THOMAS MERTON AND THERESE LENTFOEHR
The Story of a Friendship
Author: Rev. Robert Nugent, SDS
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This book tells the story of the 20-year relationship of the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton and Sister Thérèse Lentfoehr -- a published poet, teacher and nun of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Savior in Wisconsin -- from their initial contact in 1948 to his death in 1968. Every book on Thomas Merton makes mention of Thérèse as the one person who had an important impact on his work over a very long period of time, both as a personal friend and professional colleague. To date, however, no one has explored the story of this unique relationship. This book is a chronological narrative and analysis of their relationship carried on primarily through letters with but two face-to-face encounters, in 1951 and 1967. Though based on the 100+ letters of Merton to her and more than a dozen extant letters and cards from her to him, it is not a collection of their correspondence. They reveal, rather, the fact that Thérèse was Merton's literary critic, confidant, archivist, publicist and assistant in many ways, including the typing of many of his works. Along the way she managed to amass the largest single private collection of Mertoniana in existence at the time including copies of original manuscripts of such works as The Sign of Jonas, and The Seven Storey Mountain. Previously unpublished photographs of the two of them are included here.
About the Author: Father Robert Nugent, SDS is a priest of the Society of the Divine Savior
If someone chronicled the correspondence between two people in 2012 it would likely be a string of emails and text messages -- even Facebook posts or tweets. But the friendship between Thomas Merton and Therese Lentfoehr existed mostly through letters. So when Robert Nugent, a priest with the Society of the Divine Savior, began his research into the two friends, he had plenty of source material to sift through. Lentfoehr began her correspondence with Merton, a 20th-century mystic and Catholic poet, as a devoted follower or fan. Their friendship slowly grew, lasting more than 20 years. It was the nature of this relationship that drew Nugent, a priest with St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in New Freedom, Pennsylvania, in. He researched, read and wrote for nearly five years before publishing Thomas Merton and Therese Lentfoehr: The Story of a Friendship this year.
"At long last we are beginning to see Thomas Merton's correspondence with significant women who exchanged letters with him during his short life. Sr. Thérèse Lentfoehr stands out as an example of one who encouraged Merton, the young poet and writer, and actually collected and catalogued his voluminous writing over the years until his death in 1968. Kudos to Fr. Robert Nugent for making this exchange better known and appreciated." --Patrick Hart, OCSO, Abbey of Gethsemani
"Drawing on a vast trove of published and unpublished letters and other materials spanning two decades, Robert Nugent has fashioned a richly detailed, insightful record of the relationship between Thomas Merton and one of his most faithful correspondents and most devoted admirers. Sr. Thérèse Lentfoehr emerges as a fascinating, at times exasperating, fiercely loyal and generous friend, a complex and creative person in her own right, and Merton himself as a sensitive, supportive, (usually) patient and empathetic listener and advisor. This engaging volume makes a substantial and original contribution to our knowledge of the work and the world of Thomas Merton." --Patrick F. O'Connell, Editor, The Merton Seasonal
"Thanks to Robert Nugent, we now have available to us in this book the very human story of the relationship between Thomas Merton and his longtime friend, confidante, and, as it were, extern secretary, Thérèse Lentfoehr. Their correspondence, which forms the basis of his study, also gives us illuminating access as well to Roman Catholic life in the United States in the period of their friendship, as does Carol Thresher's excellent Afterword. The book serves as an encouragement to the rest of us, with Merton's death no barrier, to enter into the riches of the same friendship." --Donald Grayston, Past President of the Thomas Merton Society of Canada and the International Thomas Merton Society.
"Refreshingly unhagiographical, Nugent's book not only documents a friendship between two gifted and complex people, but provides a fascinating bit of the history of the preservation of Merton's manuscripts and an engaging glimpse of him as a spiritual director." --Bonnie Thurston, Editor of Merton & Buddhism, and Founder and Past President of the International Thomas Merton Society.