Merton's best selling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain (1948) has become a modern spiritual classic. His other works include The Sign of Jonas, No Man is an Island, New Seeds of Contemplation, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, The Way of Chuang Tzu, and Mystics and Zen Masters. Since his untimely death in Bangkok, Thailand, in December 1968, a number of his works have been published posthumously, including The Asian Journal, The Collected Poems, The Literary Essays, and five volumes selected from his letters. His personal journals, closed for twenty-five years after his death, have just been published in seven volumes.
During his twenty-seven years as a monk at Gethsemani, Merton developed close ties with a number of people at Bellarmine College, located just forty miles from the monastery. One of his closest friends at Bellarmine, academic dean Father John Loftus, OFM Conv., proposed in 1963 to establish a Merton Collection in the College library. Abbot James Fox and Bellarmine President Monsignor Alfred Horrigan both gave the project their blessing, and the Collection was formally inaugurated on November 10, 1963. Merton's friend and teacher Father Dan Walsh read a statement prepared by Merton to mark the occasion. That statement, in which Merton reflects in "bewilderment and gratitude" upon the mystery of his role - and ours - in the life of the church, is available in full - Concerning the Collection in the Bellarmine Library.
In 1967, just one year before his death, Merton established the Merton Legacy Trust, naming Bellarmine College as the repository of his manuscripts, letters, journals, tapes, drawings, photographs, and memorabilia. Two years later, in October 1969, the College established the Thomas Merton Center, with the collection as its centerpiece.
The Center serves as a regional, national, and international resource for scholarship and inquiry on Merton and his works and also on the ideas he promoted: contemplative life, spirituality, ecumenism, East-West relations, peace, justice, and interdisciplinary approaches to contemporary social problems. The Center regularly sponsors courses, lectures, retreats, seminars, Elderhostels, and exhibits for scholars, students, and the general public.
The Center publishes the quarterly review The Merton Seasonal and other occasional materials related to Merton and his concerns. It serves as the central office for the International Thomas Merton Society, founded at the Center in 1987, and is affiliated with other international centers, such as the Merton Association at Prades, France (Merton's birthplace), the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland, the Centro Internacional de Estudios Misticos in Avila, Spain, and the International Center for Mohist Studies in Tengzhou City, China.
The Center is also home to the Thomas Merton Center Foundation, established in September 1995 by Bellarmine College, the Abbey of Gethsemani, and the Merton Legacy Trust to assist the Center in realizing its potential by providing human and financial resources for programs designed to foster Merton's ideas.
The Merton Collection has grown to some forty thousand items, including the literary estate, published works by and about Merton, and several hundred volumes from Merton's own library. It is the largest Merton collection in the world, incorporating items translated into twenty-eight languages, over one hundred masters and doctoral theses, audiovisual materials, and a growing collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and fabric art depicting Merton.
The Center is housed in a beautiful and spacious area on the second floor of Bellarmine's new W.L. Lyons Brown Library, which opened in January 1997. The new facility includes areas for study, meeting, and quiet contemplation; offices for staff and volunteers; and a climate-controlled room to preserve the Merton Collection. Merton's own drawings and photographs are on display, together with a variety of artistic renditions and photographs of Merton. A special room in the Center, dedicated to Merton's parents Owen Merton and Ruth Jenkins Merton, contains a collection of watercolors by Merton's father.