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M. Basil Pennington papers

Collection MS-1990-004: M. Basil Pennington papers


  • Creation: 1949 - 1996

Scope and Contents

The collection documents M. Basil Pennington's writings and teaching as a Trappist monk and priest and leading proponent of the Centering Prayer movement. Includes articles written by and about Pennington, correspondence, ephemera, manuscripts, proofs of two of Pennington's books, and reviews of Pennington's work. Materials date primarily from 1966-1994. Many of the articles, manuscripts, and reviews relate to Catholic spirituality and Trappist monk Thomas Merton.


Restrictions on access

Collection is closed for reprocessing.

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

Born in Brooklyn, M. Basil Pennington moved with his family to Freeport, Long Island, as a young child, and attended parochial school there for a year and a half. When his father died, his mother returned the family to Brooklyn, where he attended another parochial school and then entered the minor seminary. Father Pennington was active during his teenage years in the Legion of Mary, CCD, and CYO, working among the disadvantaged in Brooklyn parishes.

M. Basil Pennington entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Saint Joseph in Spencer, Massachusetts in 1951 after graduating from Cathedral College in Brooklyn, New York. After ordination in 1956, he spent several years in Rome earning an S.T.L., cum laude from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas and J.C.L. summa cum laude from the Gregorianum.

With Thomas Merton, he started Cistercian Publications in 1968 and founded The Institute of Cistercian Studies at Western Michigan University at Kalamazoo in 1973. Pennington and Merton corresponded and spent some time together. Pennington published a book about his time in Merton's Gethsemani hermitage, A Retreat with Thomas Merton, and a biography, Thomas Merton, Brother Monk.

Father Pennington became nationally known through the contemplative Centering Prayer movement. The Centering Prayer is an ancient Christian prayer form, closely related to the form of contemplative prayer described, for example, in The Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th-century English work on spirituality. The name "Centering Prayer" is new. According to Pennington, the name came from Thomas Merton who would say that the easiest way to come into the experience of God and communion with God is to go to your own center and pass through that center into the center of God.

M. Basil Pennington died in 2005.


O'Connor, Liz, "Father Pennington and the Centering Prayer." The Catholic Digest. May, 1980, 95-98.

"Father Pennington to Speak at Vespers." The Mirror 23, no. 22 (1987), 1-3.

Power, John, C.P. "A Matter of Love." Passionist Series, no. 1284.


7.5 Linear Feet (18 containers)

Language of Materials



These papers are composed of articles, conference materials, correspondence, ephemera, manuscripts, proofs, and reviews of scholar and Trappist monk M. Basil Pennington. Much of the material relates to Catholic spirituality and Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Also includes articles, manuscripts, and reviews by other authors on similar topics.


Organized into seven series: I. Articles; II. Conference materials; III. Correspondence; IV. Ephemera; V. Manuscripts; VI. Proofs; and VII. Reviews.

Series I is further divided into three subseries: A. About M. Basil Pennington; B. By M. Basil Pennington; and C. By others.

Series IV is further divided into six subseries: A. Announcements; B. Flyers; C. Hymns; D. Newsletters; E. Photograph; and F. Programs.

Series V is further divided into two subseries: A. By M. Basil Pennington; and B. By others.

Series VII is further divided into three subseries: A. Of M. Basil Pennington's work; B. By M. Basil Pennington; and C. Other reviews.


Gift of M. Basil Pennington in multiple donations, 1990-1996.

M. Basil Pennington Papers
Under Revision
unknown; updated by Annesley Anderson
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