Evening came and morning followed: the first day.

Yesterday marks the first day of the 2011 ITMS conference and 12 General meeting taking place this year at Loyola University Chicago. What went from record-like heat and sun on Wednesday here in the windy city to chilly October-like breezes and rain, the weather has been something of an unpredictable force, causing numerous travel delays for several dozen ITMS participants flying into Chicago. Luckily, it seems most people have arrived or are close to arriving and the first full day of events can begin.

The day began with several early morning events for the ITMS Board of Directors (who had their annual board meeting), which included reports from the various committees of the ITMS. Meanwhile the 2011 Daggy Scholars arrived and were greeted by Jamie Fazio and Jenny Ratigan, co-chairs of the Daggy Committee (and newly dubbed “shepherds of Daggys”), for an orientation and introduction to the ITMS. A former Daggy Scholar myself, I was delighted to speak with a few yesterday and look forward to meeting the rest of this year’s class.

The afternoon kicked-off the official program with several concurrent opening sessions. I was able to attend Mark Meade and Andrea Neuhoff’s presentation on Merton research titled, “Raids on the ‘Researchable’: Merton Research from Inspiration to Publication.” The second session I attended was a standing-room only section on technology featuring two Canadian scholars, Paul Dekar and Gary Purdy. They raised questions about approaching new technologies with caution using Merton’s critique of technology as a engagement point.

Following a prayer service that featured a selection of music, readings and a Gospel reflection by my Chicago Franciscan confrere, Vaughn Fayle, OFM, the ITMS Banquet began. It is, as always, a highlight of each conference. Two two most notable events at the Banquet are the President’s address and the awarding of the ITMS Awards (affectionately named “The Louies”– think “Tony” or “Oscar” — named after Thomas Merton’s religious name, Fr. Louis).

The presidential address was excellent. Bob Grip, the outgoing president of the ITMS, spoke about Merton and Fulton Sheen, but what really struck me was the last section of his address that focused on the need for those who study or are inspired by the writings of Merton to promote his work and legacy by various means available in our contemporary world. Things like this blog, for example, or through e-book publishing and the like. I agree wholeheartedly with Bob’s exhortation. All one has to do is look around the banquet room to note the average age of the ITMS members to realize the pressing need for the legacy of Merton to be passed to the next generation, and we are the ones to do that.

Finally, the awards this year — the “Louies” — were given to two outstanding recipients. First, ITMS Society Award, which goes “to a member of the ITMS whose distinguished service has contributed to the aims of the Society and to the furthering of its goals,” was awarded to Sr. Monica Weis, SSJ, a professor at Nazareth College, a fellow member of the ITMS Board of Directors and the author of the recently published, The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton.

The second, the ITMS Thomas Merton Award, which goes “to an individual who has written and published in the period between the General Meetings a work on Merton and his concerns which has brought provocative insight and fresh direction to Merton Studies,” was awarded to Chris Pramuk, a professor at Xavier Uniersity, for his outstanding book, Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton. I was privileged to be one of three scholars to participate in a review symposium published in the most recent volume of The Merton Annual on Pramuk’s book and I can attest to how deserving of this award Chris is.

More to come from the conference. There are lots of interesting papers scheduled to be presented today.

Photo: ITMS

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