Skip to main content

Jim Forest papers regarding Thomas Merton

Collection MS-1989-021: Jim Forest papers regarding Thomas Merton


  • Creation: 1915-1996, undated
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1962 - 1996

Scope and Contents

The Thomas Merton papers include manuscripts, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and photographs, many of which he supplied to Forest as sources for his biographies.The majority of the manuscript material consists of typescripts of prose works written by Merton between 1963 and 1968; however, there are also some carbons, mimeographs, and one hand-written German-language translation of "Target Equals City." Some manuscripts feature editorial comments by Merton and Forest. Subjects addressed include philosophy (Western and Eastern), Catholic theology and practice (primarily monasticism, prayer, and social awareness), contemporary social and political issues, and literature. The correspondence includes typed letters to Jim Forest as well as photocopied correspondence to and from Dorothy Day, Pope Paul VI, Tom Cornell, John Heidbrink, Shonzo Hamai (Mayor of Hiroshima), and A. J. Muste. The photographs include images of Merton's childhood, his family and acquaintances (including Forest and the Dalai Lama), monastic life, and Gethsemani Abbey. Many of the photographs were used in Forest's Living With Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton and Thomas Merton: A Pictorial Biography.

The materials in the Jim Forest papers contain manuscript material, correspondence, newspaper and article clippings, and a videocassette recording of a 1995 lecture on Thomas Merton given at Boston College. The manuscript material consists almost exclusively of typescripts on the life and teachings of Thomas Merton. There are also two reviews of books on Dorothy Day and one photocopied mock-up of Forest's Thomas Merton: A Brief Biography. The correspondence includes letters with Forest's publisher (the Paulist Press), Brother Patrick Hart (secretary to Thomas Merton), Naomi Burton Stone (Merton's agent), Edward Rice, Michael Mott, James Laughlin, Henri Nouwen, J. F. Brouwer, W. H. "Ping" Ferry, Anne H. McCormick, Bob Giroux, Father John Eudes Bamberger, Robert Lax, John Howard Griffith, and Gerry Twomey. The remainder of the collection consists of newspaper articles and clippings by or about Jim Forest.


Language of Materials

English, German

Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical Note: Jim Forest

James H. "Jim" Forest was born in 1941 and is known as an author, peace activist, and friend of Thomas Merton. After leaving the Navy in 1961 as a conscientious objector, Forest became involved with Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker community, working as managing editor of the Catholic Worker newspaper. It was also during this time that he became acquainted with Thomas Merton. Dorothy Day encouraged Forest to write to Merton, and the correspondence blossomed into friendship. Merton dedicated his book Faith and Violence (1968) to Forest.

In the early to mid-1960s Forest was involved in the Catholic Peace Fellowship. From 1969-1970 he served a short prison sentence as a consequence of his involvement in the "Milwaukee Fourteen," a group of Catholic priests and lay people who burned draft cards. Later he worked for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, eventually serving as General Secretary for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. Forest currently acts as secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

Forest's work includes Living with Wisdom: A Biography of Thomas Merton; Love is the Measure: A Biography of Dorothy Day; Praying with Icons; and The Ladder of the Beatitudes.


Brussat, Frederic; Brussat, Mary Ann. "Review of Living with Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton by Jim Forest". Spirituality & Practice.

Forest, Jim. "Autobiography." In Communion. (Active 12/10/01)

Forest, Jim. Living with Wisdom: A Biography of Thomas Merton. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991.

Mott, Michael. The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984.

Biographical Note: Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton was born in 1915 in Prades, France to Owen Merton (an artist from New Zealand) and Ruth Jenkins Merton (an American artist). Merton studied both in Europe and America, and he graduated with an M.A. in journalism from Columbia University in 1939.

In 1938, Merton converted to Catholicism. He entered Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky in 1941 after teaching for two years at St. Bonaventure College in New York. Merton also became a prominent author of both poetry and prose, gaining international renown for his 1948 autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. While maintaining his strict devotional life, he prolifically wrote books and articles on a wide variety of subjects ranging from literary criticism to Zen Buddhism.

A significant voice for the renewal of the contemplative life in Catholic spirituality, Merton died suddenly on December 10, 1968 while attending the first Pan-Asian Monastic Conference.


Shenker, Israel. "Thomas Merton is dead at 53; monk wrote of search for God." The New York Times, December 11, 1968.


3 Linear Feet (6 containers)


These papers document the friendship and scholarly relationship between twentieth-century Catholic authors Jim Forest and Thomas Merton. The papers contain Merton's correspondence, manuscripts, and photographs. Forest's papers include his own manuscripts, most on Merton or their mutual friend Dorothy Day, correspondence with others regarding Merton, newspaper clippings, articles, and a recording of a lecture he gave on Merton.


Arranged into two series: I. Jim Forest papers and II. Thomas Merton papers.


Purchased from George Robert Minkoff in 1989 and transferred from University Archives in 2000.

Related Materials

Thomas Merton collection, MS.1986.063, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

M. Basil Pennington papers, MS.1990.004, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

H.A. Reinhold papers, MS.2003.060, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Jim Forest Papers regarding Thomas Merton
1915-1996 (bulk 1962-1996)
Ian Mulvany, 2001; revised by Edward Copenhagen, 2001; AnneMarie Anderson, 2010; and Ray Hartley
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States