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Boston College collection of Thomas Merton

Collection MS-1986-063: Boston College collection of Thomas Merton


  • Creation: 1940-1986

Scope and Contents

This purposefully assembled collection documenting the life and work of Thomas Merton contains articles, artwork, correspondence, essays, poems, prefaces, reviews, and other writings by Merton, as well as correspondence and writings about Merton pertaining to exhibitions and memorials.

Merton’s writings are grouped into notes, poetry, and prose. The notes consist primarily of his handwritten outlines and notes for various writing projects. Poetry manuscripts and typescripts include some handwritten corrections. Prose manuscripts and typescripts were for both long- and short-form work, including book reviews, essays, monographs, prefaces, sermons, and translations. Many typescript copies have extensive corrections in Merton's hand, including a complete typescript of The Seven Storey Mountain. Some of the longer work was informally published by mimeograph and distributed by Merton and the Abbey of Gethsemani. There are also publisher's proofs of some of Merton's books.

Correspondence is Merton's direct exchanges with Boston College Librarians Terrence Connolly, SJ and Brendan Connolly, SJ and others, as well as his “Circular Letters,” which were sent by Merton when he could not maintain personal correspondences.

The graphic works in the collection are both Merton’s original calligraphic drawings and photographs of Merton in a number of settings including at St. Bonaventure College's 1941 commencement, his ordination, and Merton with the Dalai Lama. Most photographs are uncredited, but identified photographers are John Howard Griffin, Philip M. Stark, and Tenzin Geshe (the Dalai Lama's secretary).


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

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.


11.5 Linear Feet (16 containers)

Language of Materials



Intentionally assembled collection comprised of original manuscripts of books, essays, letters, and poems written by the Trappist monk, poet, and writer Thomas Merton.


Collection is arranged in five series: I. Artwork; II. Correspondence; III. Photographs; IV. Writings by Merton; and V. Works about Merton.

Series IV. Writings by Merton is further arranged in three subseries: A. Notes; B. Poetry; and C. Prose.


Because the current accessioning system was not used until January 1986, it is not possible to know exactly the dates of acquisition of materials received before that time. This custodial history was gleened from correspondence.

In 1948, Boston College faculty member Francis W. Sweeney, SJ, acquired an original typescript of The Seven Storey Mountain. Between 1948-1968, University Librarians Terrence Connolly, SJ and Brendan Connolly, SJ acquired signed books, manuscripts, mimeographed works, publisher's proofs, and carbon-copied letters directly from Merton. Additional material came from Dorothy Wayman (1953) and Mary and Philip McNiff (1988).

Related Materials

At John J. Burns Library, Boston College:

Jim Forest papers. MS.1989.021, 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:

Dorothy Wayman Papers, SC1962-20, College of the Holy Cross Archives and Special Collections.

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

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

  • Offprints and photocopies
Boston College Collection of Thomas Merton
George Fuir, S.J., Beth Raymond, and Edward Copenhagen, 2006; Elizabeth Peters, 2024
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2019: Letters removed in May 2013 for an exhibit but never returned were removed from description.
  • 2024 March: Reprocessed, rehoused, and redescribed, including simplification of the series arrangement and the deaccessioning of photocopies, offprints, and clippings

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