Graduation Year


Graduation Month


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

School or Department




Faculty Mentor Department


Faculty Mentor

Dr. Jody Pavilack


Ernesto Cardenal, Thomas Merton, Nicaragua, Solentiname, Sandinista, Violence

Subject Categories

Catholic Studies | Christianity | Ethics in Religion | History of Christianity | History of Religion | Intellectual History | Latin American History | Latin American Languages and Societies | Latin American Literature | Latina/o Studies | Social History | United States History


In 1957, a young Nicaraguan poet named Ernesto Cardenal, recently graduated from Columbia University, entered the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani, located outside Louisville, Kentucky. There he met a prominent Catholic thinker and pacifist, Thomas Merton, who soon mentored young Cardenal. Though Cardenal departed Gethsemani in 1959, Merton continued to counsel him in spirituality, poetry, and social activism until Merton’s death in 1968. While Cardenal during these earlier years was a committed pacifist, his experiences after returning to Nicaragua in 1965 radically altered his view of social action. Cardenal established a semi-monastic community in the Solentiname islands in southern Nicaragua, and in a series of bible studies with the people who came to stay there, found himself increasingly committed to the social vision of the Marxist Sandinista movement. In 1973, Cardenal formally declared his support for the FSLN, the military wing of the Sandinista revolution. By 1979, the revolution succeeded in overthrowing the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, and Cardenal became the Minister of Culture under the new Sandinista government. This paper will address the formative influence of Thomas Merton on Ernesto Cardenal, and how Cardenal came to accept the use of violence in the pursuit of social justice. In particular, analysis will concentrate on Ernesto Cardenal’s ideological transformations that led to his ultimate support for and involvement in the Sandinista revolution. My research draws from the written correspondence between Merton and Cardenal, and from interviews, and major publications. This paper will argue that while Cardenal never fully supported violence, he nonetheless joined the revolution both out of devotion to Merton’s teaching and out of necessary solidarity with his countrymen.

Honors College Research Project




© Copyright 2015 Brendan Jordan