A TWO-YEAR STUDY IN PARIS
1920 – 1922
View of Paris
After the Croatian Jesuit, Fr. Miroslav Vanino found among the Catholic circles in France the possibility of granting a scholarship for study in Paris for several Croatian students, the leadership of the Croatian Catholic Movement in Zagreb chose three good Catholics and offered them this possibility for study, which they accepted. These students were Ivan Merz, Đuro Gračanin and Juraj Šćetinec. At the beginning of October, they arrived in Paris where they were cordially received by their benefactors who later took care of them: Msgr. Alfred Baudrillart, the rector of Institut Catholique and Msgr. Eugène Beaupin, secretary of the society Comité Catholique des Amitiés Françaises à l’Etranger.
Serbs try to obstruct the study for Croatian students
However, as soon as the Serbs who were staying in Paris heard that several Croats came to Paris to study, they wanted to obstruct in every possible way their studying. Through the consul of the State of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenians they accused them of being sponsored by the Jesuits, that they were the supporters of the overthrown Austrian Emperor Karl, etc. In the end, these efforts did not bear fruit. One should bear in mind that the French government gave abundant grants to Serbia as its ally from World War I for the education of Serbian students in Paris. At the same time when these three Croatian students came to study in Paris, there were 600 students from Serbia there, all financed by the French government!
Ivan stayed two full years in France. Nearly all that time he stayed in Paris, only during the summer holidays of 1921 he went to Lourdes via Bordeaux and Toulouse.
In Paris, Ivan got accommodation, together with his colleagues, with Mrs. Michaut, a good Catholic, who tried in every way to replace the mother for Croatian students in a foreign land. Her daughter later gave a beautiful testimony about Ivan’s saintly life during the time of studies.
Study of art and literature, preparation for doctoral dissertation
Ivan studied literature simultaneously at the University of Sorbonne and the Institut Catholique (The Catholic University).
Ivan liked the studies in Paris a lot, as is witnessed from his letter to his father from the beginning of 1921: “In France, the Catholic spirit has been kept alive for centuries, completely different than in Germany. Apart from a multitude of beautiful Gothic churches from the 12th and 13th centuries and wonderful literary works from the 17th century, the Church in contemporary France is triumphant. So, for example, the greatest modern French thinkers and writers are dedicated Catholics, something unheard of in our country. We are well informed about the situation at home and are starting now to inform the French press about the persecution of Catholics…”1
Ivan’s literary notebooks and his rich knowledge of French literature bear witness to his serious work. During the studies, he started gathering material for his doctoral dissertation which he subsequently wrote and defended at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Zagreb in 1923. The dissertation bears the title: “The Influence of Liturgy on French Writers.”
Medical conditions, illness of the eyes, visit to Lourdes
During the studies in Paris, Ivan had serious problems with his eyes which were very weak, to the point that he contemplated interrupting his studies. He often prayed for his eyes and his prayers were partially answered, as he mentions in his Diary. “My eyesight is somewhat better, but there is still a danger that I will be one of many millions who suffer all their lives. Of course, I would rather suffer directly for a cause, but God knows best what is good for me and for the Church.”2 During the summer vacations in 1921 he travelled via Bordeaux and Toulouse to Lourdes and prayed to Our Lady for his eyes; he washed them in the water in Lourdes. His eyes got better to the point that he was able to continue his studies. On another place in the Diary, Ivan wrote: “Sacred Heart of Jesus, I dedicate my life to You; if it is for Your glory that I suffer and thus arrive at union with You, let it be according to Your will. I only ask You that, along with me, in Your Kingdom my parents find their place too!” 3
Getting acquainted with French Catholicism
Apart from the studies, which he diligently attended, Ivan tried to acquaint himself as well as he could with French Catholic life, the activities of the Church and numerous Catholic associations. He was, therefore, in the company of the cream of the French Catholic intelligentsia and converts. He diligently attended all important Catholic events in Paris. Here he got to know Catholic Action, here the idea of the papacy as the living Christ got a final and consequential form in his soul, here he developed an unshakeable enthusiasm for the pope and for the study of Catholicism in the light of papal epistles, encyclicals and guidelines.4
On his first pilgrimage to Lourdes, he stopped in Toulouse where, together with two colleagues, he participated at the “Semaine sociale” (The Social Week) – a Catholic manifestation for the study and promotion of the social teaching of the Church. Ivan was thrilled by what he saw and heard, and gave a lengthy account of it in his Diary.5
Ivan was also dedicated to the study of Catholic organizations in France. Among all of them, he developed a particular liking for the Croisade Eucharistique – the Eucharistic Crusade from which he took a motto, brought it to Croatia and weaved it into the Eagles’ organization which accepted it in a shortened form: “Sacrifice – Eucharist – Apostolate.” He studied the models of other Catholic organizations and saw the important role of priests in all of them – as spiritual directors linking the organization with the hierarchy of the Church. Ivan later insisted on this when his great apostolate was developed in Zagreb following his return from Paris.
Informing the French about bishop Mahnić
When Ivan found out about the death of bishop Mahnić, he made a note in his Diary: “Mahnić is the most remarkable personality in Yugoslav history that I know. As far as I could learn about his inner life, he comes closest to being a saint of the Catholic Church. (…) Dear Mahnić, pray for us; pray that our Movement gives birth to as many strong personalities as possible, who will work only for the holy Catholic Church!” 6 Ivan immediately informed the French Catholic public about bishop Mahnić, publishing in a magazine an article about him in French under the title: “Life and work of a great prelate from Yugoslavia, Msgr. Antun Mahnić”7
Informing of the French public about the attacks on Catholics in Yugoslavia
Croatian Catholic students in Paris were very active. They held lectures in French societies and presented in French Catholic papers the attacks on Catholicism in Yugoslavia at that time. On the initiative of the Slovenian priest, Fr. Kuhar, Croatian students gathered abundant material about the cultural battles in Yugoslavia which was published in the newspaper Libre Parole between 3rd and 7th April 1921. This was a series of four articles that caused a true sensation in the French public.8 The Yugoslav side tried to obstruct the printing of these articles, but the editors responded: “If what they are saying in these articles is not true, refute it; if it is true, they have the right to defend themselves.” Ivan played a great role in the composition of these articles. Although the Yugoslav government investigated who stood behind these articles, they didn’t manage to find out. For a time, Ivan feared possible reprisals, but everything calmed down.
Plans for the future
About his future work in the field of Catholic renewal in his homeland, Ivan wrote to his friend, engineer Dragan Marošević:
“God granting, I hope that in several years we shall be able to lay strong foundations of a Catholic action among the Croats. I see only now the weak foundations of our movement, because the supernatural motivation is subordinated to the utilitarian one…”9
In his second letter after the pilgrimage to Lourdes, he continues very concretely: “Catholicism will not spread in our country, if there will be no workers, prayers and sufferers. This is a law in the spreading of the Kingdom of God on earth. Our movement created until now only the first type (worker) and we created in our souls the ideal of a worker for the Catholic movement. We prayed less, and suffered only when we had to. The last type is surely the pinnacle – the imitation of the consummate Savior’s sacrifice on the Cross…We need to get to know the mystery from His life: suffering for others…”10
The life of prayer, fasting and charity
Just before leaving for Paris, Ivan described in his Diary his ascetic way of life.11 This kind of life, permeated with prayer and Christian penitence Ivan continued and perfected in Paris. He went to Mass and received Communion every day. There were two churches which he frequented interchangeably: the chapel of Benedictine Sisters in Monsieur Street and the central church of the Order of Lazarus with the tomb of St. Vincent de Paul on Sèvres Street. His “Paris decisions”, or Ascetic regulations as he called them himself are well known (We bring them within the diary entries where they chronologically belong.)12 Very often he slept on the floor, ate little, observed frequent and long fasts and worked at gaining mastery of himself. Ivan’s prayer life in Paris followed a completely liturgical pattern. Apart from daily Mass, he prayed the Divine Office for priests. Along with an intensive personal spiritual life, Ivan enrolled in the Charity of St. Vincent de Paul for helping the poor. He was assigned to a poor family in Paris whom he visited, took care of and helped them in accordance with his abilities. At the beginning of July 1921, Ivan completed the spiritual exercises in the Jesuit center Manrèse in Clamart near Paris. The notes from these spiritual exercises are preserved.
On 4 November 1921, he was present at the initiation of a novice with the Benedictine Sisters. The ceremony made a deep impression on him. The same evening, he wrote a touching and inspiring description of this event in his Diary. Upon his return to Zagreb, he published articles about this event in the Catholic press.
The son converts the parents
One of great Ivan’s concerns was the religious renewal of his parents who, until then, were not practicing Catholics. Thanks to his efforts, and especially prayers and sacrifices, the desired conversion happened while he was in Paris, and later on, more fully, in Zagreb. But, it was a slow process. On 20 January 1921 Ivan noted in his Paris Diary: “After 25 years my dad received holy Communion on 12 January. My prayers to the Heart of Jesus were answered. In a letter that he sent me, I see a typical example of conversion. Grace – the supernatural moment converted him. It now remains for mom to follow his suit! Sacred Heart of Jesus help us!” And the Heart of Jesus did help!
Ivan kept a lively correspondence with his parents, especially his mother, throughout his stay in Paris. His mother couldn’t understand Ivan’s deep religious and ascetic life and wanted to steer him away from it. On the other hand, Ivan in his letters explained and justified such a way of life. From these letters to his mother we got those two famous sentences which are often quoted and in which Ivan explains his religious way of life: “Don’t you know that my life in the University in Vienna, then the war, the study and finally Lourdes fully convinced me of the truth of the Catholic faith and therefore my entire life is centered around Christ the Lord.” (Letter to his mother of 6 November 1921). The other is even more famous: “Catholic faith is my vocation in life.” (Letter to his mother of 20 October 1921)
We print these very interesting letters at the end of the Paris Diary where they belong by chronological order.
Correspondence with Dr. Maraković
Ivan conducted an intense correspondence with his former teacher Dr. Ljubomir Maraković. Many of these letters are preserved. They deal mostly with the topics from literature, art and finally Catholic life and work in France, about religious projects and institutions and everything else concerning the promotion of the Catholic faith. From these numerous letters of Ivan, which will be published along with the remainder of his correspondence in the special volume of Collected Works, we singled out just one dated 12 September 1921, which bears a programmatic character, and we printed it at the end of the Paris Diary.13 In it Ivan lay out his plans and programs for the spiritual renewal of the Croatian people and invited his former teacher to become active in this field. It is surprising that a young man of 26, a student in Paris, thought in such a way, and lay out the program for the religious renewal of his nation. It is obvious that God’s grace permeated Ivan deeply, preparing him for the great apostolic work which the Blessed Ivan realized after his return from Paris.
Other testimonies about Ivan’s stay in Paris
Apart from his personal notes, the Diary and correspondence, we have the testimonies of direct witnesses of Ivan’s saintly life in Paris, from people that were in daily contact with him. His colleague with whom Ivan shared the lodging Đuro Gračanin, published in 1933 in Sarajevo the brochure My Memories of the Personality of Dr. Ivan Merz (in Croatian). In it, he gives us at length his memories of the Paris days of Ivan Merz. Another colleague from the studies in Paris, Dr. Drago Ćepulić, published his memories of Ivan’s life and studies in Paris in an article entitled Memories of Dr. Ivan Merz (in Croatian), Nedjelja, Zagreb, 10 February 1929, No. 6, p. 2. The same letter was published in Ivan’s first biography.14
D I A R Y
7 November 1920 – 4 November 1921
Paris, 7 November 1920 – (23 years and 11 months)
Description of the voyage across Slovenia and Italy to Paris
Normal life hasn’t begun yet. In Ljubljana, we spoke in the editorial office of Slovenec with Terseglav15, and we travelled to Trieste with our emigres. A sad picture of Yugoslavia! A young, healthy woman from the Srem region sang in the train about Serbian glory and she is travelling never to come back.
In Italy, we met D’Annunzio’s16 soldiers who were telling us that D’Annunzio knows how to discharge the duty of caporal del giorno and distribute food. In Venice, a requiem to an admiral was taking place, a man who defended Venice from the invasion of Austro-Hungarian army. We examined the church of St. Mark and the Doge’s palace. Kids tried to steal things from us at the railway station… in Milan we waited long, and in Modana we had problems at the border. The ride through France was wonderful; with a fast train, we arrived in Paris in one breath. The Metro made a special impression on us at first sight, and then we wondered how the folks here are kind. In addition to that, it was unusual for us to see books displayed in the street, without anybody stealing anything. They were surprised that we came. M. Baudrillard 17 received us warmly, but the consul Georgijević18 almost had us deported, claiming that we were supporters of Karl19 and because the Jesuits sent us. After a troublesome search, we managed to find an apartment, but it was very cold, and the food was odd (meat twice a day20) so that we couldn’t concentrate properly.
Ivan – student in Paris. Picture from the student index
Paris, 16 November 1920 – (23 years and 11 months)
In Cercle Montalembert the prebendary Desgranges spoke about proportionate school distribution. In some areas teachers receive their pay and there are no pupils, whereas Catholic churches are full, without receiving any help from the state, although Catholics are paying taxes like the others. He said that Catholics will initiate a campaign to extract from the state the mandatory support for confessional schools. I hold that the French rely on the state and its help too much instead of organizing themselves completely independently, irrespective of the state, centralize Catholic press and threaten the radicals with a unified voice that they will not pay tax if the state will not be just.
I met a Catholic Englishman. It seems to me that English pupils are even less independently brought up than the French. They are very properly brought up young men, but the Catholic movement is not reflected in them. The clergy thinks instead for them and leads them, and I didn’t observe a trace of a lay movement which would represent independently the viewpoint of the Church in matters not strictly within the domain of the clergy. Our Catholic movement is unified. Every member is a conscious unit in the work for the Church. We should only strive to be as closely related to the Church as possible, to have, along with the competence and awareness of the leaders, the heroism of humility and submission.
Paris, 1 December 1920 – (24 years)
Present at a lecture about the Irish question
Today there was a noisy session in Conférence Olivant. The lecture on the Irish question was on. The lecturer described the bloody history of Ireland through eight centuries and the last battles of the “Irish Republic”. Nearly everyone applauded enthusiastically for the free Ireland. Soon, however, there was a reaction – a claim that the Irish are not a nation, but a tribe like the Provençals, that they still have no republic and that they spill their blood in vain, because they are incapable of living without the English anyway. Yet others supported the view that relations with England should not be broken on account of Ireland, because the English will be needed in the future stand-off against Germany. One Irishman, the delegate of the Irish Republic, asked the French to show sympathy with their people who number 25 million (in America and the colonies).
The French Catholic students are in the political sense completely liberal. They make political alliances only when this alliance will yield material benefits or to be for the greater glory of the French nation. There is not a trace of a Christocentric orientation. A German is their enemy, even if he goes to the Table of the Lord every day!
Paris, 22 December 1920 – (24 years)
Participates at a political lecture about the Spanish question
In Conférence Olivant there was a lecture about the Spanish question. The central issue was the hatred between the French and the Spaniards. The lecturer (M. Dijon) presented the following logical chain: the French people hate the English and thereby the allies of the English – Spaniards. The French conquered Italy in 1808 and expelled the monks from the monasteries. In the last years, France was anti-Catholic and therefore the Spanish Catholics leaned toward the Germans who, on their part, supported the conservative and anti-republican parties (which, in Spain, is equivalent to counter-revolutionary). The lecturer stressed that Spain is not a dead nation, that the Spanish workers’ and peasants’ organizations are powerful and that the Spaniards want to establish a Catholic Peasant International. Catholics are alongside the king and the monarchy because monarchy represents order, although they are against the current military junta which wants to maneuver in Morocco. The debates were stereotypical. The Spaniards must give Tangiers over to the French because of Morocco and must become anglophiles. Politics must be realistic, not sentimental. The lecturer nicely emphasized common religious interests and is much closer to a universal concept of Catholicism than the other comrades.
Croatian students in Paris. Ivan is sitting (first to the left)
Paris, 28 December 1920 – (24 years)
Comment on the death of bishop Antun Mahnić whom he remembers with awe
Mahnić is dead. I didn’t have the privilege to see him on the occasion of his seventieth anniversary, neither to stand the guard of honor with other brothers at his catafalque. Mahnić is the most impressive personality in Yugoslav history that I know of. As much as I could find out about his inner life, he is the closest to a saint of the Catholic Church among his contemporaries. What luck for the Yugoslavs to have one Mahnić, the fighter who wanted to lift the Yugoslav people into the embrace of the Trinity where he is now celebrating. Dear Mahnić, pray for us; pray that from our Movement21 many strong personalities may sprout who will work only for the most holy Catholic Church!
Paris, 16 January 1921 – (24 years and 1 month)
I was present at a lecture organized by the Lettres Magazine. The magazine, which gave birth to the likes of Péguy and Jammes, wants to get the entire people interested for the problems of esthetics, wants the entire people, like in medieval ages, to be the inspirers of great works of art. This movement is analogous to Gral and our literary views. It emerged from the ground of the Church.
Today I was for the first time with Dr. Belić22.
Paris, 20 January 1921 – (24 years and 1 month)
Thanks to his prayers, his father converted
After twenty years, on 12 January, (silver wedding anniversary) dad received Holy Communion. My prayers to the Heart of Jesus were granted. In a letter which he wrote to me, I see a typical example of conversion. Grace, the supernatural element, converted him. I still have mother in my care! Heart of Jesus, help us!
Paris, 22 January 1921 – (24 years and 1 month)
A lecture by Henri Ghéon about Péguy’s works and his world-view
At the Revue des jeunes, Mr. Henri Ghéon read some excerpts from Péguy. The listeners were mostly ladies and girls fashionably dressed in silk and other. In our country, we associate such stylish dress with low morals, but among the French the literary life is going on precisely in salons like this. Mr. Ghéon read excerpts from the works of Péguy with whom he was personal friend. For me, this was the first acquaintance with this author who is a favorite among French Catholic youth. I couldn’t remember the titles of all the works, but Péguy’s picture is clear to me: a peasant child who sprouted and grew up among the French Christian people, who were, as is our nation to this day, full of life energy. Work was his act of liturgy. Péguy stands in opposition to Paris salon society and he severely criticizes the spiritual revolution which killed faith among the people and destroyed the very notion of people. Today’s people think as their newspapers tell them to and nationality is not on its tongue as it once was. Although these social developments are painted in very strong strokes, e.g. he hates most of all the tepid atheists, because the revolutionaries have hope in a better future, and hope always conceals love, this is not where Péguy’s greatness lies. When this milieu is gone, this will not interest us more than Labruyère’s characters, but his mystical poetry will live on after him. Admittedly, in this respect all we see is a torso; the irony of Péguy who looked at the decline of France with a heart full of bitterness, sometimes disturbs us with wonderful anthems. Some, like the one where God marvels at his wonderful creation, are a wonderful complement to similar places in the Bible (the Missal, feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary). Characteristic of Péguy is his Wailing of the Mother of God. The spiritual life of the Mother of God after the death of her Son is presented in a very suggestive manner, but this Mother of God – I think – is not completely liturgical, not the real Mother of God – but a French peasant mother who lost her son.
I made acquaintance with Fr. Sertillanges23.
Paris, 24 January 1921 – (24 years and 1 month)
Got to know Bernoville, the Portuguese are in favor of the Catholic International
I spoke at length with Mr. Bernoville, the editor of Lettre and presented him our ideas about Catholic literature and the Catholic International. He was elated and gave me the address of René Johannet and handed me an invitation for a lecture about Catholic literature.
The Portuguese are also interested in the Catholic International. Two priests want to form an informative Catholic office. Generally, there is a feeling that all the nations who suffered have a greater need to lean on an international organization, than those who had a comfortable time.
The Paris University Sorbonne in which Ivan studied
Paris, 28 January 1921 – (24 years and 1 month)
Lecture about French Catholic organizations
Prebendary Beaupin24 gave a lecture at the Catholic Institute25 about patronages. These are the main ideas: after the French Revolution, reverend Allemand in Marseilles and reverend Chaminad in Bordeaux (ordinary workers – coppersmiths) gathered the youth around them and educated them. The second stage in the development was the association with Ozanam and the Brothers of St. Vincent who are an order with vows and a mission to educate the youth. The type of this order and a feeling that vows are necessary to maintain a continuity of action could be the guidepost for our action. Patronages which until now developed independently of the parish priest gradually came into his hands and within the hierarchy an organization was set up. Alongside every bishop there is now a manager who is in a way the representative or mediator between the hierarchy and this unique action. The secret of the great development of patronages is closed spiritual exercises, and especially valuable are spiritual exercises for the youth aged 12 – 14. Of course, the content of these spiritual exercises is tailored to that age group. The effect of a separate room for everyone and an inner concentration of the mind, as prebendary Beupin said, has an enormous impact on these young souls. After the spiritual exercises, these young men usually compose a short report about their impressions from the spiritual exercises. This is another interesting model for us! Patronages are, therefore, a special type of education for French Catholics and from these patronages nowadays professional schools for apprentices are being developed, in which, along with religious and moral upbringing, young men get a good professional education.
Ivan (left) with colleague Juraj Šćetinec, Mrs. Michaut and her daughter
with whom he was staying in Paris
Paris, 30 January 1921 – (24 years and 1 month)
Notices God’s hand in the work and prayer of Catholic organizations
I attended the last session of the Regional Congress of French Catholic Associations. They discussed the social orientation among the workers, agrarian organizations, study circles and the liturgical movement. The stream of life is permeating this organization and a wonderful spirit is present there. Among the members there is a harmony of souls and the debates have hardly any touch of uncontrolled emotion. The Catholic youth is more social than the high school pupils, and this came to the notice of some priests. Observing this huge interest of the Catholic generation in the renewal of the entire public life in Christ, I see the effects of an Energy which is active everywhere. Wherever I observed it in Austria, in our country, and also here, I admire the unity which inspires Catholic movements in all these countries. The best apology for God’s action within mankind is this unifying spirit which permeates the Catholic movements of the world. This masterpiece cannot be created by any human strength or a philosophical system. This is the work of the Power which is above us and whom we seek and try to know. Let the atheists, internationals and the members of all schools of thought study the history of the Church and its present-day activity and they will see that it is the only factor which is pulling mankind forward.
Their prayer made a deep impression on me. After concluding the debates which were held on all the needs of public life, everyone turned toward the most holy Sacrament and sang in one voice O Salutaris hostia, Mafnificat, Tantum ergo. This enthusiastic singing was an artistic expression of the unity of their souls; the affirmation of faith in Catholic France of the 20th century! Really, the French, at least those to whom I listened today, can be proud of their clergy and their youth.
Paris, 1 February 1921 – (24 years and 2 months)
About the great names of French Christianity who criticize the “golden age” of Louis XIV
I read Bossuet26 and I am surprised to find (Funeral Orations) nearly the same thoughts as in Pascal (Two Infinities). Was Pascal listening to the sermons of Bossuet? Most probably he did, but I think that the primary inspiration came from St. Vincent who interpreted the Gospel in the Lazarists’ monastery.
When we observe the century of Louis XIV, we see that his greatness does not lie in great works of art and power of the state. These kings, cardinals, all the aristocracy had very little Christianity in them and this “golden century” of refined culture found its critics among the representatives of the Church: St. Vincent, Pascal, Bossuet and others at the time of these feudal prejudices stressed the greatness of poverty, suffering, shame. What a wonderful activity of the Church who in every age shows to mankind the real purpose of life!
Paris, 12 February 1921 – (24 years and 2 months)
Spiritual suffering, crisis almost to the point of despair. All because of the eyes. I already thought that I might have to interrupt my studies; thoughts of my parents, of our people, tortured me. Thank God, the sight improved somewhat, but it is possible that I will be among the millions who suffer all their life. Of course, I would rather suffer directly for the idea, but God knows best what is better for the Church and for me. If, therefore, all the plans, all my work so far proves seemingly in vain, the Church will grow nevertheless and Christ will have his second coming. One man more or less – only let this man fulfil the will of God in these moments.
The lectures organized by the magazine Lettres are wonderful. Today, the speaker was Mr. Storez, the founder of Arche, and the topic was cathedral – the mirror of the world. He sketched an ideal picture of Middle Ages when art was a science, and the whole universe a masterpiece of the Arch-Artist. The man is only a word in this great symphony. Symbols, numbers play a great role. 3 (Trinitas) + 4 (elements – body) = 7, the human number. The relationship of the soul and the body, 3 x 4 = 12 apostles. With a wonderful logic, the Middle Ages adorned these symbols. Trinitas, angels, Christ can be presented naked, but man never. Animals, plants, all have their significance in this world-view. Art pour art doesn’t exist because nature’s own love is an expression of one idea, and is connected with the rest of the macrocosm.
Communists, e.g. (see Le Journal du people, of 28 January 1921 and 7 February 1921) already stress that art must assume a social character, that liberalism, the isolation of every individual, is lethal for art itself. They, of course, demand dictatorship, but with their views they get close to our viewpoint. They condemn that a work is created in order to be placed in a museum but want it to be the decoration of a house, cemetery, etc. The last step in this interpretation would be the cathedral in which all the arts work together. Cathedral is, therefore, abrégé du monde.27 Macrocosm, Trinitas, creatio.
Jesus Christ, please heal my eyes!
The cathedral Notre Dame in Paris
Paris, St. George’s Day, 23 April 1921 – (24 years and 4 months)
Problems with the eyes, faces suffering, dedicates his life to the Heart of Jesus
My pain continues and therefore I wrote almost nothing. In the past period, I thank Jesus Christ for being able, during Lent, to plunge into the ocean of pain of His Heart and for having lived in such a close relationship with Him. Besides, I translated the Way of the Cross by Paul Claudel28 and I think that every Catholic poet should write one Way of the Cross so that we might judge his greatness as man.
Due to this disease of the eyes, I couldn’t dedicate myself to the study of Catholic literature as I would like to, and due to inner distraction, I didn’t learn French which I studied in parallel.
Heart of Jesus, I dedicate my life to you; if is for Your glory that I suffer and thus come to You, let Your will be done, and please, let my parents be alongside me in Your kingdom.
Engaged in the promotion of the truth about the persecution of Catholics in Yugoslavia
The work of our society is mostly journalistic. On the initiative of Fr. Kuhar we prepared a huge amount of material about the cultural battle in Yugoslavia and the Libre Parole published four articles on this topic between the 4th and 7th of April 1921. These articles caused a sensation with the French public. Our delegation in Paris intervened with the French government to stop the publication of these articles, but the response was: if what these articles say is not true, deny it, if it is, they have the right to defend themselves. In addition, La Croix in its issue of 21 April published an article about Yugoslavia, and today we had demonstrations. Apparently, the French Catholics support us with all their might.
Visits various Catholic societies and their meetings, comments on the lectures
From the 14th until the 17th of April I participated in the congress of the Catholic Union of International Students where, among other things, they debated about Ireland. The viewpoint which the Catholics must assume, because the majority of English Catholics think the same, is that Ireland should be granted the right to their nation; as Ireland wants to be free, it has the right to freedom from under England’s yoke.
Such meetings are good because in such a way the Catholics of opposing national and other tendencies meet together and forge a unified directive of action for the future. But, I think that a sound international Catholic work will not be possible as long as the Germans are banned from cooperating. I think that God our Lord in that case withdraws his blessing to all these international Catholic actions. In order for an idea to succeed, sacrifice is required! The motto of our Lord Jesus Christ, “That they all may be one, as thou Father art in me, and I in thee” (John 17:21), is so great that it might almost be necessary to establish an order which would dedicate itself to befriending French Catholics with the German ones. Heart of Jesus, bless the French-German love!
Gave a lecture about Catholic organizations as a foundation of Republica Christiana
On 17th April I gave my first speech in French in the Catholic trade union in rue Cadet 5, in the name of foreign students. My thesis was that Catholic confessional organizations are the cells from which a Republica Christiana should eventually develop. Today there was a celebration of the Catholic Organization of French Youth in which Šćetinec very nicely presented our Movement29. Dr. Dvornik, with much cosmetic cream, sketched the battles of Catholics in Czechoslovakia, and the Irishman, Mr. Walsh, as always, presented with passion the religious war of contemporary Ireland where the English burn and destroy. He mentioned that the Protestants who are among the Sinuteniers respect Catholicism, that they often pray the rosary together with the Catholics. Mr. Nerrero from Spain presented in a temperamental manner how Spain has lost all its colonies, but remained rich, because it preserved its faith.
Criticism of the liberal professors at the Sorbonne
Msgr. Baudrillart30, having commended the Spanish civilization which spread Catholicism and Latin culture throughout America, warns the French that they mustn’t be too proud of themselves, but must get to know other nationalities as well. He tells of a shameful case at the Sorbonne: today they declared the president of the Chinese Republic honorary doctor of the Sorbonne. On the occasion of this ceremony, the rapprochement of these civilizations was stressed and for the greatness of the West they mentioned Darwin, while the Chinese stressed the superiority of Eastern culture characterized by the dominance of the spirit over the body. So, the professors at the Sorbonne never even mentioned Christianity, which is the most significant mark of Western culture. In his speech, he protested against the Serbs who want to subjugate Croatians and their faith. The Italian journalist Ruso said that they will organize a manifestation in the Italian parliament against the persecution of Catholicism in Yugoslavia.
Paris, 14 May 1921– (24 years and 5 months)
Yugoslav government persecutes Croatian students in Paris
The feast of St. Joanne d’ Arc in Orleans was beautiful. A brightly lit cathedral, clergy, the army… They gave us a nice reception in the editorial offices of the magazine Libre Parole. Our government is searching for us because of the articles in Libre Parole and yesterday a certain Count Polocki visited us, probably with the intention of finding out who was the author of the articles.
Toulouse, 27 July 1921 – (24 years and 7 months)
Travelling to Lourdes, stopover in Bordeaux
In the Paris – Bordeaux train we met two Jesuits – theology students, originally from Canada. They spoke about the strong religious life in Canada, about the fertility of the French nationality in Canada, and other things. In Bordeaux, Šćetinec, Gračanin and I examined the ship Asie and visited all the possible Catholic organizations. In Arcachon we were present at a meeting of the Avant-garde, the members of the French Catholic youth. The closeness of Lourdes is felt everywhere; one member of this youth organization was miraculously healed (he had, I think, tuberculosis in his leg) and is now playing football. On the coast, they showed me a lady in white who was healed from the same condition. I saw for the first time the light-blue Atlantic Ocean, whose waves were rushing toward the coast, foaming and competing with each other. This endless life, this movement of the immeasurable is like an image of the Holy Spirit who is also endless, eternal, immeasurable.
