Merton Center creates digital collection

Mark Meade, assistant director of the Merton Center removed from its casing an original illustration by Ade Bethune entitled ‘St. Dorothy: Martyr,’ one of the hundreds of items that are now part of a digital collection accessible through a kiosk in the center. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Mark Meade, assistant director of the Merton Center removed from its casing an original illustration by Ade Bethune entitled ‘St. Dorothy: Martyr,’ one of the hundreds of items that are now part of a digital collection accessible through a kiosk in the center. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
An obituary for Trappist Father Thomas Merton written by Dorothy Day, personal correspondence between Merton and Day and letters penned by St. Teresa of Kolkata to an inmate in Kentucky are among the “gems” contained in a new digital collection created by the Merton Center on the campus of Bellarmine University.

The digital collection, unveiled to the public July 27, contains about 350 items from the larger Merton Center collection, said Mark C. Meade, the center’s assistant director.

Much of the collection showcases the work of Merton — the Trappist monk and author who lived and wrote at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Ky. The collection contains lesser known items, too, such as copies of letters written between Merton and Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement; early copies of Day’s Catholic Worker newspaper; and photographs and correspondence between Joseph Zarella, one of the Catholic Worker Movement’s early members and Day.

The collection also contains a small number of items on Mother Teresa, including letters she wrote to Lou Torok, a man incarcerated in Kentucky in the 1990s, and information detailing her receipt of the Bellarmine Medal in December of 1981.

Adding these items to the digital collection was a way of “lifting up and highlighting some real gems of the (Merton Center) collection,” said Meade.
The digital collection is accessible from a “self-service” kiosk inside the center and also available online at https://merton.bellarmine.edu.

Not every piece contained in the digital collection is viewable on the website, however. Because of copyright laws, certain items — such as scans of Merton’s original artwork and photography — will only be available at the center’s kiosk, said Meade.

The center plans to keep adding scans from the hundreds of works and photographs left behind by Merton — these too will be accessible through the kiosk only.

Meade likens the Merton Center to  a “place of pilgrimage” for Merton readers. The digital collection, he noted, will give people much more access to such pilgrimages. Meade said he imagines the collection also being used as a teaching tool for history, religion and social justice.

He hopes the digital collection might act as a bridge between the Merton Center and classrooms. He also hopes that students who view the collection online may come to the center to see and learn more.

As a practical matter, Meade noted, the digital files may help preserve the collection. Scholars and others doing research may now be able to use the kiosk instead of physically handling the items.

Danielle Spalenka, a project archivist who helped curate the collection, said she wants it “to convey the connection between Dorothy Day, the Catholic Worker Movement and Thomas Merton, telling that story through the letters, newspapers and photos that are part of the collection.”

She noted that the collection shows the “grass-roots” nature of the worker movement, the struggles it endured and the many “issues of the day” it addressed.

Day co-founded the Catholic Worker in New York City in the early 1930s, opening a hospitality house and publishing a newspaper on faith and justice that is still published today. She and Merton became correspondents in the middle of the 20th century.

A collection of Day and Catholic Worker documents were given to the Merton Center in 2010 by the family of Joseph and Mary Alice Zarella — Catholic Workers who served with Day in the early years and later settled in Tell City, Ind.

Spalenka added that she hopes the digital collection will call more attention to the center and that Bellarmine students will realize what a “treasure trove” it is.

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