My abrupt departure from Rome in June of 1968 was in response to asummons from the newly elected Abbot of Gethsemani, Father Flavian Burns. He had replaced Abbot James Fox, who had been Abbot of Gethsemani for 20 years prior to his resignation in late 1967. My work at the Trappist Generalate in Rome was originally an assignment for three years, to be followed by several years at our Monastery of Roscrea in Ireland. But alas: “Man proposes; God disposes…”
When I arrived back at Gethsemani, Abbot Flavian told me that Father Louis, or Thomas Merton, would be doing more traveling in the future and needed a full-time secretary to take care of his enormous correspondence. Abbot Flavian added that he had asked for me, since I was acquainted with handling his manuscripts during my decade of service as Abbot James’ secretary.
After a few days, Merton invited me to his hermitage to fill me in on what my job would entail while he was traveling to the Far East. I recall when I arrived at the hermitage after walking up the hill where his hermitage was perched overlooking the knobs to the East, Merton was walking slowly at the edge of the woods facing his hermitage reading Conversations: Christian and Buddhist by Aelred Graham, the English Benedictine monk who had been headmaster at the Portsmouth Priory School in Rhode Island. Having welcomed me to the hermitage, I presented him with a gift from Pope Paul VI, with whom I had an audience shortly before leaving Rome for the States. It was an elegant bronze crucifix, which some bishops of the Vatican II era were sporting as a pectoral cross. Merton smiled and thanked me for hand-carrying it through Europe and the Isles before returning to the States. He placed it on a desk in the main room of the hermitage, and excused himself as he retreated to the kitchen of the hermitage where he retrieved two bottles of beer, and one frosted glass. He opened one and poured it into the frosted glass and offered it to me, while he himself used a glass from the kitchen, non-frosted. A small thing, but after 40 years, I still remember it as an indication of the singular hospitalilty of this American Trappist hermit for another monk on a hot summer afternoon in Kentucky.
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Thanks to Beth at Louie Louie