Henry Merton – Community and Political Leader
Henry Merton was an influential community and political figure. He served as president of Bowdoin College Republicans, chaired all Susan Collins Senate campaigns, and was an attorney with Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry law firm.
Merton crafts poems that baffle, shock, seduce and illuminate their readers.
Early Life and Education
Merton spent his youth working at his family store, ringing up customers and waiting on them. Additionally, he helped tend his father’s farm as well as help out his siblings with chores.
His writing began as an after-work hobby and soon after became published works, such as the best-known work, The Seven Storey Mountain. For this publication’s galley proofs were sent to Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and Clare Boothe Luce for review purposes.
Merton was widely respected within both Catholic Church and liberal social activist circles for his criticisms of social injustice, from segregation to Vietnam War, garnering him accolades both within and outside his monastery. He welcomed a Vietnamese Buddhist monk to speak at his abbey as well as exchanging correspondence with folk singer Joan Baez and peace activist Daniel Berrigan; additionally his writings on Eastern thought caused controversy inside and outside its walls.
Henry was an active member of Bowdoin College Alumni Council and served on multiple committees, such as one debating whether women should be admitted into its student body. Together with Harriet, Henry also founded the Henry Family Library Fund.
Innovations such as spectroscope and modern radar screen were among his many contributions to science and society. He is an active member of Transfiguration Evangelical Lutheran Church in Parshallville as well as the American Legion.
Since 1987, Henry has served on Bowdoin College Board of Overseers and as trustee emeritus since 1987. Additionally, he serves on New Century Campaign Steering Committee board as well as having established Henry Family Library Fund with Harriet Henry back in 1987 – both are dedicated Bowdoin alumni who worked on committees concerning admission of women students as well as disbandment of fraternities on campus.
Achievement and Honors
Merton was widely quoted in journals and his books were often used as texts in sociology courses. Additionally, he was an effective teacher, encouraging the work of many of his students.
He was one of the pioneers of modern policy research, conducting studies on an integrated housing project and educational systems. Additionally, he was among the first to use focus groups – now commonly employed by both marketers and politicians alike.
Merton first received significant notice when his book The Seven Storey Mountain and poem A Man in the Divided Sea were both published by New Directions magazine in 1947, prompting him to ask permission of Abbot for keeping its colorful gown hood (he called it a “trinket”). Merton was also an active essayist – his pieces often covered wide ranges of interests that often culminated into extended essays.
At the Abbey, Merton quickly distinguished himself as an advocate of interfaith understanding and began investigating Eastern religions. He initiated conversations with Buddhist monks such as D. T. Suzuki and Thich Nhat Hanh as well as writing books about Buddhism and Christianity. Furthermore, Merton became a strong proponent of nonviolence; being active during race riots and Vietnam War protests.
Merton’s 1948 autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, caused a sensation when published. Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene gave it glowing reviews comparing its content to Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Merton was an active supporter of Bowdoin College, serving on its Board of Overseers and serving on its trustee team. Additionally, in 1987 he and Harriet established The Henry Family Library at Bowdoin.
Laughlin refused to accept a salary from New Directions Publishing Company and instead listed himself on tax returns as an “investor.” Though modest about its success, his substantial net worth can be traced to both prudent investing strategies and publishing ventures.
Merton is widely acclaimed as having pioneered Eastern mysticism among Western Christians. Additionally, he was renowned as a poet, author, artist, social critic, and reformer of monastic life.
Thomas Merton was an internationally acclaimed author and spiritual figure; yet, in spite of this fame he lived his life modestly without seeking fame or wealth. To his death he lived frugally and with integrity. A large collection of Merton manuscripts are housed at Bellarmine College in Louisville Kentucky’s Thomas Merton Studies Center; furthermore a scholarship and district in Frankfurt have both been named after him.