By KATHLEEN TARR
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Father Thomas Merton’s Alaska visit, the Archdiocese of Anchorage and the newly-formed Alaska Chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society will co-host the Thomas Merton in Alaska Conference at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Anchorage. The event takes place Sept. 28-29.
Festivities open with an optional field trip to Eagle River, and to the site of the former monastery of the Precious Blood Convent where Father Merton began his 17-day Alaskan itinerary and gave his initial talks to nuns in September 1968. The property now belongs to St. John’s Orthodox Cathedral. The field trip will also include a short walk to St. Sergius Chapel in the woods and a look at the icons in St. John’s Cathedral.
Participants will then convene at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton that Friday evening and Saturday to hear Merton scholars and others share their perspectives about Father Merton’s legacy. Special emphasis will be placed on the importance of Father Merton’s little-known Alaska sojourn. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of his death on Dec. 10, 1968.
Conference speakers include Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne, Jonathan Montaldo, a pre-eminent Merton scholar and writer and editor of several Merton anthologies, Dr. Paul Pearson, the current director of The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Pearson is a renowned Merton speaker and founding member of the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Also speaking will be Ron Dart, a member of the National Executive of The Thomas Merton Society of Canada and a widely published author and speaker on Merton. Kathleen Witkowska Tarr rounds out the presenters. She is an Alaskan writer and author of the newly published “We Are All Poets Here,” a blend of spiritual memoir and biography, and the first book that delves into Merton’s Alaska journey. The conference concludes with a panel discussion by interfaith religious leaders on Father Merton’s views on spirituality.
Registration for the conference is required as space is limited. Early-bird registration by July 31 is $40 (this includes one lunch), and regular registration after July 31 is $50. The optional tour in Eagle River (transportation provided from the conference site) is $20. Registration closes Sept. 21. To register and for more information, visit mertoninalaska.org.