His biography and writings have inspired a couple of generations of folks in the Church, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox.
Here are a couple of notes:
Thomas Merton (1915–1968)
Thomas Merton pursued the ideals of pleasure and freedom in early adulthood only to reject them as an illusion and embrace a life of prayer and silence as a Trappist monk. His 1949 conversion story, The Seven Storey Mountain, was a surprise bestseller, introducing millions of modern -people to the gifts of monasticism. A mentor to many activists in the Catholic peace movement, Merton became a prophetic voice for peace and nonviolence in the twentieth century, despite the fact that his “political” writings were censored by his order. Convinced that contemplative life must engage the world, he prepared the way for a new monasticism.
(from Common Prayer)
Thomas Merton was born in 1915 in France, of American parents. His early education was in France (Lycee de Montauban 1927-8) and England (Oakham School, 1929-32;Clare College, Cambridge, 1933-4). He came to America and attended Columbia University, graduated in English in 1938, worked there one year as a teaching assistant, and got his M.A. [master's degree] in 1939. In 1939 he joined the Roman Catholic Church, and taught at St. Bonaventure for the next two years. In 1941 he entered the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani near Louisville, Kentucky. The Trappists, called more formally Cistercians of the Strict Observance, are (or were before Vatican II) an extremely strict Roman Catholic monastic order, devoted to communal prayer (they spend at least four hours a day in chapel, chanting the praises of God), to private prayer and contemplation, to study, and to manual labor. Except for those whose special duties require otherwise, they are vowed not to speak except in praise of God. Thus, when not singing in chapel, they are silent.
Toward the end of his life, Merton developed an interest in Buddhist and other Far Eastern approaches to mysticism and contemplation, and their relation to Christian approaches. He was attending an international conference on Christian and Buddhist monasticism in Bangkok, Thailand, when he was accidentally electrocuted on 10 December 1968.
(from Mission St. Clare)
A couple of resources: