Bl. Ivan Merz was born in Banja Luka on December 16, 1896. On his birthday, the new book was presented by the president of the Croatian Catholic Association of Educators, prof. Ivica Đaković, Ivan Mesarek, mag. Phil. and postulator Fr. Božidar Nagy, SI.
The seventh volume, which contains the correspondence of Ivan Merz, completes the publication of his rich written legacy, which in the printed edition has about 3,500 pages.
The first presenter, Prof. Đaković emphasized that three institutions participated in the publication of Merz’s Collected Works: the Postulate of Blessed Ivan Merz, the Faculty of Philosophy and Religious Sciences of the University of Zagreb, and Glas Koncila.
Moving on to the seventh volume the last in the series, prof. Đaković highlighted the characteristics of Merz’s correspondence. “It is a vivid and credible testimony about Merz as an intellectual, a public cultural worker, and especially about his ascetic life and spiritual formation, about the spirit of the state and the problems of that time, about the efforts and actions of Croatian Catholic intellectuals, about the religious education of Croatian youth.”
In conclusion, he asserted that “from the letters of Ivan Merz and the testimony of those who knew him well, we can indisputably and factually establish that Ivan Merz was the most striking person of the 20th century in the context of spiritual values among Catholic lay people.”
The head of the program, Vesna Sabo, emphasized that the great merit of prof. Đaković for advocating and succeeding in realizing the proposal of the Postulate, and after the democratic changes of the nineties, the elementary school in the center of Zagreb, in Franje Račkoga Street, was named after Ivan Merz. The building of today’s school was the hospital where Ivan Merz was treated. A special memorial was placed in the room (today’s classroom) where Blessed Ivan Merz was ill and ended his earthly life.
The second lecturer was Ivan Mesarek. Among other things, he said that since he got to know blessed Ivan through the Diary, and then through his correspondence, three concepts were vividly placed in front of him: “freedom, responsibility and authenticity.” All three can be put under one, which is freedom. Ivan lived freedom, and he knew that he could not achieve it, if he did not harmonize his will with the will of God. Ivan’s freedom and choosing his own life path (autonomy) is clearly visible in his correspondence with his parents.”
Mesarek, as a representative of the young generation that meets and discovers Blessed Ivan, mostly focused on the presentation and analysis of Ivan Merz’s correspondence with his parents, especially his mother.
The mother still does not understand Ivan’s deep religious life that he spent as a student in Paris, so she dissuaded him from it and encouraged him to live a secular life, etc. Ivan did not accept that, Mesarek stressed, still thinking about God’s plan for him and walking on the paths that God intended for him.
He tried to influence his mother to accept his views on life and the world. In the end, he succeeded, but only a few years later.
Then Mesarek presented one of his experiences from his school days, comparing it to the experience of Ivan Merz. “It wasn’t that long ago and I well remember my high school friends and myself how we were caught up in questions about the meaning of our own lives, about the cosmic order and the insight that Someone transcends us. Many have radically intended to change the worldly perception of life. Unfortunately, after a while, one by one, they accepted their parents’ conclusion, and their parents’ conclusion was that these were adolescent infatuations that would pass. And they truly pass away, drowning in worldliness. Courageous, steadfast and free Ivan Merz resisted all that in order to finally get the right answers with the right questions and achieve Christian perfection.”
Some parts of Ivan Merz’s most important letters were read by Marija Grbić. The audience was particularly impressed by the reading of Merz’s letter to his friend Dragan Marošević, his study colleague from Vienna, which he sent to him after the pilgrimage to Lourdes.
In the letter, Merz expresses his deep Christian understanding of the value of suffering when it is accepted and presented to God in union with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
It was also interesting to listen to parts of the letter that Merz sent to his former professor Dr. Ljubomir Maraković at the end of his studies in Paris. In the letter, Merz presents the main ideas of the apostolic program for the Christian renewal of the Croatian people, which he intended to achieve after returning to his homeland.
