Located in Pittsburgh and named after a prominent 20th-century Trappist monk and pacifist, the Thomas Merton Center (TMC) was founded in 1972 by Molly Rush (a Catholic anti-war, civil and women’s rights activist) and Larry Kessler (an anti-war, anti-poverty activist). Its mission is “to build a consciousness of values and to raise the moral questions involved in the issues of war, poverty, racism, classism, economic justice, human rights, and environmental justice.” Toward that end, the Center “engages people of diverse philosophies and faiths who find common ground in the nonviolent struggle to bring about a more peaceful and just world.”
TMC started as an anti-Vietnam War protest organization but quickly expanded its scope to include also issues related to racism and poverty. Moreover, it provided seminars “on contemplation … nonviolence and … simplicity in lifestyle.” TMC staff members also organized the first Pittsburgh chapter of Amnesty International, and in 1980 they established the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
As the Eighties progressed, TMC organized delegations to Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador in conjunction with Witness for Peace, a group that vehemently opposed President Reagan’s efforts to stop the spread of Communism in Latin America. During the 1980s as well, the Center protested the construction of Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, which was funded by the Pentagon. Moreover, TMC’s River City Campaign used weekly vigils, leaflet distribution, and civil disobedience to challenge the activities of nuclear weapons producers in the United States. TMC members in the ’80s were often arrested for their participation in demonstrations against such concerns as nuclear arms, the B-1 bomber, and apartheid in South Africa.
Following are some of the major projects and organizations that TMC has administered or collaborated with since 2017:
To help promote its agendas and perspectives as effectively as possible, TMC publishes The New People, a monthly newspaper that keeps activists informed about current actions, campaigns, and events.
Each year since 1972, TMC has presented its Thomas Merton Award to individuals and organizations deemed worthy of recognition for their efforts on behalf of peace and justice. Some of the more noteworthy winners of this prize have been Joan Baez, Daniel Berrigan, Father Roy Bourgeois, Helen Caldicott, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Dorothy Day, Ron Dellums, Marian Wright Edelman, Amy Goodman, Dick Gregory, Kathy Kelly, Dennis Kucinich, Winona LaDuke, Barbara Lee, Bill McKibben, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Cindy Sheehan, Martin Sheen, Studs Terkel, Lucius Walker, and Howard Zinn.
Over the course of its history, TMC has received financial backing from the Falk Foundation, the Samberg Family Foundation, and the Vira I. Heinz Endowment.
For additional information on TMC, click here.
Further Reading: “Thomas Merton” (Biography.com); Mission of the Thomas Merton Center (ThomasMertonCenter.org); “History of the Thomas Merton Center” (ThomasMertonCenter.org); Projects of the Thomas Merton Center (ThomasMertonCenter.org); New People Newspaper (ThomasMertonCenter.org); “Past Thomas Merton Awardees” (ThomasMertonCenter.org).