry, and frequently contributes to scholarly and popular periodicals. Bonnie wrote an early doctoral dissertation on Merton and was a founding member and past president of the ITMS. She has published over 50 articles on Merton and given retreats and lectured on his ideas in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, and Europe. She edited Thomas Merton and Buddhism, Hidden in the Same Mystery: Thomas Merton and Loretto, and Thomas Merton on Eastern Meditation, and wrote Shaped by the End You Live For: Thomas Merton’s Monastic Spirituality. Her work on Merton has been translated into Dutch, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish. Bonnie is an avid walker, gardener, cook, and lover of classical music.

"'The Inward Stranger:' Challenge, Coordinates, and Consequences" suggests the "inward stranger" is potentially what Merton called the "True Self." The talk outlines the challenge of its discovery, coordinates or "tools" to help us find it, and with the very public consequences of doing so.