Saturday, May 3, 2008

remembering merton (part 2) - "I'm Thomas Merton!"

This post is going to be categorized under “humor” because it captures that whimsical nature of Merton that is so delightful.

Tommie Callaghan was a Louisville woman who had gone to school both in Bardstown and at Manhattanville Sacred Heart in New York where Dan Walsh was her philosophy professor. She and Dan stayed in touch, especially after he moved to Kentucky, and he introduced her to Merton. Tommie helped Merton get around to his various appointments in Louisville, and being the mother of 6 children, she says she was good at this. Merton became good friends with Tommie and her family. Before his death, Merton asked Tommie to be on the Board of Trustees, which oversaw his literary collection at Bellarmine College.

Tommie Callaghan relayed the following incident at the round table discussion of Merton’s friends held in the late 1990’s.

"You know, Donald, when you say that he didn't want anybody to know who he was - the man from Nelson County story - I had an occasion. I had taken my sister . . . I was very careful about going out and taking people to meet Merton or even discuss him. I felt that our friendship was not something built on his literary works, it was simply a friendship and that was that. But my sister was in town and he had said bring her out to the hermitage and I did. When we got there he said, "Listen. There's this jazz band playing down on Washington Street and I'd like to go". And I said "Tonight ?" And he said "Yes." Well, my husband, Frank, who seems to disappear out of the country when anything big is going on, was in South America, I guess, so Megan and I drove Tom in (I had seven children at that point) and I fed them dinner. Tom helped Kathy with her homework and I gathered some mutual friends, Ron and Sally Seitz, Pat and Ben Cunnington, Megan, myself, my brother and his wife, and we all went down to Washington Street to this jazz band.

There was a bass fiddler there who Tom just thought was great and he insisted we bring him over and buy him drinks, and guess who's buying the drinks? And Tom is just taken with this guy who's from Boston and he's saying to him, "I'm a monk." "I'm a Trappist monk." and [the bass player] he's saying, "Well, I'm a brother too." And Tom said " I live out at the monastery." and he said, "Oh, we have a church up in Boston". And it goes on like, "Can you top this ?" and so Tom says, "I am a priest," and this guy says, "Brother, I'm a preacher." They're hitting it right off and the man is, in the black vernacular, a great jazz musician, just great. And then Tom says, "I'm Thomas Merton." And this guy says, "Well, I'm Joe Jones !" And I mean Tom could get absolutely nowhere and I loved it, I just loved it. I called my brother to take him back that night because I really did have to get home to the seven children and get them up for school the next day. As I'm getting ready to leave, Tom stops me and says "Wait a minute. Waitress, give her the bill !" "

~Tommie Callaghan


  1. Loved this, Beth! Linked to it. :)

  2. A from MinnesotaMay 5, 2008 at 2:04 AM

    This made me smile; thanks Beth. Yes, all the while Merton was genuinely longing for solitude, there was another side of him that craved attention; that's what I believe. I've seen this in his writings. But it makes him more human, and I love him for it. A complex man.

  3. I visit via "Contemplative Haven" and this is so good. And indeed this does make "Tom" seem more human. Thank you! Cathy

  4. Thanks for this window-glimpse into this down-to-earth contemplative.
    Dropped on over from Gabrielle's blog today!

  5. Thanks for the visits and comments from the Contemplative Haven and Minnesota!

  6. Hello, Beth...I hadn't realised you were back blogging again....enjoyed the insight into this good man!

  7. yep, I'm back, veritas. Thanks for checking in!

  8. First time here(yes, it was a leap from Comtemplative Haven) . . . I really appreciate the ordinaryness and humor of this story.

  9. Welcome aselah! Yes, it is precisely Merton's "ordinariness" that I like as well.


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