Sunday, July 1, 2007

"life in its totality" - an addendum to the Maritain visit

Thomas Merton and Jacques Maritain
Photo by John Howard Griffin, October 1966
The "john howard griffin connection part 2" post discusses the very special October 1966 visit of Griffin, Jacques Maritain, and others. I have been informed that Elizabeth Fourest was also there. Elizabeth was a young French woman who had accompanied Maritain to America as a travelling companion and friend. She helped Maritain cope with the details of the trip and he shared with her what had made America special for him.

The following is an excerpt from a transcript of a DVD that was made 30 years later, in which Ms. Fourest describes the visit to the hermitage. It sounds just like the photo, doesn't it?

We met John Howard Griffin, and it was great meeting him, really, and I could see how deep was the friendship between the two men. And with John Howard Griffin and with Msgr. Eden, I think, we went to Kentucky to see Thomas Merton. He was waiting for us at the gate of the monastery. It was a splendid fall with colors, the fall colors of the trees and the whole nature. It was something extraordinary. And then it was the most brilliant, the most joyful, the most witty visit that we had during this month in the USA. Thomas Merton took us to his hermitage. It was a small house, not in the convent, but in the fields. We went by car through the fields, no roads, just a small path. Then this house with two small rooms, a fireplace, a working table, photographs by Thomas Merton on the walls, book, many books, and fields and quiet and peace and silence, and sometimes deer passing in front of the windows. And then Thomas Merton welcomed us there, and Jacques was sitting in an old armchair near the fireplace, and John Griffin with his eternal camera photographed everybody, and Thomas Merton speaking about everything, about Vietnam, about American mentality, about God, about eternity, about the Holy Trinity, about drugs, about everything. Life. Life in its totality. And it was brilliant. And Jacques was suddenly younger than ever in front of this Thomas Merton, who was really a natural force. Thomas Merton read for us some poems from Bob Dylan, and then we could hear the songs. And it was really extraordinary, because Jacques, Merton, John Griffin in this hermitage with splendid nature around, and this tiny little house in which the whole world was concentrated.


  1. What a great link you've given us, Beth, to the transcript of the DVD. Michael Mott mentions Elizabeth being there that day, but he spelled the last name as "Manual". He also mentions Penn Jones as one of the group - do you happen to know who that would be? But there is no mention of Msgr. Eden. What an amazing experience for Elizabeth!

  2. Could it be that "Manual" was Elizabeth's maiden name?
    Offhand, I don't know Penn Jones. I'll look around. John Griffin writes a lot about that day.

    I really love Elizabeth's recounting of that day. It's as if she was off to the side and able to truly watch what was happening.

  3. Gabrielle, Penn Jones was a companion of John Griffin. In his account of the day, Griffin says:

    "Penn Jones and Babeth Manuel accompanied us because I was in a wheelchair and and Jacques was so frail ..."

    Evidently Griffin knew Penn Jones well, called him "scrappy" but also trusted him. Penn Jones appears to be interesting character in his own right:-) ... a Texan son of share-croppers, a newspaper editor who did a lot of research on the assasination of JFK.

  4. Yes, I believe you are right, Beth, and Mott just spelled her maiden name incorrectly, or it was a typo. I was looking at your link again, and her name is shown as Elizabeth Manuel Fourest.

    Thanks for the info re Penn Jones!


The Stuff of Contemplation (Joan Chittister)

Thomas Merton, Trappist, died December 10, 1968 Thomas Merton entered the Abbey of Gethsemane in Bardstown, Kentucky, at the age of twenty-s...