01/31/2015 04:12 EST | Updated 04/02/2015 05:59 EDT

Thomas Merton: 3 facts about the revered monk

Events are planned around the world, including Vancouver, to celebrate the 100th anniversary the late monk Thomas Merton's birthday on Jan. 31.

Merton is still revered by many today. To explain who Merton was, On the Coast spoke with Donald Grayston, president of the Thomas Merton Society of Canada and the International Thomas Merton Society.

1. Breakdown leads to monastic life

When Merton was studying at Columbia University he "more or less brought himself to a nervous breakdown," says Grayston, and found security in the Catholic church.

He soon discovered the Trappists monks, which at that time was an almost completely silent order. His time there had a profound affect on him, and he became a civil rights activist. He became known as the conscience of the peace movement of the 60's.

2. Prolific writer

Most people connect with Thomas Merton through his writing. Graystone explained that Merton had a very personal writing style that allows readers to easily connect with him.

Merton was a prolific author — he published 60 books before he died, and had enough material to publish another 60 posthumously. His writing has been translated into 15 languages.

3. Intellectual journey

Although Merton's first book, a best-selling autobiography, is well-known, Grayston called it "triumphalist and smug" and not a good introduction to his philosophy and his work.

That's because Merton grew and changed over the course of his life. He studied Asian religions and promoted East-West dialogue. By time he died he was a public intellectual, a world citizen and a trans-cultural writer.

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Donald Grayston on the life and times of the monk Thomas Merton