We arrived in Toulouse at night, wandered along the narrow streets in moonlight, one might call it a Bosnian night, and finally we hit the door-knocker and a large medieval door opened.
Here I liked the most the big, heavy and penitential Romanic church of St. Sernin where they keep the head of St. Thomas. It is full of other relics as well, including a piece of wood from the Holy Cross, part of Virgin Mary’s dress and other things.
Participating at the Social Week in Toulouse
Social Week (semaine sociale). Although its character is too expert for me to understand, the overall impression is magnificent. There were the leaders of Catholic France and Belgium. Besides E. Duthoil, Ponin, the Jesuit Lerolle, there were the Dominican Père Rütten, the leader of Belgian workers’ organizations, and Max Thurmann, the author of the book The Church and Social Economy.
The best proof of the supernatural atmosphere which reigns everywhere is that the president of the congress received Holy Communion daily.
They discussed the injustice in economic relations and examined the causes of social injustice in detail. Thus, the directives for social work in the next year are being created. So, the Social Week assumed the character of a travelling university.
In the Catholic University, which is, as everywhere, the focus of the Catholic life of a city, everything is centralized. Meals in the garden of the Catholic University are interesting. Sitting at long tables there are several hundred male and female, priestly and lay persons.31 As is the French custom, long toasts are held in which the French flatter themselves. Two speeches were most interesting for me: one French missionary from China complained that all of the Chinese youth coming into France fall into the hands of the Protestants or Bolsheviks. He pleaded with the French youth to take a more active stance toward the Chinese who come to France. An inspiration of sanctity shone forth from the entire speech. Father Rütten asked the French to pay greater attention to the workers. He claimed that a worker can be won over only by means of another worker (apostolate of the workers directed at workers). Every priest must educate several workers who will then spread the ideas of Christian socialism among their comrades. He then went on to demand the establishment of a daily Catholic workers’ paper because workers cannot believe the Catholic press if it is bourgeois. Only the worker can hit the right vein with other workers.
Toulouse, 29 July 1921 – (24 years and 7 months)
Visit to a Jesuit School of Agronomy
In Panpan we visited the School of Agronomy which is managed by the Jesuits. Their aim is to educate experts who will, with their professional authority, carry out a re-Christianization of the French village. They educate Christian workers and Christian engineers.
Toulouse, 30 July 1921 – (24 years and 7 months)
Comment on the lectures on Social Week
General Castelnau yesterday gave an interesting lecture in the Jacobin hall (formerly a Dominican church). I especially liked his down-to-earth democratic approach and his Christian behavior (he kissed the ring on the cardinal’s hand!). He spoke about seven cardinal sins and applied them to the history of different nations. He was using the words armed nation for defensive reason against the Prussians. There was no hatred in his lecture. What a difference compared to Austrian generals who were not able to speak in such a tone in front of the people! Mr. Las Casas gave an interesting overview about the victory of Christian social ideas in the French parliament; some legal proposals that were submitted by Catholic deputies were accepted. It is a characteristic, namely, of French Catholics that they love their state and rejoice over every success of that state as a success of the people.
I was sad listening to the cardinal’s speech, full of hatred against the Germans. God, forgive us sinners and resurrect the apostles who will sacrifice themselves for Christian unity!
The lecture of Mr. Goyan (read by a professor from Lille) was wonderful: it presented the wonderful system of Christian social mystics and the communion of saints. He presented all the poetry which is reflected from soul to soul in three parts of the Church.
Here I understood the power of Christian prayer. They burdened me with a host of prayers to say in Lourdes for the people whom I hardly know: from P. Desbutquois and Action Populaire all the way to an unknown Carmelite nun. I also met the type of a French Catholic girl (Miss Fayol). They are full of supernatural fervor. It is hard to part from such people. They revealed to me that among them there were Serbian women who had a liking for the Catholics. A certain Ruža Kuzmanović converted and has the plan to open a children’s clinic in Belgrade and invite the French Sisters of Mercy. Praise be to God and his holy name!
At Fr. Bessières’ place, I leafed through the Apostolate of Prayer and he explained to me the children’s Eucharistic crusade (Croisade eucharistique). Seven-year old children begin with ascetics and Christian propaganda among their comrades. A truly magnificent work! Belgians promised me that they will try to find a place for our workers in their organizations.
ON A PILGRIMAGE TO LOURDES
Ivan made no notes in his Diary of his experiences in Lourdes where he went accompanied by two of his friends, Đuro Gračanin and Juraj Šćetinec after participating at the Social Week in Toulouse.
However, he left us his impressions of this first pilgrimage to Lourdes in three places. This is firstly the article “Two Miracles in Lourdes” (in Croatian) which he sent while still in Lourdes to the newspaper Narodna Politika in Zagreb where it was published on 20 August 1921. Then, there are two letters, one to Dr. Lj. Maraković and the other to his friend Dragan Marošević. We publish all three documents in chronological order, as they were written. In them we see the impact which Lourdes had on Ivan, strengthening his faith, and especially deepening his devoutness to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In a letter to his mother from Paris the same year Ivan included the following sentence: “You know that my life at the University in Vienna, then the war, study and finally Lourdes completely convinced me in the truthfulness of the Catholic faith, and therefore, all my life is centered around Christ our Lord” (from Paris on 20 October 1921).
Although these three documents are not diary entries, we decided to publish them here to fill a void in his Diary from that period; also, these documents reveal his deep spiritual experience of Lourdes which was so important for his future religious and apostolic work.
Lourdes, 4 August 1921 – (24 years and 8 months)
The article Two Miracles in Lourdes – an experience of Lourdes
From this article published by the newspaper Narodna politika (Zagreb, 20 August 1921, No. 187, pp. 2-3) we bring here the beginning and the end. We leave out the direct descriptions of two miraculous cures. The article was published again in full in the 2nd volume of Collected Works of Ivan Merz (Zagreb, 2011, pp. 285-288). This article was written while he was still in Lourdes and in it we find those first, direct, fresh impressions which Ivan had of Lourdes and its message to the world.
Incredible events are still happening in Lourdes. Many thousands of devotees from all parts of the world swarm the streets and pray the rosary with open arms in front of the well-known cave. When the night descends from the Pyrenees, long processions with lit candles in their hands walk from the Masabielle cave along the Gava stream, singing Ave Maria whose beautiful melody rises to the Lady of Lourdes. But the most touching moment is the procession of the Most Holy Sacrament. At 5 p.m. many hundreds of patients – the number depends on the size of the pilgrimages – lying on stretchers or in wheelchairs, wait upon the Most Holy Sacrament in a large area in front of the church of the Holy Rosary. While the procession with the Most Holy Sacrament moves from the cave, the multitude prays the rosary aloud in all the languages of the world. Then the priest goes with the Most Holy Sacrament from patient to patient, while in front of the church the voice of another priest resonates:
Lord, we bow down to You! And thousands of voices respond: Lord, we bow down to You! Then it continues: Lord, we trust in You! Lord, we love You! Hosanna, hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! You are Christ, the Son of the living God, etc.
Listening to the prayers and rejoicing of those thousands of voices, unquestionably every spectator is permeated by some special feeling. The images that occurred 1900 years ago are repeated here reminiscing of our Savior who walked the streets of Jerusalem, healing the sick. We arrived in Lourdes unfortunately four days after two great miracles happened. We, therefore, quote from the report published in La Croix de Lourdes of 31 July 1921.
Here follows a detailed description of two miraculous cures whose documentation Merz sent together with the article to the editors of Narodna politika. The article ends with these words:
The events at Lourdes force every spectator to reflect. As they occur publicly – in front of thousands of spectators – and as every physician is completely free to examine and check out every cure, a large number of non-believers are converted to the Catholic faith.
Lourdes, which was a neglected village 66 years ago, is now a beautiful town, among others, full of monasteries. Everything reminds us of Bernardette Soubirous, the girl to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared 18 times. When, among other things, you visit the monastery, “The Orphanage of the Sisters of Nevers,” you will be cordially greeted by a nun, Bernardette’s friend, who will give you mementos of her.
The experiences at Lourdes are a living truth as everyone can verify with his own eyes. They are a mighty warning to mankind to convert to the real and great God. The guiding idea of these moving events of the disbelieving twentieth century seems to be already pronounced in Zacharias’ eulogy. The miracles at Lourdes should “shine on those living in the darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet onto the path of peace” (Luke 1:79).
Paris, The Most Holy Name of Mary,
12 September 1921 – (24 years and 9 months)
From the letter to Dr. Lj. Maraković – a personal experience of Lourdes and a prayer to the Blessed Virgin
On the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, on 12 September 1921, Ivan sent to his teacher Dr. Lj. Maraković from Paris a very strong, programmatic letter which we publish in full at the end of his Diary from the Paris period. Here we quote only the part relating to his experience of Lourdes:
I would like to tell you something more about pilgrimages. In Lourdes I experienced great manifestations. Pilgrimages are the best schools of prayer. I feel free to say that in Lourdes I prayed genuinely for the first time to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Before Lourdes, my prayer to the Blessed Virgin was a contemplation of a phantom of my phantasy. I admit I simply didn’t feel the meaning of the greatness of the Mother of God, a woman who was predestined from the beginning to be the bearer of the One who is the creator of the entire universe, etc. And in Lourdes I heard thousands praying aloud and every sound and every movement of an individual believer – this being the expression of his or her religious life – suggested to me his or her religious awareness of the Blessed Virgin.
Imagine several thousand voices, movements, smells and colors and everything speaks about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Is it odd that her harmony, her formal beauty, her sweet fragrance, her immense greatness and goodness assumes in our heart immeasurable contours and builds in us the image of the real Madonna… And along with that you hear penetrating voices of the patients praying for healing, and miracles do happen – and you remain crushed under the greatness of the One on whom the eternal salvation of all the nations depends! In the evening when you join the procession holding a lit candle in your hands and look upon these thousands of candles playing in the wind – none differing from one another – you feel that there is no difference between people, classes, that in this valley of tears we are all the children of the same Mother and that the only purpose of life is to work for our salvation without human considerations and likewise for the salvation of those close to us and thus arrive at our eternal destination for which we were created. This is a very narrow sketch of what I’ve been through and I think we ought to organize pilgrimages to Marija Bistrica or other shrines where we shall pray together to the Blessed Virgin. I am sure these prayers will be of use even for our earthly life because “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33).
