By KATHLEEN TARR
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of 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, Sep. 28-29. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Merton’s death (Dec. 10, 1968).
Festivities open on Friday with an optional field trip to Eagle River, and to the site of the former monastery of the Precious Blood Convent where 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 include a short walk to St. Sergius Chapel in the woods and a look at the icons in St. John’s Cathedral. Lunch will be provided, courtesy of the St. John’s community.
Participants will then convene at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton on Friday evening and Saturday to hear Merton scholars and others share their insightful perspectives about Merton’s legacy, with special emphasis on the importance of his little-known Alaska sojourn.
The Samoan Choir will perform during Saturday’s luncheon, with food prepared and provided by the Knights of Columbus.
Conference speakers include the following:
• Archbishop Paul Etienne – Appointed and installed as Archbishop of Anchorage in 2016, the event also recognizes his first anniversary in residency.
• Brother Paul Quenon – A monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, where he met and was mentored by Merton. Brother Quenon is author of “In Praise of the Useless Life: A Monk’s Memoir.”
• Dr. Paul Pearson – The current Director of The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University, a renown Merton speaker, and founding member of the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland.
• Gordon Oyer – Author of “Pursuing the Spiritual Roots of Protest: Merton, Berrigan, Yoder, and Muste at the Gethsemani Abbey Peacemaker Retreat,” which received the 2015 International Thomas Merton Society “Louie” Award for its contribution to Merton studies.
• Ron Dart – A member of the National Executive of The Thomas Merton Society of Canada and widely-published author and speaker on Merton.
• Kathleen Witkowska Tarr – An Alaskan writer, founder of the Alaska ITMS chapter, 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.
Registration for the Thomas Merton in Alaska Conference is required, as space is limited, and closes September 21. Registration is $50 and includes lunch on Saturday. The optional tour in Eagle River (with transportation provided from the conference site and lunch is included) is $20. To register and for more information, visit www.mertoninalaska.org.