Koinonia Farm’s vision statement is “love through service to others, joy through generous hospitality, peace through reconciliation.” All of our guest rooms are named after people who have come before us and embodied these ideas. These peacemakers are from all over the world and from all different periods of history. This “great cloud of witnesses” and their stories encourage us to keep pursuing love, joy, and peace in our life and work.

black and white photo of Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton was born on January 31, 1915 in Prades, France. His father was from New Zealand and his mother was American; both were artists. At the beginning of World War I, Merton and his parents moved to the United States and settled in New York. Here, Merton’s mother died of cancer when he was six years old. He traveled for much of his early life and eventually settled in boarding school in England in 1928. His father died of a brain tumor in 1931. In 1933, he traveled to Rome where he became increasingly exposed to and interested in the Catholic Church. He attended Cambridge in 1933 and in 1935 enrolled in Columbia University in New York.

Merton began working on his Master’s degree in literature in 1938 at Columbia University. This same year, he converted to Catholicism. He taught at St. Bonaventure University in New York from 1940-1. On December 10, 1941, Thomas Merton became a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. He was part of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. In 1949, Merton was ordained as a priest.

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image.

While living at the Abbey of Gethsemani, Merton continued writing and the monastery allowed him to publish his work. The most well-received of his writings early on was Seven Storey Mountain, his autobiography which was published in 1948. It became a best-seller and inspired many readers. Merton’s books, both poetry and prose, provided financial support for the struggling monastery. Some of Merton’s other works include Thirty Poems, Man in Divided Sea, Exile Ends in Glory, What are These Wounds, New Seeds of Contemplation, and No Man is an Island.

We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.

Living in the monastery did not cut Merton off completely from the outside world. He believed strongly in non-violence and peace and worked from within his life as a monk to bring about peace. He supported the Civil Rights Movement and opposed the Vietnam War. His theology was heavily influence by the idea of contemplation and he dedicated his life to learning about prayer and communication with God. He learned from other faiths and kept an open dialogue with many different people throughout his life.

Merton struggled with the tension between wanting to be with other people and wanting to be in solitude. In 1965, the monastery allowed him to be a hermit on their grounds. In 1968, Merton attended an inter-faith meeting in Asia. On December 10, 1968, he died from accidental electrocution. Today, his works continue to speak of contemplation, peace, and give readers inspiration around the world.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton's hermitage
Thomas Merton’s Hermitage in Kentucky