Paris, St. Luke, the physician,
18 October 1921 – (24 years and 10 months)
A letter to a friend Dragan Marošević – encounter with the supernatural world One month after writing to his teacher Dr. Maraković, Ivan wrote on 18 October to his sick friend Dragan Marošević with whom he studied together in Vienna. Although two and a half months have passed since his pilgrimage to Lourdes, the impressions are still very deep, proving his genuine encounter with the supernatural world.
You gladdened me with your swift response. (…) I am very sorry for not having written to you from Lourdes, because it will be hard now to reproduce all the impressions.
Surely you know those scenes from the Gospel when our Savior sent the demons into the pigs which rushed into the lake and drowned. People became afraid and asked Jesus to leave their region. Likewise, people were overcome by fear when our Lord healed the only son. This phenomenon seems to manifest always when a supernatural Power begins to act (It often happened on the front!). The same is in Lourdes: only the first impression is that “She” is there, the Mother of God who is greater and more powerful and more beautiful and stronger than all those gigantic peaks of the Pyrenees which surround Lourdes. She resides there in a special way and I think that all who are there, even non-believers, must have this feeling that she is there. (…) So, you find yourself in Lourdes beside Her: she lifts her head above the Pyrenees, holds God in her arms – imagine God. (…) Therefore, She stands in front of you – this is a real feeling which you cannot shake off, and thousands of believers, at night (each with a lit candle), go uphill along the serpentine and sing without stopping Ave, Ave, Ave Maria. Every candle which shimmers is one soul which will go to Her today, tomorrow or in a year. (Oh, one thinks there will that moment come soon, because really there is a foretaste of Heaven in the air). This is the poetic part.
During the day hundreds (many hundreds) of patients lie on the stretchers, the multitude prays the rosary aloud with open arms, and Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament goes from patient to patient, leans toward each one of them and blesses them. In the meantime, one priest shouts aloud: Lord we love you, Lord we bow to you, let me see you, etc. Occasionally there is a shout: “I am healed”… I came two days after miracles happened and went away also several days before new miracles occurred. This year very many people were healed. In that atmosphere one is easily overcome by fear, just like those people from the Gospel.
Yes, in Lourdes I learned what the Rosary is, and since then it is my second-best friend. Before I came to Lourdes, I admit, there was a lingering doubt at the bottom of my mind, some feeling that I might be praying to a phantom of my imagination!? I prayed, of course, because to stop praying would mean not to believe in the Blessed Virgin Mary. And where do we go from there? Turn away from Catholicism, and everything around you is dark and ugly. Therefore, Lourdes added the element of feeling to my rational faith…
I speak of myself, because I hold that our whole Movement32 – and I am a child of this movement, is religiously very rationalistic. For the tiniest thing, they need an apology to convince them. There is a lack of that contact from heart to heart, and contact with the Blessed Virgin Mary, that blind childlike love which believes, and doesn’t seek a thousand arguments for this faith.
This letter, admittedly, is a collection of fragments, but I know that you like to meditate. Therefore, I hold that you will complete with your own power if I left out something. But, aren’t you yourself a bit rationalistic? The child of our Movement?! I know it is difficult to suffer, but some people have the vocation of suffering. We are a body of Christ and on this body the roles are distributed. Some must suffer to remove the wrath of God which should descend upon us. Huysmans would call these chosen souls mystical lightning rods. Did you ever consider suffering for our movement? Did you dedicate your pain to the Lord Jesus for the movement? Catholicism will not spread in our country unless there will be workers, those who pray and sufferers. This is a law in the spreading of the Kingdom of God on earth. Our movement has created so far only the first type (worker) and we created in our souls the ideal of the Worker for the Catholic movement. We prayed a bit less, and suffered only when we had to. The last type is surely the pinnacle – imitation of the complete Sacrifice of the Savior on the Cross – and I see in our movement already a large number of such potential sufferers. As there is no accident, I hold that it is the plan of Providence for us to realize this mystery from His life; to suffer for others.
It is true that it is easy to speak about the Cross, and it is difficult to carry it. Surely you must go on praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary with all your force, if possible meditate on the entire rosary every day. At the sorrowful mystery “who bore the heavy cross for us” you can observe the entire Way of the Cross and you must promise her something: e.g. that for the rest of your life you will recite the rosary once daily, or something else. In this promise, it is most important that it is a real obligation and that until the end of your life you will remain in Her service. Maybe She is asking precisely this decision of you because she knows that within a shorter time frame you might become negligent, whereas such a promise disciplines a man, like a regulation, in his religious life.
This is my opinion. I don’t know if I rightly guessed your state of mind, but I hold that a regular and consequent meditation is the only means for a man not to lose balance here on earth and from day to day (future, it is nothing compared to eternity!) rejoice with Christ or suffer with Him. (…)
With love and prayers, yours Ivan
Continuation of the Paris Diary
Paris, 4 November 1921 – (24 years and 11 months)
Dressing of a novice in a monastery of Benedictine nuns
I visited the monastery of Benedictine nuns33 on the occasion of the dressing of a novice. The liturgy was magnificent: the impression as if the girls are going under the guillotine, into death. They die to the world and become the strings which will sing to the glory of God for all eternity. They will burn like fire and enter like the wise virgins with lit lamps into the marital chamber of the Betrothed.
Marie Denise Chevillotte,
a general’s daughter, before entry into the
Benedictine monastery in 1921
I am a slave of God. The result of suffering (eyes) is that I formulated the directive for life34 and I pray the whole rosary daily. If my eyes heal, and I pass my exams, and if there will be no external impediments, I will join the Jesuits (if they accept me). One ought to forget the world and concentrate all the forces in the work for Jesus. To forget one’s friends, plans, everything – in a way to vanish from the face of the earth, yes, this is my intention – to burn myself out and enter with as many other souls as possible that sublime place where the Father, Son, Blessed Virgin Mary in the Holy Spirit, apostles, martyrs, angels, virgins, Thomas, Mahnić, Rogulja, all those innumerable worlds of the Apocalypse are waiting for us.
When in ancient times they sacrificed people (Iphigenia) in order to placate the Deity, those present were overcome by horror. The young, wise Benedictine is entering into a prison never to emerge from it again. She has crossed the first threshold of death which leads to heaven.
Old pagan ceremonies had an intuition of grand mysteries, Christianity explicated them.
The daughter of a general leaves the world, dressed as a white fiancée, in order not to drown. Fasting, eating standing up, getting up in the dead of the night, staying in a cold room, putting the cross on her back in order to save the pagan Babylon, thousands of prostitutes and lechers.
God, you are great, you pour supernatural force into tiny souls and put to shame members of science, academicians, politicians who deliver mighty speeches, but are not prepared to sacrifice the smallest of their bodily comfort.
Yes, the grain must be thrown into the earth and die there if it wants to bear fruit.
The Queen for Virgins, pour the oil of sanctity into her soul and her body. Let the fragrance of the burning sacrifice fill the earth with its fumes.
Today a man must read a library, and people are not aware that the Church possesses greater dramatic poetry than all the possible Sophocleses and Shakespeares.
The ceremony, apart from the beauty of the text, has this advantage over worldly dramatic poetry, in that the latter imitates something that is past, while in liturgy we are witnessing the drama itself.
Oh, how great are the souls which renounce life completely! Adam’s seed sinned by disobeying God and became the slave of the flesh which is below the man. Only humility re-establishes the disturbed order: not wanting anything for oneself, destroying in oneself everything that separates us from God, trying to forget oneself completely – this is the only counter-weight of Adam’s sin by which he wanted to become equal to God.
Oh, how terribly sorrowful human life is! How many hundreds of thousands of virgins – beautiful, healthy and wise – left behind them the life, happiness, parents, to be enclosed in a monastery and to forget their own name. Today, this general’s daughter like those hundreds of thousands leaves her father, decorated with all kinds of medals, never to emerge from the walls of Monsieur Street35.
What was she thinking? The mystery of life must have tortured her long. Finally, she realized that it is the best, as this life is only a foreplay, to begin as soon as possible, even with great pains, the life that will last forever. At home, she could barely wait to begin a regular religious life because all the numerous obligations were distracting her from it. Today, when she crossed the threshold of the monastery, what was she thinking? That now the real preparation for the other life will begin. Wasn’t she overcome by fear that she might get used to monastic life and turn the whole affair into a habit? Oh yes, she will have to keep herself awake all the time, to be always ready for the arrival of the Betrothed. This life will have to become so repugnant to her, that she will yearn to cross the other threshold which leads into the monastery of Heaven.
My God, let the paganism in which we live vanish forever.
Interior of the monastery of Benedictine nuns in Paris
Brief comment on the description of the dressing
of the Benedictine novice
Ivan Merz never found out the name of this nun nor did he ever inquire about her afterwards. Under the impression of the ceremony of dressing he translated and published in Croatian Catholic press the entire ecclesiastical ritual of the dressing of novices in the monasteries of Benedictine nuns. Later he published his description of this ritual as he saw it in Paris as a separate article. Merz ended his earthly life without even finding out what happened to this nun.
on whose initiation ceremony in 1921 Ivan was present.
Photo from 1979
In his Diary, Ivan left only three pieces of information: that the father of this young novice was a French general, that her dressing took place on 4 November 1921 and that it occurred in the Benedictine monastery in Monsieur Street in Paris.
On the basis of this information the postulator for his canonization, Fr. Božidar Nagy, SJ, managed to find this nun in 1979 in their monastery, but in Vauhallan near Paris where the monastic community had relocated in the meantime. On this occasion her name became known. Her name was Marie Denise Chevillotte. Her life unwound exactly as Ivan had predicted on the day of her dressing. She had never heard of Ivan Merz before and was very surprised when the postulator brought her the translation of the description of her dressing, as it was experienced by a young Croatian student at that time.
Sister Marie Denise lived to an old age. She died on 24 October 1991 in her 90th year, ten days before the 70th anniversary of her entry into the monastery. Postulator Fr. Božidar Nagy was present at her funeral, on the occasion of her entry “into the monastery of Heaven”. On that occasion, the abbess of the monastery donated for the museum of Ivan Merz a cross and rosary of Sister Marie Denise where they are kept as a valuable testimony of a life dedicated to God with whom the Blessed Ivan Merz was spiritually connected.
Chapel in the monastery of Benedictine nuns in Paris to which Ivan
often came to Mass and in which he was present at the
initiation ceremony of a novice.
