The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University

Joseph J. McGowan

Dr. Joseph J. McGowan welcoming the International Thomas Merton Society to Bellarmine University for their biennial conference in June 2015.

Dr. Joseph J. McGowan, third president of Bellarmine University, passed away March 1st, 2016. He was 71. Dr. McGowan became the university's third president in 1990 and led the transformation of Bellarmine College to Bellarmine University with the addition and expansion of buildings, athletics programs and more than 30 academic programs, according to the university's website. The name change was part of a growth trajectory tied to McGowan’s vision for the future of Bellarmine, which has since become the premier independent Catholic university in the south, and thereby the leading private university in the commonwealth and region.




Even before his appointment as President Dr. McGowan was all too aware of the importance of Thomas Merton and the Thomas Merton Center to Bellarmine. Frequently he would comment that, prior to applying for the position of President he'd only ever heard of Bellarmine because of it's extraordinary Merton collection. Then, upon visiting the campus for the first time, he was appalled at the accommodations occupied by the Center at that time, in St. Bonaventure Hall, recounting the "awful green shag carpet" which welcomed a visitor upon arrival! Therefore, one of his first major projects, was to find a new home for the Merton Center and to bring it from the edge of campus to its very heart in the new library he envisioned as the center of the academic community.

The W.L. Lyons Brown Library opened on the campus in 1997 housing a beautifully apportioned Merton Center. Throughout his time as President Dr. McGowan always saw the Merton collection as a jewel in Bellarmine's crown and sought to bring Merton not only to the heart of the campus physically but spiritually too. So Merton was incorporated into the mission statement of the University which would be described as "an Independent Catholic University in the Spirit of Thomas Merton," a university "especially inspired by Thomas Merton, the late monk from the Abbey of Gethsemani who had a long, vital relationship with Bellarmine. His philosophy and writings on the search for truth, religious inquiry, the nature of humanity, the value of cross-cultural and inter-faith awareness and diversity, and his advocacy for peace, social justice and sustainability are at the core of our community values and our Catholic identity."
Dr. McGowan is survived by his wife, Maureen, and adult twin sons, Joseph and Matthew.

Dr. McGowan's Welcoming Remarks to the International Thomas Merton Society Conference
June 4th, 2015

Good Evening, and Welcome to Bellarmine University! We love having you here.
The International Thomas Merton Society held its inaugural conference on this campus in 1989, just a few months before I became President. You returned here in 2001. And now we are so very pleased to have you back in 2015, as we celebrate the Centenary of Merton’s birth.
We have ALL grown so much during this past quarter century:

At Bellarmine University, we find our Catholic identity in the inclusive spirit of Thomas Merton. This adds immeasurable, intangible value to our students’ interior lives going forward. In fact, this past semester, we began rolling out a new campaign to express our identity to prospective students and families who want to learn more about who we are. Our tagline is: “Explore the world. Start within.” The centerpiece video of the campaign features thought provoking quotes from Thomas Merton – quotes such as, “Our real journey in life is interior”; and “We are called to create our own lives”; and “Perhaps I am stronger than I think.” These quotes from Merton introduce candid, unscripted interviews with a diverse group of our undergraduate students, across all four years, talking spontaneously and authentically about their Bellarmine educational experience.

I tell you this just so you will know how enduring the Merton Spirit is at Bellarmine, and how central to our identity. And identity is important. As Merton himself said, “If you do not know your own identity, who is going to identify you?"

Thank you so very much for being here and have a great conference!