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Jim Forest papers

Collection MS-1989-021: Jim Forest papers


  • Creation: 1915-1996, undated
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1962-1980

Scope and Contents

Materials collected and created by twentieth century peace activist and author Jim Forest for his biographies of Trappist monk Thomas Merton, including correspondence, manuscripts, and photographs. The collected materials by Merton were primarily sent to Forest directly by Merton, and some include inscriptions or comments in Merton's hand. Additional collected materials, especially photographs, were collected by Forest explicitly for his Merton biographies, Thomas Merton: A Pictorial Biography (Paulist Press, 1980) and Living With Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton (Orbis Books, 1991). Forest's own papers include correspondence about Merton and about Forest's writing, as well as essays and lectures about Merton's life and work. There is also a small amount of material pertaining to Forest's biography of Dorothy Day, Love is the measure: A biography of Dorothy Day (Paulist Press, 1986).


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 on November 2, 1941. His parents were both atheist communists, and Forest converted to Catholicism as an adult. He encountered the work of Dorothy Day while serving in the Navy and was inspired to leave the Navy in 1961 as a conscientious objector and become involved with Day's Catholic Worker community, working as managing editor of the Catholic Worker newspaper. During this time, he also became acquainted with Thomas Merton. Dorothy Day encouraged Forest to write to Merton, and the correspondence established a friendship. In the mid-1960s, Forest visited Merton in Kentucky, thinking of moving on from the Catholic Worker to become a monastic, though he ultimately did not follow that path. Merton dedicated his book Faith and Violence (1968) to Forest.

In the early to mid-1960s Forest founded the Catholic Peace Fellowship alongside Daniel Berrigan, SJ. Later he worked for the Fellowship of Reconciliation. It was through this work that Forest became acquainted with Vietnamese Zen master Thích Nhất Hạnh. 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 stolen from the Brumder Building in Milwaukee. In 1977, Forest moved with his family to the Netherlands, where he served as General Secretary for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and continued his involvement in the peace movement, focusing on the Cold War and nuclear disarmament. In 1988, he joined the Russian Orthodox Church, and eventually founded the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

Throughout his career, Forest wrote about pacifism and important figures in the peace movement. His published work includes Love is the Measure: A Biography of Dorothy Day (1986); Living with Wisdom: A Biography of Thomas Merton (1991); Praying with Icons (1997); and The Ladder of the Beatitudes (1999).

Jim Forest died on January 13, 2022 in Alkmaar, the Netherlands.


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.

Forest, Jiim and Nancy. Jim & Nancy Forest, Accessed 2024 March 27.

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

Sooy, Nicholas, “The Remarkable Life and Witness of Jim Forest,” In Communion: Website of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, Accessed 2024 March 27.

Biographical Note: Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton was born on January 31, 1915 in Prades, France to Owen Merton (an artist from New Zealand) and Ruth Jenkins Merton (an artist from the United States), and grew up in New York, Bermuda, France, and England. Merton studied both in Europe and America, and he received a BA and an MA in journalism from Columbia University in 1938 and 1939.

In 1938, Merton converted to Catholicism. He taught for two years at St. Bonaventure College in New York before entering the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), in 1941. He made his simple vows in 1944, and solemn vows in 1947. He was ordained a priest in 1949 and took the name Father M. Louis. At Gethsemani, Merton served as Master of Scholastics (1951-1955) and Master of Novices (1955-1965), before retreating to a hermitage on the grounds of the abbey in 1965. Merton became a prominent author of both poetry and prose, initially 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, such as Catholic spirituality, civil rights, literary criticism, monastic renewal, pacifism, and Zen Buddhism.

Merton died suddenly on December 10, 1968 while attending the first Pan-Asian Monastic Conference in Thailand.


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

"Thomas Merton’s Life and Work," The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Accessed 2024 March 27.


4.7 Linear Feet (9 containers)

Language of Materials



Materials collected and created by twentieth century peace activist and author Jim Forest for his biographies of Trappist monk Thomas Merton, including correspondence, manuscripts, and photographs.


Arranged in four series: I. Collected materials by Thomas Merton; II. Collected materials about Thomas Merton; III. Correspondence; and IV. Writings.

The first series is arranged in three subseries: A. Correspondence; B. Photographs; and C. Writings.


Purchased from George Robert Minkoff, 1989. Boston College lecture materials transferred from University Archives, 2000.

Related Materials

At John J. Burns Library, Boston College:

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

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

Merton, Thomas, 1946-1988, IV, Box: 36, Folder: 35-40. Boston College Humanities Series director's records, MS.2002.037. John J. Burns Library.

Philip J. and Mary Stack McNiff Papers, MS.2005.038, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Thomas Merton Library: Search the Boston College online catalog, local collection name MERTON.

At other repositories:

Thomas Merton Collection. Thomas Merton Center. Bellarmine University (Louisville, KY).

Thomas Merton Papers. Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Columbia University (New York, NY).

Separated Materials

Published works associated with this collection have been transferred within the Burns Library and can be found in the Boston College Library catalog.

  • Duplicates, clippings, and offprints
Jim Forest Papers
1915-1996, undated (bulk 1962-1980)
Ian Mulvany, 2001; revised by Edward Copenhagen, 2001; AnneMarie Anderson, 2010; Ray Hartley, 2018; Elizabeth Peters
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2024 April: Reprocessed and redescribed.

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