All documentation about the religious life of Sister Marie Denise Chevillotte was published in the Postulation Bulletin (in Croatian) Ivan Merz, No. 1-2, 1979/1980, No. 1-2 1991, No. 1-2, 1992
Paris, 4 November 1921 – (24 years and 11 months)
Ascetic regulations – directives for life
In his Diary of 4 November 1921, Merz also mentions how he drafted the directives for life, i.e. decisions for a more perfect Christian life, directed towards sanctity. Although he doesn’t mention them in his Diary, these decisions are preserved and are kept in his Archive. They were written in Paris with his own hand on a sheet of paper. He entitled them Ascetic regulations, but they are better known as the Paris decisions. We publish them here because they thematically fit into this time-frame.
- Lie on a hard bunk.
- Wash the whole body once a day in cold water.
- Skip breakfast.
- On Friday feel hunger.
- Often stop eating just when the food pleases you most.
- Do physical exercises every day whatever the circumstances.
- Never speak about yourself.
- Eat only lunch and dinner.
- Once a month abstain from food and drink for 24 hours.
- Give excessive possessions to some poor person.
- Never speak about your pain.
- Speak as little as possible.
- Every day pray to God at least once with dedication.
- Face unpleasant situations.
- Bless your own pain.
- Occasionally inflict pain upon yourself. (Memory of the suffering in hell!) (Secretly.)
- Perform all physical needs incl. eating, as hidden from the world as possible.
- Sometimes get up from the deepest sleep and look at the stars.
- Go into scary places in the dead of the night (to overcome fear, strengthen the faith).
- Accept with gladness humiliation in front of people.
- Never devote yourself to science too one-sidedly.
- Be in closest contact with life.
- When the sun rises, be prepared for material life. (In the summer get up at 4 a.m., in winter at 5 a.m.)
- Beware of one-sidedness in science, which kills joy.
Facsimile of Ivan’s “Paris decisions” (in Croatian)
PARIS CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN
IVAN MERZ AND HIS PARENTS IN 1921
In the Paris period of Merz’s life we have relatively few diary entries; the last one is dated 4 November 1921. However, from that period we have an abundant correspondence with his parents, and especially with Dr. Lj. Maraković. In the correspondence with Dr. Maraković we can trace Ivan’s external activities regarding studies and exploring French Catholic life, his visits to important Church dignitaries and Catholic institutions.
By contrast to previous years, in his letters to the parents we can take a glimpse into his spirituality, his understanding of life and his life vocation in the light of the Catholic faith. In Paris Ivan lived even more intensively a spiritual life filled with ascetic and penitential elements. His parents, especially his mother, couldn’t understand it and a very interesting exchange of letters between mother and son ensued. Ivan wanted his parents to begin living a deeper Christian life, and this was his great preoccupation. With his father, he succeeded, through letters and persuasion, but most of all prayer, as is seen in their correspondence. But his mother was a harder nut to crack. With her, Ivan succeeded only upon his return to Zagreb. In the meantime, his mother wanted to convince Ivan to live a “normal” life, to use his time in Paris for worldly things, etc. It is visible from Ivan’s letters how deeply he penetrated into Christian spirituality and started his ascent towards sanctity. We publish here Ivan’s letters almost in full (only the irrelevant details are left out), while from the letters of his father, and especially his mother we quote a few passages which illustrate a great difference between mother and son in the understanding of life.
Correspondence with the father – father returns to God
After the New Year of 1921 Ivan wrote to his father: “Your letter brought me greater joy than any one before. This is for the first time that you openly and clearly laid out your most secret thoughts, your struggles and inner striving. I will try to link my meditations to your thoughts. You say that sometimes you feel a yearning in yourself to get out of yourself… This yearning is a characteristic of our century. I visit here various societies which are founded on differing world-views and everywhere I feel a great struggle and searching of souls… There is one God who constantly acts upon human souls. In every human soul, there is a striving for something great: someone thirsts for glory, another for great deeds, yet another tries to achieve something great, but feels he will not succeed and becomes a pessimist… In every person, there is the striving to become God in a way. You won’t, my dear father, find any philosophical system which could emphasize this thought as wonderfully as Christianity is doing and claiming that the striving and goal of every man is to become a child of God. This striving of Yours, Your struggle and Your discontent, it is all a subconscious yearning for God.”
When his father responded to this letter, Ivan wrote again from Paris on 21 January 1921: “My dear father! Your letter of 15 January 1921 brought me great joy and I thank God for having granted my incessant prayers and given you the grace of the holy faith. I am deeply convinced that the events surrounding your silver wedding anniversary were no accident, but were prepared by Providence which immeasurably loves its creation. Your letter is so strong that it could find place in the recent literature of confessions of modern converts as a proof of the truthfulness of Christianity. This, what you have been through, is a way trodden by all converts from St. Augustine to Benson and Brunetière. I hope that the love which binds us together will now become even deeper and greater and that we shall, after the battle which we must fight in this life and in eternity, be united in God… It is natural that what we have received we must now preserve. I am sure that you will have to win many battles in your soul. But the greatest victory is already here – the holy faith and your ascent will be successful with a good and strong will. The best means to challenge the power of Christianity is to let Christ’s life as the Gospel and liturgy present it act upon us.” (…)
From Paris Ivan wrote to his father on 16 March 1921: “I am curious to know how your spiritual life, and mother’s too, is developing. You should always be convinced that life is short and eternity eternal and that the human soul, as one French politician (Marc Sangnier) said recently, is worth more than the whole world, because the world will perish, and soul will be alive forever. Don’t forget Holy Communion for Easter, because this is the least that our Creator asks of us.” (…)
“Almost every day I think of mother’s inner life. I admit that her upbringing had a strong influence on her. Dear father, please try to bring full contentment into mother’s soul, in order for our family happiness to be perfect here on earth. And the sufferings which might threaten to undermine this happiness will not be able to disturb the inner balance…”34
Paris, 9 October 1921 – (24 years and 10 months)
St. Dionysius the Areopagite
(beheaded around 258 A.D. on Montmartre)
Philosophy of happiness – place the focus of all our desires into the other world and work for Christ
Dear parents! I thank dad for the letter and mom for the postcard of 26 September and 2 October, respectively. I gathered quite a lot of material for my dissertation… but there are still a lot of works to be read. My eyes are really weak, but not because of too much work, at least I don’t think so, but because of an inborn condition. I always carry spectacles in the street and when reading (left eye +2 ½ diopter, right eye +3 d.). You can see from this that the condition of my eyes is almost the same as it was several years ago. I am asking you not to worry over this, but rather take a rosary into your hands and from time to time say to the Mother of God of Lourdes ten Hail Marys for this intention. Maybe you will be surprised at how I reckon with supernatural factors as one does with ordinary things. This is what I learned at Lourdes where many blind men had their vision restored. It is known, for example, that the writer Henri Laserre washed his eyes in the water in Lourdes and was completely healed. I take him as my model and I am asking you to help me with your prayers. (…)
Your remark, dad, that “the converts saved France” is true and thank you for drawing my attention to it. France is still not completely saved because although Catholics have a great number of intellectuals in their ranks (Bourget, Pordeau, Baumann, Bazin, Doumic, Boudrillart, Jammes, Claudel, etc.) who achieved world-wide fame, the masses are very demoralized. Catholics are still the minority. In our country, the intelligentsia is non-religious, while the folk keeps the Christian customs; here the case is just the opposite. Your claim that the priests and religious orders have the greatest merit for this Catholic renaissance among the French intellectuals is true, but these intellectuals (many of whom are converts) have rehabilitated the Catholic doctrine in public life. We down here live on the edge of the Church and it is natural that sects sprout and that apostasies occur on a daily basis. Today’s Communion prayer in the mass of St. Dionysius says beautifully: “I tell you, my friends: do not fear those who persecute you…” and St. Paul places himself as our role model saying: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal 6:14). (Meditate well on the meaning of the underlined words!) This is where the philosophy of happiness lies, i.e. the focus of all our desires should be placed in the other world, and we should forget ourselves completely working for our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only eternal one. You, dad, could tell me that with these ideas people could all die of hunger. I gather that our logical deductions must be consequent. Namely, if we believe in an absolute Deity, and I assume that even mother believes in that, then there is no accident. (“Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows!” Luke 12:6-7)
Catholic University in Paris (Institut Catholique) in which Ivan studied.
We must, therefore, always do what is God’s will, and if He wants us to fast, let us fast; if he demands that our head be chopped off, let us say: thank God. Besides, we ought to know that the dear God will never burden us with a burden we couldn’t bear. This I write primarily for mother’s sake who is always in a nervous fear. If there was no God and if the forces of accident ruled, I would understand her (in that case it would be the best to shoot the entire mankind); but as we are glad to know that this life is a brief phase and that afterwards we shall be in eternal heaven, let’s be heroic, let’s sacrifice a second of this life in order to enter the vast, limitless Heaven. (Meditate at least half an hour on the fraction which human life is compared to eternity).
Please let me know of every opposing thought, so that we can be successful in a joint effort in these twenty-thirty years that are left for us to be in this world, to use our joint efforts to save our souls and as many souls of our neighbors as we can.
With love, Your son and brother in Jesus Christ Ivan
Zagreb, 17 October 1921 – (24 years and 10 months)
What thoughts are those, moreover in Paris!
Ivan’s letter caused a very sharp reaction from his mother. She cannot follow Ivan’s thinking and responds from her worldly point of view. We publish here parts of her letter:
Hans! I do not say “Dear” because I cried the whole day over your registered letter. What kind of thoughts are those, moreover in Paris! One mustn’t think about existence or non-existence. Everything is as it is, the wise heads were pondering on those issues and have gone mad! Why are you causing such pain to me? For years, I suffer because you want to be different from the rest! Why? Where is my Hans who was cheerful and happy, who loved and understood everything human? (…) Write us joyful letters, not preparing your soul for the other world! You have no reasons to think like that. Exercise, talk to people and don’t be one-sided! (…) To be all the time in the company of books written centuries ago, that is horrible! (…)
Paris, 20 October 1921 – (24 years and 10 months)
He is convinced in the truthfulness of the Catholic faith
Upon the receipt of the previous sharp letter from his mother, Ivan responds again, trying to convince her in the correctness of his views and a religious outlook on life and the world.
My dear mom!
