About the Thomas Merton Institute for Catholic Life


The Thomas Merton Institute aims to provide a well-resourced and sustainable home for Catholic life at Columbia in order to raise the level of formation of students and faculty and to advance the evangelizing mission of the Church at the University. Named in honor of the most famous Catholic alumnus of Columbia, the Thomas Merton Institute provides the spiritual, liturgical, intellectual and human formation that will enable Columbia students to flourish as Catholic Christians.

History & Governance

Founded in 2021 by three Catholic laymen, the Thomas Merton Institute for Catholic Life addresses long-unmet needs for Catholic students, faculty, and alumni of Columbia University by providing them a place to call their own and a foundation on which to build a sustainable, expanding, and vital Catholic presence on campus. The founders share a vision of bringing Catholic formation at Columbia to a level on par with the standards of the university, shaping the future leaders of the Church and society and enhancing the intellectual and common life of the university community.

The Merton Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit incorporated in the State of New York. Its Board of Trustees is currently composed of the three founders, two of whom have deep roots at Columbia, and two additional Columbia alumni. The Institute expects its primary support over time to come from Columbia alumni and other people sympathetic to the needs and opportunities presented by Merton’s mission.

The Merton Institute, while remaining legally and financially independent, maintains a close and unique partnership with the Archdiocese of New York. The Institute’s chaplain is appointed by the Archbishop of New York. His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan has been an inspiration for the Merton initiative for many years and has offered constant encouragement to the founders and board during its period of incubation.

The staff of the Merton Institute reports to its Board of Trustees. The board is responsible for the strategic direction, fidelity to mission, financial support, facilities and legal matters of the Institute.

The Institute is currently leasing the former rectory of the Church of Notre Dame (114th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive), which is once again the sanctuary for Columbia Catholic Campus Ministry’s liturgical celebrations. After a $1 million renovation of the main floor of the rectory, the Merton Institute opened for students on February 11, 2023. The complete renovation and adaptation of the four-story space lie ahead. In time, the Institute will be a magnificent long-term center for Catholic life at Columbia.

Columbia Catholic Ministry

Columbia Catholic Ministry is the group of Columbia undergraduate and graduate students dedicated to proclaiming, in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, the Gospel on the Columbia campus through prayer and the Sacraments, charity, communion, and learning, teaching, and living the truths of the faith. CCM is comprised of students from Columbia College, the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), Barnard College, the School of General Studies (GS), and the many different graduate programs. This close-knit  fellowship of Catholic students seeks others to join them in the mission of CCM.

Please consult its website, Facebook Page, Instagram account, and newsletter.

The Merton Institute works alongside Columbia Catholic Ministry in its evangelizing mission to the University. Thus, in addition to its own formational activities, the Institute supports the Catholic chaplaincy on campus and provides a home for CCM’s activities at the Institute’s student center.

Board of Trustees

Brian McAuliffe<br />

Brian McAuliffe

Founder and President

Brian, CC ’74 and Notre Dame Law ’77, is one of the founders of the Merton Institute. He has spent his professional career in financial services, initially as an investment banker with major global firms and later as a trusted advisor to wealthy families. While at Columbia he played basketball for the legendary Jack Rohan. Brian has been an early financial collaborator with Word on Fire, the evangelizing ministry of Bishop Robert Barron.

Donald Landry

Donald Landry, M.D., Ph.D.

Founder and Chairman

Dr. Landry is the Hamilton Southworth Professor of Medicine, Director of the Birch-Lodge Center for Human Longevity and Chair Emeritus of the Department of Medicine at Columbia University. He obtained a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Harvard University in 1979 and an M.D. from Columbia University in 1983 and has remained at Columbia since 1985. In addition to his research on artificial enzymes and drug discovery, he served on the President’s Council on Bioethics. He received the Presidential Citizen’s Medal in 2008, the nation’s second highest civilian honor.

Luis Tellez

Luis Tellez

Founder and Director

Mr. Tellez spent the early part of his career working in the chemical industry, and subsequently spent over twenty years administering several non-profit corporations before becoming president of the Witherspoon Institute in 2003. He is a member of the Advisory Council of the James Madison program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. Mr. Tellez received a B.S. and M.S. in chemical engineering as well as an M.B.A. in finance from Washington University in St. Louis.

Gerard Sullivan

Gerard Sullivan

Director and Treasurer

Mr. Sullivan is a portfolio manager with over 40 years of experience in the investment industry. He earned a B.A. in political science (CC’ 82) and an M.B.A. (’86) from Columbia. During his undergraduate years he played soccer for what is still regarded as one of the best athletic teams in Columbia history with four league titles and one final four appearance.

