Skip to main content

Thomas Merton collection

Collection MS-1986-063: Thomas Merton collection


  • 1940-1986

Scope and Contents

The collection documents the life and work of Thomas Merton through monographs, articles, essays, reviews, prefaces, poems, and other writings by Merton. The vast majority of textual materials is in the form of typescripts (including mimeographed works of limited distribution), including an original typescript of The Seven Storey Mountain. The collection also contains Merton's correspondence with Terrence Connolly, S.J., Brendan Connolly, S.J., Mary Stack McNiff, and others. Additionally, the materials include photographs of Merton and original ink calligraphic drawings by Merton. The collection also includes reviews of Merton's works and writings about Merton.

Series I. Correspondence, 1947-1977: The series contains Merton's outgoing correspondence with Terrence Connolly, S.J., Brendan Connolly, S.J., Mary Stack McNiff, Dante Mogana, Dorothy Wayland, Mary Foster and other individuals. Additionally, it includes copies of the Fathers Connollys' outgoing letters sent to Merton. The series also contains general correspondence about Merton received and written by Terrence Connolly and McNiff. The series also includes several of Merton's "Circular Letters" as well as a few incoming items to Merton. This series is arranged into six subseries: Incoming Correspondence; Circular Letters; Brendan Connolly-Thomas Merton Correspondence; Terrence Connolly-Thomas Merton Correspondence; Mary McNiff-Thomas Merton Correspondence; and, Other Correspondence

Series II. Monographs, 1946-1967: This series contains monographs written by Merton on various subjects. It includes self-published works (i.e. bound mimeographed works) circulated privately by Merton, publisher's proofs and galleys, and manuscripts (typescripts), including TheSeven Storey Mountain. The series is arranged in three subseries: Self-Published Works; Publishers' Proofs; and Manuscripts.

Series III. Essays, 1940-1969: This series contains individual essays written by Thomas Merton. It consists primarily of typescripts (including mimeographed items) but also includes published articles. The processing archivist has noted when individual typescripts contain Merton's handwritten corrections. They are arranged alphabetically by title.

Series IV. Prefaces, 1953-1970: This series contains typescripts (including mimeographed items) of prefaces for works written by Merton and prefaces written by Merton for the works of other authors. The processing archivist has noted when individual typescripts contain Merton's handwritten corrections. This series is arranged into two subseries: Prefaces for Works by Merton; and Prefaces for Works by Other Individuals.

Series V. Miscellaneous Manuscripts, 1967: This series consists primarily of Merton's handwritten outlines and notes for various writing projects. These items are undated. The series also includes photocopies of Merton's will and a typed summary of a meeting held at Gethsemani Abbey on the subject of "intercontemplative communication as a means of renewal." These items are both dated from 1967.

Series VI. Book Reviews, 1949-1967: This series contains book reviews authored by Merton. It consists of typescripts (including mimeographed items) and clippings from periodicals. The materials shed light on Merton's opinions of individual authors and their works. The processing archivist has noted when individual typescripts contain Merton's handwritten corrections. The series is divided into two subseries: Titled Book Reviews; and Untitled Book Reviews.

Series VII. Poetry, 1941-1967: This series contains manuscript and typescript (including mimeographed items) copies of Merton's poems. The processing archivist has noted when individual typescripts contain Merton's handwritten corrections. Published versions of the poems, when available, were also included with the manuscript copies. These poems are described on the item-level. Also contained in this series are other periodical cuttings of Merton's poems. These are described collectively on the folder-level.

Series VIII. Works About Merton, 1944-1986: This series contains works about Merton written by various individuals. It consists of book reviews (both of Merton's works and works about Merton), items written about him at the time of his death and essays about Merton's life. The series is arranged into four subseries: Book Reviews of Publications Written by Merton; Book Reviews of Publications about Merton; Homilies, Obituaries and Remembrances; and Articles Essays about Merton.

Series IX. Ephemera, 1946-1978: This series includes commercially produced calendars with photographs of Gethsemani Abbey, sets of printed greeting cards illustrated with Merton's art, prayer cards with quotations from Merton's writing, a program from an exhibit of Merton's art and publicity items from books by and about Merton.

Series X. Artwork by Merton, 1963-1964: This series consists of eight original pen and ink calligraphic drawings. Four of these drawings include titles and five of the drawings are dated. It also includes two photographic reproductions of other Merton drawings.

Series XI. Photographs, 1939-1969: This series consists primarily of original photographs of Merton dated from 1941 through 1968. Several items are undated. They include photographs of Merton at St. Bonaventure College's 1941 commencement, Merton's ordination and Merton standing with the Dalai Lama. The majority of the photographs are uncredited. The identified photographers are John Howard Griffin, Philip M. Stark, and Tenzin Geshe (the Dalai Lama's secretary). The series also contains photographs of a 1969 exhibit on Thomas Merton installed by the St. John's Seminary (Boston, Massachusetts) and a post card of the Shrine of Our Lady Queen of Peace (a memorial for Merton in New Harmony, Indiana). Additionally, it contains copy negatives and copy prints from the 1939 Columbia University Yearbook.