Although your letter was written in a hopeless tone and you strike at me severely, it nevertheless made me glad. I hope that from now onward our correspondence will be more frequent and that we will have an opportunity to exchange our thoughts. It is fully understandable that my seven-year stay far from home in various social circles had a strong influence on me. Besides, you know that the life at the University of Vienna, then the war, study and finally Lourdes fully convinced me of the truthfulness of the Catholic faith and that, therefore, my whole life is centered around Christ our Lord. You shouldn’t misunderstand me and imagine that believing means to be sad. Just the contrary. We must serve the Lord with joy and be happy looking at the beauty of nature, the happiness of family life and all other gifts.
I knew that my registered letter would cause you pain and I wrote it with the intention to arouse and ennoble our love. I know, of course, that you love me above anything else, and therefore, I wish to exploit your goodness. I protested in my heart for always writing only postcards to you telling you about the food, weather and health of Mrs. Michaut. Already in Vienna I wanted to share some bits about my inner life, about my heart, but I didn’t dare. Now, the ice is broken and please, dear mom, answer me always precisely. (…) I would like that our mutual effort is not directed at our wellbeing only, on our health, but that we observe family life as a means towards one aim: to be active within our circle for the glory of God and happiness of our neighbors. In that case, our interests will be the same and I won’t be forced to lead a separated (double) life towards you. (…) Apart from the connection of natural love which is strengthened by nature and gratitude, we must build a spiritual affiliation as well.
Of course, some obstacles must be moved out of the way, e.g. prejudices which you harbor towards faith which, as it seems to you, worries only about the other world, although we have proof that it creates happiness and wellbeing on earth as well (Montesquieu).
Please consider this once again – a Christian must be cheerful and not be afraid of life and people. There is a French proverb which says: un saint triste-un triste saint; a saint who is sad – this is a miserable saint.
As far as I am concerned, I try to be natural, but I cannot go against what I inherited from my father – the need to reflect.
Therefore, you can rest assured that I am contented and that I am well. During the summer, I often spent the whole day in the forests of the environs of Paris and I ate in nature. But now, I afford myself this pleasure only on Sundays. Besides, I am always in company. We have our organization here and we are often together. I am frequently also in the company of the French, several times I had the opportunity to give speeches, etc.
Zagreb, 27 October 1921 – (24 years and 10 months)
I know that your thoughts circle around Christian faith, but…
Dear Hans! Parts of your letter brought me joy, parts didn’t. There are a lot of things in it I don’t understand (…). I know that your thoughts circle around the Christian faith, and there is nothing in it that I wish to criticize: but I cannot fathom that this is your life’s vocation. (…) Hans! You are going down the wrong track. You cannot work only for others and not for yourself! (…). We lost you, Hans, even as a boy and you are the cause of unceasing worry to us. Hans! You are young, you are educated, you are good, you have a smart head. Throw away from you everything with which you started even as an immature boy. (…) Work, Hans! Pass your exams! Create a nest for yourself, and let your own hearth be your greatest happiness. Then you can also be active on the outside; firstly this, then the other! Then Lourdes! This was an episode in your life! Forget it! You cannot always think of the things that moved you. (…) You dreamed away your time in Vienna, Hans, and you are doing the same in Paris. Here is snow. Be my good child and write!
Paris, 6 November 1921 – (24 years and 11 months)
Catholic faith is my vocation in life
My plans are very simple. I will pass my exams, get a job and work in our organization and magazines. You should never think that I am lost to you! It goes without saying that I will always respond to your call, and, if necessary, I will firstly help you, and after that my friends. We have a misunderstanding. Catholic faith is my vocation in life, and it should be likewise with everyone, without exception. As this life is only a short preparation for eternity, it is natural that all our efforts are pointed in that direction. Someone gets married to win new tenants for Heaven, the other is a journalist who spreads the truth, yet another is a railway man and contributes to a fast spreading of the Kingdom of God, etc.
This seems impossible because we live in a century whose spiritual state is miserable. People forgot to think in a supernatural way, they live and die without knowing why. Maybe this miserable state will finally come to an end, but we must not let ourselves be overwhelmed by this muddy atmosphere in which we live.
Regarding Lourdes, even the critics agree that what is happening there is unexplainable by science. (…) Nobody is forcing you to believe the miracles in Lourdes, but sudden healings occurring there are undeniable.
I hope that we share the same opinion and that we shall pray to the dear God together. Let him guide our paths as he sees fit, and not as our imagination might desire.
Try, dear mom, to pray the rosary which I sent you and invoke the dear Mother of God from Lourdes to get well, because she can help you. Father can help you in this effort, and I will not be lazy as well.
I am looking forward to your quick and precise response.
Zagreb, 12 November 1921. – (24 years and 11 months)
Mother pleads with him again to “get back to the right track”
My dear Hans! I like when you are like this, when you are sincere. (…) But, open your eyes Hans, and see that you have steered off the right track, learn from animals who instinctively do what is right, and are not seeking their salvation God knows where. It is true, you are living in an evil world; everything is so muddy, as you say. You have happily emerged from all that, the golden youth should be bursting forth from you and you should be enjoying wonderful Paris. Instead of that; however, you sit over old books, and you want to live according to their letters and you will ruin your life like that. For several months, I was receiving from you only the pictures of monasteries and closed doors and I felt very sad. Is this the reason one travels abroad, to awaken such feelings?
Hans, come home! You need a family. You need love. At this age, you need mechanical work, not thoughts. For almost 17 years you have been sitting non-stop in a school bench, make it end now. When you returned home as a 20-year old sergeant major you were strong and fit, had full pockets, brought us presents and you were contented. You said: “Mom, you see, now I am happy.” One mustn’t want, Hans, what is impossible. We must adapt to life and even doing so we can remain honest and a complete human being. (…) I thought, Hans, that in Paris you were studying languages, history of art, but instead you let other people pull you by the nose and experience miracles. Go out into the streets, laugh, and jump and come back to us to your homeland. (…) Life must not be spent only in one’s vocation and work, it has its human demands and duties and it is a sin to neglect them. Please do not walk around as a super-human, live simply, a normal human life.
Paris, 27 November 1921 – (24 years and 11 months)
Ivan justifies the existence of miracles in Christianity in which he believes
I want to respond to you last letter. It is understandable that your opinion is important to me, but you must admit, dear mom, that no man can know everything, and therefore, we must turn to an expert who will instruct us in the matters to which he dedicated his life.
I don’t want to direct your attention only to the events at Lourdes which were examined by physicians and found to be events above the laws of nature. Scientific, medical papers were written about that, lectures were held at universities, but in spite of that the Church doesn’t demand us to believe in the Lourdes miracles. But you are wrong if you think that we ought not to believe in miracles at all. The entire Old Testament is a historical testimony filled with miracles which God committed on behalf of the Jewish people to keep their faith alive. The Christian faith proceeds from Christ’s resurrection, and if we would deny resurrection, the entire structure of Christianity would collapse. (…)
Regarding saints and my views from the “old age”, I must cling to this steadfastly until someone convinces me that I am wrong. But this is impossible, because historical facts mustn’t be falsified.
Regarding my health, they say that lately I look good and that I am a bit fatter than I used to be. I cannot judge this myself, but my comrade who weighs himself regularly, got 11 kilos at Mrs. Michaut. I wrote to you already that here the food is more plentiful. (…)
Interior of the chapel of St. Vincent de Paul. The tomb of St. Vincent is above the main altar. Here Ivan often came to attend Mass.
This correspondence between Ivan and his parents was already published in Ivan’s first biography by Dr. D. Kniewald: Dr. Ivan Merz – Life and Work, Zagreb, 1932 (pp. 127-133) which we took over and presented in a somewhat abridged form. At the end of the biography, Dr. D. Kniewald gives this short comment:
“Thanks to the generosity and kindness of Ivan’s parents, we published this important correspondence between a mother and a son. The mother wants all the best to her single son here, on earth. And Ivan, burning with the flame of divine love, tries to lift his parents to a higher vantage point which sees this earthly life only as a step toward heaven. If he couldn’t achieve this in full with his letters from the far-away world, he strived to do the same through personal contact, prayer and sacrifice. Today, Ivan’s mother looks at everything from a totally different perspective. She finds it hard to believe that she could write and think in such a manner – because she looks upon all these issues with Ivan’s eyes.”
MERZ’S PARIS PROGRAM
FOR THE RE-CHRISTENING OF THE
The above title sounds a bit bombastically and maybe too ambitiously, but when we read Merz’s letter below, we believe that the reader will agree with such a formulation. Among numerous letters which Merz sent to his former teacher Dr. Lj. Maraković from Paris, the one dated 12 September 1921 stands out in particular. In it, Ivan lays out his apostolic program for the re-Christening of the Croatian people which he wanted to start implementing right away. At that time, Ivan completed only one year of his studies in Paris. He saw a lot in French Catholics, and experienced a special renewal of his faith during a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Seized by the ardor for spreading God’s Kingdom and the salvation of souls, Merz writes to his teacher what should be done among the Croatian people. Reading these thoughts and programmatic ideas we remain not only surprised, but amazed that a youth of 25, staying in Paris, the world center of culture and politics, along with the preparation for his profession as a teacher, places the care and striving for the religious renewal of his nation in the first place in his life. He is enflamed by an inner apostolic fervor for the strengthening and spreading of faith in the Croatian people.
We publish the letter almost in full; we left out only some irrelevant matters relating to his financial circumstances and daily life.
Paris, Feast of the Holy Name of Mary,
12 September 1921 – (24 years and 9 months)
I received your letter and No. 9-10 of Hrvatska prosvjeta. Hrvatska prosvjeta is a beautiful magazine, only too few non-literary articles. I am mostly interested in Lahner’s articles, because I love to study how the penetration of Christianity leaves its artistic reflection in literature.
