December 10 marks seventy-eight years since Thomas Merton arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a monastery in Kentucky that is part of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, better known as the Trappists.
Merton spent three days in the guest house, waiting to see if the order would accept him. In between interviews with the novice master, the community put Merton to work cleaning the floors and doing the dishes.
On December 13, 1941, the order accepted Merton and he entered as a postulant under Abbot Frederic Dunne. His first weeks were spent studying Cistercian sign language, which the order used to communicate during times of silence.
Merton spent twenty-seven years in Gethsemani. In 1949, he was ordained to the priesthood and took the name Father Louis.
During his lifetime, Merton authored more than fifty books, including The Seven Story Mountain, his autobiography. The Seven Story Mountain was featured by National Review as one of the top 100 non-fiction books of the century.
Merton passed away on December 10, 1968 on the anniversary of his arrival to the community.
Pope Francis mentioned Merton during a joint meeting of the United States Congress in 2015. Merton was one of four Americans mentioned by the pontiff.
“Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church,” Pope Francis said. “He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.”