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: Thomas Merton

Time Line

1915 January 31
Born in Paredes, France to Owen Merton and Ruth Jenkins Merton
Family moved to Douglaston, NY, and lived with his mother's family
1921 October 3
Death of Ruth Jenkins Merton
Lived in Bermuda with his father
Lived in St. Antonin, France, with Father
Enrolled Lycée Ingres in Montauban, France
Enrolled in Ripley Court School (Surrey, England)
Enrolled in Oakham Public School (Rutland, England)
1931 January 18
Death of Owen Merton
Completed High School education at Oakham Public School
1933 October
Entered Clare College (Cambridge University) on scholarship
1934 May
Withdrew from Clare College and returned to the United States
1935 January
Transferred to Columbia University as a sophomore
1938 January
Bachelors of Arts degree. Enrolled in the Graduate School
1938 August
Attended Catholic Mass for the first time
1938 November 16
Received into the Roman Catholic Church
1939 February
Masters of Arts Degree in English from Columbia University
1939 May 25
Confirmed by the Catholic Church
Taught English at St. Bonaventure College
1941 December 10
Entered Abbey of Gethsemani
1944 March 19
Made his simple vows to the Trappists of Gethsemani Abbey
1947 March 18
Made his solemn vows to the Trappists of Gethsemani Abbey
Publication of The Seven Storey Mountain
1948 December 21
Ordained subdeacon
1949 March 19
Ordained deacon
1949 March 26
Ordained priest
Master of Scholastics
1951 June 26
Became a citizen of the United States
Master of Novices
Lived in a hermitage on the grounds of the monastery
1968 October 15
Left the United States for the Far East
1968 December 10
Died in Bangkok, Thailand


21.5 Linear Feet (32 containers)

Language of Materials



This is an intentionally assembled collection of the Trappist monk, poet and writer Thomas Merton. It includes original manuscripts of books, essays, letters and poems written by Thomas Merton.

Series Description

Collection is arranged in 11 series:

Series list

  1. Series I. Correspondence
  2. Series II. Monographs
  3. Series III. Essays
  4. Series IV. Prefaces
  5. Series V. Miscellaneous Manuscripts
  6. Series VI. Book Reviews
  7. Series VII. Poetry
  8. Series VIII. Works about Merton
  9. Series IX. Ephemera
  10. Series X. Artwork by Merton
  11. Series XI. Photographs


The Thomas Merton Collection is an intentionally assembled collection of manuscripts, correspondence, periodical clippings, photographs, art work and ephemera primarily by (but also about) Thomas Merton. As the Department accessioning system only began in 1986, the exact provenance of most of the items found in the collection is unknown.

The genesis of the collection was a 1948 gift by Francis W. Sweeney, S.J. of an original The Seven Storey Mountain typescript. The following spring, it served as one of the chief attractions of the Library's Thomas Merton Exhibit. After Sweeney's death in 2002, Boston College archivists also discovered three snapshots of Merton with his friends at St. Bonaventure College on commencement day (1941 June 8) amongst his personal papers. It is not known how Sweeney acquired these photographs.

Following the exhibit and until Merton's death in 1968, University Librarians Terrence Connolly, S.J., and Brendan Connolly, S.J., gave Merton certain "library privileges." Merton was allowed to borrow books from Boston College not available to him at Gethsemani Abbey. The Library also photocopied articles from journals. In exchange, Merton sent signed books, manuscripts, mimeographed works, publisher's proofs and even carbon-copied letters, which were added to the Merton Collection. The correspondence found in this collection documents this exchange.

Other friends of the Boston College Library have also added their original Merton material to the collection. Many items were donated to the Boston College Library by Mary and Philip McNiff. Philip was the director of the Boston Public Library and Mary was the Assistant to the Librarian at St. John's Seminary (Boston, Massachusetts). Mary befriended Merton through a series of letters. Besides typescripts and mimeographed items, Merton gave McNiff several original pen and ink calligraphic drawings. She documented their friendship and exchange of letters in a short article entitled "And a New World Be Born from These Green Tombs" published in the 1969 March 1 issue of The Pilot.

Local journalist Dorothy Wayman donated her small collection of Merton correspondence to the Boston College Library in August 1953.

Arthur A. MacGillivray, S.J. gathered a variety of periodical cuttings which were integrated into the collection. The clippings consisted largely of poems by Merton and reviews of Merton's works.

Related Materials

At the John J. Burns Library, Boston College:

James Forest - Thomas Merton Collection. MS1989-021.

Francis W. Sweeney -Thomas Merton Correspondence, Box 36, Folders 35-40. Humanities Series : Director's Files. MS2002-037.

Terrence Connolly - Francis W. Sweeney Correspondence (re: The Seven Storey Mountain Mss). University Librarian's Records. BC1988-019.

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).

PDF properties

Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani (Trappist, Ky.); Catholic Church United States; Clergy; Trappists; Christian life; Catholic authors; Monasticism and religious orders; Religious aspects of Pacifism; Spiritual life; Spirituality.

Thomas Merton Collection
George Fuir, S.J., Beth Raymond, and Edward Copenhagen
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
617-552-2465 (Fax)