He was born in 1915 in France from New Zealand and the United States Owen Ruth Jenkins, both painters, because of the outbreak of the First World War, in 1916 he moved with his family in the home of maternal grandparents in Douglaston, near New York: after the loss of mother died of cancer in 1921, he moved with his father, first to Bermuda Islands, in 1925 and again in France, in Saint-Antonin.
In 1926 Montauban start high school, completing in 1932 at Oakham, England: In the meantime, lost his father, who died of brain cancer in 1931, but thanks to a scholarship unable to enroll at Clare College, Cambridge , where he studied foreign languages and literatures.
In 1933 he undertook a trip to Rome, where he was particularly struck by the early Christian basilicas, and the Shrine of the Three Fountains, begins to accrue the idea of converting to Catholicism dall'anglicanesimo.
In 1934 he left Cambridge, where his dissolute and disorderly conduct had irretrievably compromise the continuation of studies: complete his academic career at Columbia University in New York, which follows the title of Bachelor of Arts in 1938 and, in 1939, the Master of Arts with a thesis on the poetry of William Blake. Meanwhile, thanks to teachers like the Catholic Dan Walsh, who reveals the social aspect of the Gospel, complete his journey of conversion and, November 16 1938, is received in the Catholic Church in New York parish of Corpus Christi.
After graduation, for a few years he dedicated himself to teaching English literature at Columbia University and then at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, run by Franciscan friars. Following a spritual retreat at the Trappist Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, near the Bardstown, Kentucky, remains deeply affected by the life of solitude and prayer of the monks and the couple decided to enter: December 10, 1941 there is admitted as a postulant and 19 March 1944 she made her first religious profession, taking the name Louis, March 19 1947 he made his solemn profession, becoming monaco, meanwhile devoted himself to theological studies, and May 26 in 1949 was ordained a priest.
In those years, lost his brother John Paul, killed in scattered fighting in the North Sea during World War II: an event which contributed a lot to him to mature into a deep aversion to war that will take him to become a major reference points of the peace movement of the'60s. Sided openly in support of non-violent movement for civil rights, which he described as "the greatest example of Christian faith, active in the social history of the United States." He was a friend of Pope John XXIII.
During the Vietnam war, Merton developed a deep interest in Buddhist monasticism and in 1968 undertook a long journey in the east, meeting the Dalai Lama that he was able to show consideration during this trip found dead, struck because of a defective fan.