Proposal for composing of a Croatian liturgical almanac
I often think whether a Croatian liturgical almanac could be composed, in which every feast would be accompanied by a folk song corresponding to that feast, or a good translation of an anthem, Psalm and the like for that day. Along with that, it would be good to add a comment about the poetry of the liturgical year and explain the poetry of the greatest literary work of mankind – the Breviary.36 I think, namely, that the citizens of Dubrovnik, as well as the generation of Preradović, knew liturgy better than we do and that it won’t be difficult to find beautiful translations of the Psalms, antiphons and anthems. We could also use the Glagolitic translations, and illustrating the ecclesiastical year place a parallel for the Eastern rite. (…)
The necessity for spreading the Gospel among the people
We have no religious literature, our pupils lack good prayer-books, the Gospel is not spread among the people, not to mention scientific religious works which are necessary for every intellectual. Knowing all that, I nevertheless see that some work is being done and I thank God’s mercy for permeating us, in spite of all our shortcomings, with an apostolic zeal. But I think that we must finally begin with the consolidation of the foundations and devote all our forces to have the Gospel translated and spread among the people. The fruits will not be visible immediately – we and our descendants will be dead by then – but I am convinced that the word of God will spontaneously re-Christianize all the layers of our people. It goes without saying that literacy courses must supplant the visual arts of the Middle Ages. When every house – in the cities and villages – will have a Gospel at the table, when a passage will be read from it before the meal, only then can we hope to have numerous clergy, that our monasteries will be full and that religious orders will be founded which will correspond to the needs of this particular epoch. The spreading of the Kingdom of God in our country must begin with the episcopate and the clergy as the pillars, and we laymen are only stones or plaster of this grand building.
Deep impressions of the pilgrimage to Lourdes
I also want to tell you something about pilgrimages. In Lourdes I felt great manifestations. Pilgrimages are the best schools of prayer. I can tell you that in Lourdes I prayed really for the first time to the Blessed Virgin Mary. (…)
Here follows the description of his experience of Lourdes and a meeting with the Blessed Virgin Mary. (We published this description in the chapter of his experience in Lourdes). He ends his impressions of Lourdes with the following conclusion:
I think we should organize pilgrimages to Marija Bistrica or other shrines where we shall pray to the Blessed Virgin together. I am sure these prayers will bear fruit for our earthly life because, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
On the need of new priests and cooperation of the diseased for the eternal salvation of the people
As I said, the only purpose of life is to save your soul, and also, save as many souls of our neighbors as we can. Therefore, the priestly vocation is the greatest vocation because in it all the energies are focused for the realization of this idea. Whoever has no problems with keeping the celibate or other obstacles, let him go for priesthood.
Do you still remember that chapter from Huysman’s En Route, where he speaks about the mystical lightning rod, about the religious orders which, with their suffering, mitigate the wrath of God? We, unfortunately, have no such orders except the Trappists, but we have quite a number of ill persons within our movement, who could take upon themselves, suffering patiently, all the punishments for the sins committed within our movement. It is sad to see when our patients suffer impatiently, while having this grace given by the dear God to work for the movement. When we shall have an army of sufferers, prayerful persons and workers, we shall be able to progress slowly but surely on all fronts. I am sure that in such a way we must win over all the classes of our people and save our whole nation for eternity.
Public life ignores God, criticism of those Christians who are afraid of publicly stating their faith
Although Catholicism is now on the rise in Europe, overall it is still in a terrible regression. Having felt in Lourdes that in an incomprehensible mighty way the whole mankind – this tiny bit – is created to give honor to the immeasurable God, I wonder how at the same time the states, laws, workers, masons, the whole administrative apparatus functions like a machine, as if God didn’t exist. One is horrified to think of this. And who is to blame? The good ones, because they are not better! Mankind simply doesn’t know that God exists, because Catholics, instead of praying in public places, instead of quitting every position if it is contrary to the faith, hide when they pray to God, receive Communion when there is no one else in church, etc. We are to blame. The first Christians were traitors, in opposition to the state and their environment, they were tortured and thrown into dungeons, and we fall silent at the first sign of danger.
A concrete program for the re-Christianization of the Croatian people
Before ending, I wanted to share with you what they told me in Action populaire: “The best work is self-effacing work. A bad setup must be supplanted by putting in its place a good one. Stop attacking others and destroying! What is the purpose of criticism if we don’t know with what to supplant the evil?” You could have seen the Dorsiers to stick to this principle and really, with their work, they slowly supplant the capitalistic economic setup with a Christian-solidary one.
The following lies heavily on my heart:
To start with translating and publishing of the Gospel as soon as possible,
To organize pilgrimages,
To begin agitating in all our papers for the priestly vocation,
To instruct our patients in the great value of willful suffering and
That the energy which until now was spent in negative criticism be used for the explanation and propagation of our doctrine.
Please, don’t be mad at me for having written so much. As God’s Mercy has used you to help me realize the truth of Catholicism, I hold that I had to share all this with you. Of course, as always, I recommend myself to your prayers, because as the apostle says: “I know the good, but commit evil…” and “our adversary the devil as a roaring lion walks about seeking whom he may devour”. (…)
In the letter, I enclose a relic of Bernardette, which was given to me in Lourdes by a nun, a friend of Bernardette, whom I happened to meet by chance. (…)
I sent you from Toulouse an article about Lourdes. Did the Narodna politika publish it? Are you sending Hrvatska prosvjeta in exchange for Demokratie? Did you receive the cable which we prepared for the meeting in Đakovo? Are you already receiving the Croix de Lourdes? Did you receive Art et Scolastique? We will know the outcome about our scholarships soon.
Respectfully yours Ivan
1 Letter to his father from Paris, dated 16 January 1921.
2 Diary, 12 February 1921.
3 Diary, 23 April 1921.
4 Cf. Dr. Drago ĆEPULIĆ, Memories of Dr. Ivan Merz (in Croatian), Nedjelja, Zagreb, 1929, No. 5., p. 2.
5 Diary, 29 and 30 July 1921.
6 Diary, 28 December 1921.
7 La vie et l’oeuvre d’un grand prélat de Yougo-Slavie – Mgr Antoine MAHNIC (in French). In: Les Amitiés catholiques françaises, Paris, No. 2, 15 June 1921, pp. 8–10.
8 The joint title of these article was: La Yougoslavie menacée de dissolution par 1′ action maçonique et anticatholique (Yugoslavia threatened with dissolution due to Freemasonic and anticatholic activity) (in French), Libre Parole 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 April 1921
9 Letter to Dragan Marošević, Paris, on the day of the Ascension of our Lord 1921.
10 Letter to Dragan Marošević, Paris, 18 October 1921.
11 Diary, 14 October 1920.
12 Diary, 4 November 1921.
13 Letter to Dr. Lj. Maraković of 12 September 1921.
14 Dr. Dragutin KNIEWALD, Dr. Ivan Merz – Life and Work, Zagreb, 1932, p. 117.
15 See note in text of Diary of 15 January 1920
16 Gabriele D’ANNUNZIO (1863–1938), Italian poet, dramatist, politician. One of the most pronounced members of the irredentist movement and a spiritual inspirer of Benito Mussolini. When Merz made this note, D’Annuzio was still in Rijeka which he occupied by force in 1919, and was forced to retreat in November 1920.
17 Msgr. Alfred H. M. BAUDRILLART (1859–1942), rector of the Catholic University (Institut Catholique) in Paris. Later became cardinal.
18 Consul of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, a Serbian
19 KARL von HABSBURG, the deposed last Austro-Hungarian emperor and last king of Croatia, who was at that time in exile on Madeira. He was the father of the late Otto von Habsburg, a great friend of the Croats. Pope John Paul II, who got the name Karol after him, proclaimed him blessed in 2004.
20 Merz continued his ascetic way of life in Paris too, and eating meat twice a day was against his ascetic principles which he perfected while there.
21 Croatian Catholic Movement
22 Dr. Matija Belić, a well-known Croatian lawyer from Đakovo (later moved to Zagreb). He studied for a year in Paris together with Merz. This numerous Catholic family with whom Merz was in cordial friendly relations emerged two Jesuits, Fr. Predrag and Fr. Miljenko Belić, professors at the Philosophical Faculty of the Society of Jesus in Zagreb
23 Antonin-Gilbert SERTILLANGES, OP (1863–1948), a Dominican, well-known French Catholic philosopher and spiritual writer.
24 Prebendary Eugène BEAUPIN was the president of a Catholic association Association des Amitiées Catholiques françaises which provided the scholarships for Ivan Merz and other Croatian students for their studies in Paris. After Merz completed his studies and came back to Zagreb, prebendary Beaupin, as a great friend of the Croats, visited Croatia, and Merz was his guide. After Merz’s death he gave a very beautiful testimony of him.
25 The Catholic Institute – Institut Catholique is the Catholic University in Paris in which Merz studied, and it was founded in 1875. At the time of its founding it couldn’t be called a University because the French liberal government did not allow the Church to use the term “University” which was reserved only for the state University of Sorbonne. However, even the Sorbonne was founded by the Church in the 13th century!
26 Jacques-Bénigne BOSSUET (1627–1704), French bishop, theologian, spiritual writer, great orator and preacher of his time.
27 French: abrégé du monde – essence of the world
28 Merz’s manuscript with the Croatian translation of the Way of the Cross by the French writer Paul Claudel, is kept in his Archive in Zagreb. This translation was published by Glas Koncila in 2005 as a separate edition.
29 Croatian Catholic Movement
30 Rector of the Catholic University (Institut catholique) in Paris
31 With his colleagues, J. Šćetinec and Đ. Gračanin, Merz took part in these meals. In one such meal he was sitting next to a 16-year old boy named Joseph de Finance. They had a cordial conversation, and Merz gave him his visiting card which Joseph kept for a long time. This young man later became a Jesuit and then a well-known professor of philosophy on the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Fr. J. de Finance told this anecdote to the postulator Fr. Božidar Nagy, SJ, to whom Fr. de Finance was a professor during his studies in Rome. Another Croatian Jesuit, Fr. Anto Pavlović, wrote his doctoral dissertation on the philosophy of Fr. J. de Finance and defended it at Gregorian University in 2009.
32 Croatian Catholic Movement whose members were both Ivan Merz and his friend Dragan Marošević.
33 Monastery of the Benedictine nuns in Monsieur Street in Paris
34 These are Merz’s well-known Paris decisions, i.e. The Ascetic regulations according to which he strived to live a deeper Christian life. The original document with these decisions is preserved and we publish them where they fit chronologically, in the pages which follow.
35 The street in Paris in which the monastery of Benedictine nuns was situated with a chapel in which the ceremony of entry of the Benedictine novice into the monastery took place.
34 Letter to the father from Paris, January 1921.
36 Breviary – The Divine Office is a mandatory prayer-book for priests and the religious, and after the 2nd Vatican Council, when it was translated from Latin into native languages, the lay persons were called to pray it as well. Merz prayed it regularly still in the Latin language.