The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton: An Investigation

Amazon Review by Anthony Donovan, April 18, 2019

I’m profoundly grateful for this book, the courage and effort to pull it together.  We will be told by the myriads of people who have not read it, and have interests to protect, that it is in the “conspiracy” camp.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, nor care to be. Neither are these authors. I’ve nothing but gratitude for the painstaking detail.

There are those with human frailties who are great Saints (perhaps all). It is time to begin to not only recognize the value of Fr. Louis, Thomas Merton’s depth of search but his clear rightful station of martyrdom.

Perhaps like many of you, my grandmother gave me Seven Storey Mountain in my youth. But I’d leave our church for it’s lack of response to the Vietnam war and civil rights struggles, and soon forget his inspiration….. Until some years later in the midst of trying to understand myself in that struggle more, coming upon Gandhi On Non-Violence, another profoundly guiding Merton work. But I still did not recognize my church until taking a retreat at a Benedictine Monastery, much later, January 1979…. and on the shelves there…. book after book on and by Thomas Merton…. a immersed rediscovery, speaking to me.

In 2012 for preparation on my documentary on those who’ve tried to halt nuclear weapons, for which he was very outspoken and clear, I came upon the footage of his last moments, his lecture in Thailand. I was stunned: it was a modern facility! A faulty fan? No one looked hot, wiping brow or drinking water. Running for a shower? He was vibrant, full of energy, and smiling, joking with others just after his talk, not at all like one who’d die from a heart attack an hour later (as per Thai press I’d read).

Many works explaining his death repeat, there was no motive for killing him… and I just didn’t know how anyone living and awake in 1968, especially bordering Vietnam, could say this?! This among a few other things, like autopsies denied and various inconsistent story lines got me thinking, key witnesses going unmentioned, was enough to present an evening that year at Maryhouse, the Catholic Worker in Manhattan, on why I thought Merton was taken from us, and not accidentally.

I had written the Abbey at Gethsemani, offering to arrange for paying for an autopsy, with a most reverent unearthing. A flat no. It’s no fault of the monks there, or any of us. It’s what we’ve been told by those who had all the info. I’m as guilty as anyone for believing and passing along the myths for decades. Who knew? (a handful did)

A few months ago, I was told by someone who knew Fr. Louis, not to bother with this “conspiracy” book, so, it took me awhile. One morning curiosity had me see if there were any useful facts beyond theory, even one might be helpful. Wow!

Please, don’t listen to those who try to dissuade you with their interpretation. It’s a most invaluable work. The investigation process continues to be a process, and here is only encouraged to move forward.

I was able to get the photos the authors mentioned. They are painful, and devastatingly clear. After the initial shock, I just had to put them down, and say a prayer. They are truthful, as are these authors when speaking about this man, this martyr. As are the many other verifiable facts presented. Well done. Thomas Merton, a very well done life of fearless service toward the great efforts toward peace and understanding.

It is not possible to describe Thomas Merton’s life long search and brutal honesty with himself and this world, the profound gifts he gave to us, deeply moving millions toward an earnest spirituality and understanding of the whole.

Focusing on his death does not change this tremendous life offering, but don’t we owe it to Merton to at least not perpetuate and repeat the opposite of his example, that of fraud and deceit?

We’re so blessed to have known him. His full sacrifice of life in the least deserves putting an end to the lies. We’d honor him greatly by recognizing his martyrdom for the great Peacemaker.

Please, read the book, help pressure for a 51 year overdue autopsy, etc. Since we can, let’s right a repeating wrong from entering the future. Thomas Merton’s encouragement lives more than ever for today’s challenges. His words on nuclear weapons, on war, and on embracing the other.... fully resonate....

Thank you for this book. Onward.

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