This story originally appeared in the Nov. 22, 1963, issue of The Bellarmine Concord.
Dr. Daniel C. Walsh, visiting Professor of philosophy at Bellarmine, spoke to over 150 people on the library’s new Thomas Merton Collection Sunday afternoon, November 10.
(Thomas Merton is Fr. Mary Louis, O.C.S.O., of the Abbey of Gethsemani at Trappist, Kentucky. He has written The Seven Storey Mountain and more than twenty other books since entering the monastery in 1941.)
The talk in the Cardinal Room helped open Bellarmine’s “Town and Gown Week.” Dr. Walsh, a longtime teacher, friend, and fellow scholar of Merton, discussed the author as “the man of the day … whose books on the spiritual life have won for him the acclaim of critics and praise from men everywhere,” and who “is now Bellarmine’s adopted son.”
Quoting the following text from an unpublished letter of Jacques Maritain (as an authority attesting to the exceptional quality and significance of Merton’s works), Dr. Walsh said: “Thousands of readers are attracted to him and are ready to receive from him a message they are not disposed to hear from anyone else.” He went on to say: “My presence as a speaker here is not to give you Thomas Merton the spiritual writer of world fame; it is in a sense to testify against the much quoted statement, that a prophet is never a prophet in his own country.”
He then traced the change in outlook apparent from two photographs of Merton spanning about twenty years. The earlier photo shows “‘Merton, the ascetic,’ a man formed in the rigor and austerity of self-imposed discipline”; while the “new man” of the later photo has “discovered that the most important thing in the spiritual life is not what we do but what God does in us.” A quotation from the Preface to the Japanese edition of The Seven Storey Mountain reinforced this view of Merton’s utter conviction that simple, living faith in Christ is the only way of freedom.
Dr. Walsh concluded his talk by reading a personal statement from Thomas Merton, “Concerning the Collection in Bellarmine College Library,” which noted the presence of God in the place of the collection and the occasion of its first exhibit; and which stated that all his writing “can be reduced in the end to this one root truth: that God calls human persons to union with Himself and with one another in Christ, in the Church which is His Mystical Body.”