This report is based on a press release provided by the Office of Marketing and Communications staff at St. Bonaventure University.
ALLEGANY, N.Y. — Through keynote speakers, worship experiences, and tours, a four-day conference at St. Bonaventure University explored the relationships Trappist monk Thomas Merton had with the people and places of St. Bonaventure.
The June 19 to 22 conference, “Coming Home and Going Forth: Merton as Mirror and Model,” was held in anticipation of Merton’s 100th birthday in 2015.
Keynote speakers and renowned Merton scholars, including St. Bonaventure alumnus Daniel Horan, OFM, ‘05, gave presentations. Other speakers included Christine Bochen of Nazareth College, Michael Higgens of Sacred Heart University, and former Abbot of the Abbey of Genesee, Fr. John Eudes Bamberger, OSCO. Fr. Eudes studied with Merton at The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani and joined the Cistercian Order there in 1950. He lives at the Genesee monastery and teaches and works in the local community.
Dan, a columnist for America magazine and the author of several books, serves on the board of directors of the International Thomas Merton Society.
“The Merton Conference was a wonderful gathering of scholars and enthusiasts alike,” he said. “From the first event through the prayer service at the Grotto on the last evening, everyone I spoke with commented on how moved, inspired and challenged they were. It was especially great to kick off the centenary year celebrations of Merton’s birth (2015) at St. Bonaventure, the location that served as the bridge to his monastic vocation. It was meaningful for me to take part as well, given that, like Merton, it was at St. Bonaventure that I first discerned my own vocation to religious life, something that I’ve always felt brings me closer to Merton’s spirit.”
During the conference, attendees enjoyed different breakout sessions each day. Special sessions included a visit to the Marcus/Lax family cottage led by St. Bonaventure Vice President for Franciscan Mission F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, ’70, and “An Afternoon at Mt. Irenaeus” led by Daniel Riley, OFM, ’64, guardian of Holy Peace Friary at Mt. Irenaeus Franciscan retreat in West Clarksville, N.Y. Merton and Olean poet Robert Lax would often go to the cottage to write.
“The Merton Conference was a great event. I think the participants enjoyed the presentations, visits to the Lax family cottage and the like,” said Ed. “One of the highlights of the weekend was the evening prayer celebrated in the grotto that recalled Merton’s telling of the story of his discernment to become a Trappist.”
Each evening, attendees were also invited to dessert socials where they could discuss the events of the day together.
During free time, attendees were given the opportunity to explore the “Merton Before The Monastery” exhibition created by staff at the university’s Friedsam Memorial Library. It features original documents, journals, and other pieces of writing in Merton’s own hand. This exhibition also features archival images of Merton, his friends and associates, and the St. Bonaventure University campus as it would have appeared during Merton’s time.
“The Thomas Merton Conference was a wonderful weekend in which participants, from many different walks of life, came together to celebrate the connection of Thomas Merton to St. Bonaventure University,” said conference coordinator Julianne Wallace, assistant director of faith formation, worship and ministry at the university. “The weekend was a marvelous success and everyone went forth back into the world with renewed energy and passion for living a spiritual life.”