In a used bookstore in St. Augustine, I found a copy of Thomas Merton’s The Sign of Jonas. As I’ve written, it was on my first visit to Mepkin in 2014 that I first read Merton’s The Seven-Storey Mountain. Jonas is a journal of Merton’s second five years at Gethsemani, the Kentucky monastery where he lived for 19 years. I’ve been reading the book as it was written—now and then. Here are some entries from 1949 that are relevant:
- May 5: Father Prior wondered whether to subscribe to [a Spanish Cistercian magazine] for the new monastery in South Carolina of which he will be the superior.
- August 22: Father Macarius and three others all started out for South Carolina during the Night Office yesterday morning…and today they will say Mass…at the Mepkin Plantation which is to be the new monastery of the Immaculate Heart. The deeds were signed and the affair was made public (with many errors) in the newspapers and we expect the foundation to be made…on November 1st.
- November 19: The colony left for South Carolina Monday morning. It was very quiet, at about half past three. During the morning meditation we could see the non-priests going to Communion at Saint Joseph’s altar. Twenty-nine left in all.
On my first visit to Mepkin, I took a guided tour. I think I remember the docent saying that Henry and Clare Boothe Luce, on whose estate the abbey stands, donated the land to the Catholic Church following the death in a car crash of Clare’s 19-year old daughter by a first marriage. According to Wikipedia, the accident was in 1944, five years before the foundation (the technical term for a new religious community) of Mepkin—not necessarily a contradiction, but worth further research. Maybe next time I’m in South Carolina.