Thomas Merton Room & Letters

The Thomas Merton Room houses a wide variety of works written by and about Thomas Merton. He was a monk and prominent writer and became one of the most famous American Roman Catholics of the 20th century. This collection is devoted to the legacy of his writing and show the impact he had on those around the globe.

The original Thomas Merton Room and the new room have been made available to Nazareth through the generosity of Monsignor William H. Shannon.


Learn More

About Thomas Merton


A monk and a prominent writer, Thomas Merton, b. Prades, France, Jan. 31, 1915, d. Dec. 10, 1968, became one of the most famous American Roman Catholics of the 20th century. As a young man Merton traveled with his artist parents (his father was a New Zealander, his mother an American) in France and studied briefly at Cambridge University, England, before he went to the United States and earned (1939) a master's degree from Columbia University. During those years he gradually changed from an agnostic to a devout Roman Catholic.

After teaching English for a while and working in a Harlem settlement house, Merton decided (1941) to become a monk, choosing the Trappist order for its discipline of silence and solitude. Within the monastery he served for years as master of students and novices. Outside it, his writing, which included poetry, meditations, and works of social criticism, brought him prominence in American letters. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), became a bestseller. Merton's social criticisms burned deeply into public awareness of racism, economic injustice, and militarism. Seeing parallels between Oriental mysticism and Western tradition, Merton gained permission to attend an ecumenical conference of Buddhist and Christian monks held in Bangkok, Thailand. While attending that meeting, he was accidentally electrocuted.

- Henry Warner Bowden (Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, 1996)

The Collection

All books on the shelves of the Thomas Merton Room may be checked out at the Information Desk of the library for home use. Visitors not affiliated with the College should inquire at the desk about the library's community card program.

All related media items housed in the Merton room are available for checkout according to the general checkout policies.

Access to the manuscript materials is by special application to the Library Director.


The Thomas Merton letters are a collection of his writings throughout his life. Below is a quick reference to the letters available. To see them, please schedule an appointment with the college archivist.

In addition to the letters, many other items are available from the Thomas Merton collection. It is possible to search the catalog in order to find books, videos and audio recordings about Thomas Merton.

Description of Holdings

From the Foreword to the Description of Holdings of the Thomas Merton Room, October 1996: The original Thomas Merton Room and the new room have been made available to this learning community through the sustained generosity of Monsignor William H. Shannon, Professor Emeritus of Nazareth  and pre-eminent Merton scholar. Monsignor Shannon has provided the funding for the two rooms, has donated dozens of Merton books and other materials, has deposited the archival materials located in the room, and is himself the author of fourteen of the titles contained in the Thomas Merton Room. As a gifted teacher and accomplished scholar, Professor Shannon has introduced many students and readers to the life and writings of Thomas Merton.

His works on Merton include a biography, several book-length studies, and countless essays. Professor Shannon served as general editor of the Merton letters, editing two of the volumes himself, and he recently edited a collection of Merton's essays. Still it seems important to note that Professor Shannon has not simply written about Merton. His writing reflects the way in which he has been deeply touched and personally challenged by Merton's vision of prayer and justice. Because of this, Professor Shannon writes and lectures in a way that entices students and readers to discover for themselves what Merton has to say. It is our hope that those who use this room and the materials it houses might discover in Thomas Merton a voice that speaks to them.

Dr. Christine M. Bochen, Professor and Chair, Religious Studies Department, Nazareth University
Catherine Doyle, Director of the Lorette Wilmot Library, Nazareth University

Message from Monsignor Shannon


Historians, when they evaluate the influential writers of the twentieth century, will have to award a place of high importance to Thomas Merton. A gifted poet and a writer of strong prose, he gave a new tone and a new vitality to the literature of Christian spirituality in our century. His more than fifty books (many of them translated into several languages, both western and eastern) and hundreds of articles opened up new possibilities of spiritual growth for countless numbers of people whose surrogate spiritual guide he became.

During the unsettling period of the 1960s, he developed into an incisive critic of the social scene in America, commenting on that scene in words that were deeply perceptive and often prophetic. From the solitude of his monastic cloister, he prodded the consciences of his fellow-Americans in a time of great social and economic upheaval.

He also led those who were disposed to follow him on a spiritual pilgrimage to the East, unlocking the treasures of oriental wisdom, making it available and intelligible to the western mind and thereby enriching the western tradition of prayer and contemplation. It is symbolic of this aspect of his life's work that he met his untimely and tragic death while he was on a journey to the East. He died - accidentally electrocuted by a faulty electric fan - in Bangkok, Thailand.

His death on December 10, 1968 came exactly 27 years after his entrance into the Trappist monastery of our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky. The 26 years that preceded his entrance into the monastery were years of wandering. He was born in Prades in southern France on January 31, 1915. His early schooling was in France and England. In 1934 he left Cambridge University in England to study at Columbia in New York City, where he received a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in English. During his time of study at Columbia he became a Roman Catholic. He taught English for a year and a half at St. Bonaventure University in Alleghany, New York. In the middle of his second year of teaching he left the classroom to become a Trappist monk. This was the end of his wandering. He had found his home at last; yet, paradoxically, it was not his home. In the Preface to the Japanese edition of Seven Storey Mountain he writes:

My monastery is not a home. It is not a place where I am rooted and established in the earth it is not an environment in which I become aware of myself as an individual, but rather a place in which I disappear from the world as an object of interest in order to be everywhere by hiddenness and compassion.

"Hiddenness" (with God) and "compassion" (for his fellowmen) capsulize the Merton story and will continue to make it relevant for years to come.

Nazareth University is committed to many of the values that Thomas Merton stood for. It is for this reason that the University has chosen to reserve a special section in the Library for its growing Merton collection. It is hoped that this collection will serve the needs not only of the students of Nazareth, but of all those in the community who share an interest in Thomas Merton and the perennial value of what he has to say to us. Through this collection he will continue to speak to all of us, helping us, as he would want to do, to understand ourselves better. As he writes -- again the quotation is from the Preface to the Japanese edition of the Seven Story Mountain:

It is not as an author that I would speak to you, not as a story-teller, not as a philosopher, not as a friend only: I seek to speak to you; in some way, as your own self. Who can tell what this may mean? I myself do not know. But if you listen, things will be said that are perhaps not written in this book. And this will be due not to me, but to the One who lives and speaks in both!

-- William H. Shannon, December. 1978; October, 1996

For more information about Msgr. William H. Shannon, PhD (1917-2012), please visit our guide to his publications.  

Merton Room


Find books, videos and audio recordings in the Library's Catalog:

Find archival material: