By Wynn McDonald
The name Thomas Merton, for many students, is almost synonymous with Bellarmine itself. From his statue guarding the school’s Norris Place entrance, to the center on the top floor of the library that holds his manuscripts, the late monk is the closest thing to local legend on campus.
On Tuesday, his legacy will be celebrated once again with the 14th annual Thomas Merton Black History Month Lecture, featuring Professor Andrew L. Prevot of Boston College.
“Come out and learn what this dude this school relishes is all about,” student Mary Greenfield said. “He was quite a profound and insightful man.”
This year’s lecture will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Hilary’s. It continues the Merton Center’s decade-plus tradition of bringing renowned theologians and scholars to campus to reflect on the powerful civil rights dialogue Merton started in the late 1960s. The event is free and open to the public, and it historically attracts attendees from the wider Louisville community and beyond.
This subject represents a crucial but often overlooked aspect of his writing, according to Center Director Dr. Paul Pearson.
“The idea was to get people working in the field of civil rights, working against racism, to address Merton’s thinking on it—to begin to see if he still had things to say to us,” Pearson said. “And very quickly, it became clear that he did.”
Greenfield, a junior philosophy major at Bellarmine, is also a member of the International Thomas Merton Society. She was in attendance for last year’s lecture, delivered by Father Daniel Horan, OFM.
“This lecture comes every year and is always so phenomenal,” Greenfield said. “Merton had a lot to say about the civil rights activity occurring in this country later in his life and this is still relevant [to] realizing its continuing impact on our lives today.”
Prevot’s lecture, titled “Contemplation in Times of Crisis,” will address the differences between contemplation and action, and the importance of doing both. This topic should be a familiar one to students who have taken one of their general-education theology classes with Bellarmine’s resident Merton scholar, Dr. Greg Hillis.
“That’s really what he’s going to focus on when it comes to Merton,” Hillis said. “This idea that spirituality [doesn’t] just mean prayer and silence; it needs to be lived out, particularly with problems like racism.”
Although Prevot has never written on Merton specifically, his body of work on systematic and liberation theologies bears what Pearson calls an unmistakable “Mertonesque” quality.
“The work that he’s done on racism and spirituality is very much in Merton’s spirit,” Pearson said. “It’s [also] important when we’re looking at these kinds of issues that it’s not just white theologians addressing this.”
Prevot, an African-American scholar and academic, is the latest in a group of esteemed and diverse lecturers to visit campus each February in conjunction with Black History Month, which has been cross-promoted the past two years as part of a series of events by the Office of Identity and Inclusion. Previous speakers have included Dr. Vincent Harding, Dorothy Cotton and Rev. Brian Massingale.
For Bellarmine students, it’s an event they don’t want to miss—especially in the current social climate, where Merton’s insights are as significant as they’ve ever been.
“I think it’s important to return to learning about the struggle of black people during this time, year after year, because there are always traces of [this] injustice going on still today,” Greenfield said. “We need to push ourselves to learn more about it so we can better work for change in the world we are about to enter.”
Read about last year’s lecture: http://knightsmedianetwork.com/2019/03/04/merton-center-lecture-offers-different-take-on-racial-issues/