Saints and Martyrs

Blessed John (Ivan) Merz

‘The distinguished layman in testifying the Gospel’, was how Pope John Paul II described Ivan Merz on September 10, 1994, in the Zagreb cathedral.  The process of beatification and canonization of Ivan Merz began in Zagreb in 1958 and was continued in 1986 in Rome.

Aware of the fact that he would die young, at his deathbed Ivan Merz offered his life to God as a sacrifice for the Croatian youth. To what extent this sacrifice pleased God was seen in the years that followed: he became a role model and ideal of Christian life for thousands of young people.

Ivan Merz was born on December 16, 1896 in Banja Luka. He grew up in a liberal environment. The merit for his religious orientation already visible towards the end of his grammar school days was to be given to teacher Ljubomir Maraković, an exemplary Catholic layman.  Through literature and art, Maraković steered him towards moral and religious values. At a ripe age, Merz wrote about him:  ‘A Catholic layman saved me for eternity.’

Throughout his life, Ivan Merz kept an especially interesting and educational diary. He completed his literary studies in Paris and upon the return to Zagreb, he became a French and German teacher at the Archdiocesan Classical Gymnasium. 
He was especially interested in liturgy. Merz once said: ‘It is a meeting with God, it is the peak of artistic achievement.’ 

Without any prejudice and limitations, he embraced the faith of the Church in the real Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, and in his diary, he wrote: ‘The Eucharist is the source of life’. And this is why sacrifice, Eucharist, and apostolate are the three words carved on his tombstone.  The Blessed Virgin Mary had an important role in Ivan’s life as she was the one he addressed his honest and touching prayers.

Ivan Merz became a moral leader of the Catholic youth and presented the public with a new way of thinking, feeling, and judging through spiritual values. His educational work, particularly his work in the last couple of years of his life, was dedicated to moral problems.

He studied everything that the Church’s theologians, the Pope, and bishops all over the world wrote and taught about. He devoted himself to instilling proper concepts and perceptions of love, marriage, purity, and sexuality in youth.

He died on May 10, 1928. The news of his death spread quickly all over Zagreb and then Croatia.

He left an indelible imprint of which many books, articles, and nicknames testify. ‘the light at the Mountain’, ‘the knight of God’, ‘the brother knight’, ‘the angel consoler’, ‘the knight of Christ the King’, ‘the Pope’s man’, and ‘the God’s man’ are just some of them.

His remains are kept in Zagreb, in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on Palmotićeva Street.
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