Gerard Sullivan

Katherine Carson Straus, M.D.

Director and Secretary

Katherine Straus, M.D., is a graduate of Princeton University, magna cum laude, in Molecular Biology, and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, where she graduated at the top of her class. Katherine interned and completed residency in Internal Medicine at Columbia, receiving both the John Loeb intern award and the Joseph Muschel housestaff award. Subsequently she served on the faculty as an Associate Professor for three years in the division of General Internal Medicine. Her special interest was Medical Ethics. Katherine is married to John Straus and now resides in Greenwich, CT, where she raises and homeschools her five young children.


Father Roger Landry

​Father Roger Landry


[email protected], [email protected]

Father Roger J. Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, serves as Catholic Chaplain to Columbia University and to the Thomas Merton Institute for Catholic Life, in addition to serving several local and national ministries. A graduate of Harvard College (1992) and the Pontifical North American College in Rome (1999), he previously served as pastor in the Diocese of Fall River and then as Attaché to the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations in New York (2015-2022). He writes for many publications, appears regularly on television and radio, and is the author of Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God (Pauline Books and Media 2018). His homilies, articles, retreats, conferences, educational videos and other offerings are available for free at catholicpreaching.com.

David Oakley, Esq

​David Oakley, Esq.

Executive Director

[email protected]

David R. Oakley, since July 2021, is legal counsel for several nonprofit organizations in New York City. Previously he worked as a private criminal defense attorney in New Jersey, representing clients in State and Federal courts. From 2000 to 2021, he was a preceptor for undergraduate courses in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. He is a research fellow at the Center for Thomas More Studies (University of Dallas), author of several articles on Thomas More and co-author with Louis W. Karlin of Inside the Mind of Thomas More (Scepter 2017). In addition to his professional work, he has many years of experience in mentoring and giving classes and talks of Christian formation to young men. He is a summa cum laude graduate in history of Columbia (1985) and received his law degree from Georgetown University (1990).

Marie Norita

Marie Norita

Operations Manager

[email protected]

Marie Norita, originally from San Diego, California, received her B.A. in Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. Prior to joining the Merton Institute, she taught at JSerra Catholic High School, worked in young adult faith formation at Saint John’s Catholic Church, and founded the Wojtyla Society for Catholic young adults in San Diego. She moved to New York City last summer after marrying her husband, Nicholas, who is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Philosophy at Fordham University.

Marie Norita

Marie Kottenstette

Operations Manager

[email protected]

Marie Kottenstette, originally from Boston, MA received her B.A. in English and Drama from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Prior to joining the Merton Institute, she taught at Trivium School in Lancaster, MA, and worked as a producer on the Catechism in a Year Podcast with Fr. Mike Schmitz.

The Crest

FOCUS Catholic Logo

The Cross in the Middle of the World

Jesus promised that when he would be lifted up, he would draw all to himself (Jn 12:32). The cross is placed in the middle of a circle representing the world to show that in the heart of the world we find the love Jesus showed on the Cross and the work of his redemption. The Merton Institute seeks to give witness to that love and work on the Columbia campus.

The Book

The open book in the upper left corner of the crest symbolizes two things. First, it shows learning, which is at the heart of Columbia life and the work of the Merton Institute. The second is Sacred Scripture, which is not only at the foundation of Catholic faith and life but also of western civilization.

The Lion

The Lion in the upper right corner not only points to the nickname and mascot of Columbia University sports teams, but to Jesus, who is the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5), to the virtue of courage (symbolized by a lion), as well as to Catholic Social Teaching, which became a formal part of Catholic moral theology during the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII (Leo is the Latin word for lion).

The Crown

The crown in the lower left corner points to the king’s crown that is one of the most enduring symbols of Columbia and a link to its history, starting out as King’s college. It likewise points to Jesus Christ as King of Kings and of the desire to enter into kingdom. The three crosses point to the three crosses on Calvary where Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews died for the salvation of the human race, which is the fulcrum of history.

Thomas Merton

In the lower right corner is an image of Father Thomas Merton, OCSO, CC ’38, who converted while an undergraduate and graduate student at Columbia, went on to become a Trappist monk, a best-selling author and probably the most well-known Catholic alumnus of Columbia. He is a witness to the power and possibility of conversion, of the depth of prayer to which God calls us, of the integration of the arts and creativity within the Catholic faith, of the primacy of God in human life and of the importance of interreligious dialogue.