At the end, the postulator Father Božidar Nagy, who is the main beneficiary of the publication of the Collected Works of Ivan Merz, whose first volume was published in 2011, addressed the audience.
At the beginning, he emphasized that now, after all the Collected Works of Blessed Ivan Merz have been published, the spiritual, intellectual and saintly greatness of that “giant spirit” as Merz was called by his colleagues immediately after his death, can be seen.
His letters are important in the first place for knowing his personality and especially his religious-Catholic physiognomy, and then they are of great value for knowing the persons and the historical context in which Merz lived and worked. Then, they are precious historical documents for knowledge and activities of the Croatian Catholic movement in which Merz was one of the main participants.
In the correspondence of Ivan Merz, the postulator emphasized, there are many confirmations of his virtues and information about his sincere and deep piety, which he does not hide from those he addresses in writing.
Apart from the contents of the letters themselves, this is especially noticeable at the beginning and at the end of many of his letters. Along with the date, Merz regularly puts the name of the saint whose feast day is celebrated on the day in question or the liturgical time in which it is written. Often at the beginning, before the address, he puts the sign of the cross or the full name of the Christian greeting or the abbreviation: Praised Jesus and Mary – H.I.M. Very often letters end with the words: “in Presv. Heart of Jesus”, or: “in Christ the King”. He often writes the same final greeting in Latin words: “in Sanctissimo Corde Jesu” or: “in Christo (Xto) Rege”.
At the end, the postulator also highlighted Merz’s wit as one of his character traits, which came to the fore especially in his letters to his parents and close friends. Thus, for example, he often translated his German first name “Hans” into other languages in his signatures, jokingly. In addition to the Croatian Ivan, Ivo, Ivica, his signatures also include synonyms like this: Johannes, Janez, Janoš, Hannes, Hasan, Jean. However, the most original are the two signatures on two cards from March 13 and 18, 1915, when he contacted his parents from Vienna and even translated his last name into Croatian. For a better understanding of his private translation of his surname, you should keep this in mind: Ivan’s great-grandfather bore the surname März, which in German is also the name for the third month of the year: March. Later, because of this similarity, his descendants changed the surname to Merz. So Ivan signed “Ivan Ožujčić” (croatian word for March) on the two cards he sent to his parents. In addition, he added a small clarification in parentheses: “before Hans Merz”.
Since the correspondence of Ivan Merz began to be collected, arranged and then copied back in the eighties of the last century, the postulator was assisted in this work by many collaborators whom he publicly thanked on that occasion, as it is written in the foreword of the last volume. They are: Zlata Župan-Dugački, mag. pharm., engineer Ljudevit Zechner, prof. Zrinka Jakubin, prof. Tamara Bodor, prof. Dr. Željko Poljak, Ph.D. Ivan Zubac, David Šimunković, Ivan Mesarek, mag. phil., and Tin Barić, mag. geol.
Fr. Nagy ended by quoting the beginning of the sermon of the Bishop of Krk, Ivica Petanjko, which he said at the solemn mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Zagreb, which he celebrated on the feast day of Blessed Ivan Merz on May 10, 2019. On that occasion, the bishop, talking about the blessed man’s written legacy, said: “We are standing in front of a precious mine and we don’t know what to take from this overabundance…”
Among the treasures of that rich mine are now Merz’s letters published in this seventh and last volume of his Collected Works. In it, the reader will be able to find many pearls that reveal the spiritual richness of the heart and soul of our blessed Ivan Merz. As in his Diary, so in his correspondence, the presence and reflection of God’s grace can be seen, which gradually led him toward holiness.
On that occasion, the participants of the presentation could learn about an important fact in Croatian national history that is indirectly connected with Ivan Merz.
The host of the program, talking about Merz’s friend Dragan Marošević, with whom Merz corresponded, had three sisters. One of them was called Marija, and she was a teacher and later became a great collaborator of blessed Ivan in the Catholic apostolate among young people, especially among female youth. In the 1930s, Marija Marošević was a teacher at the Civil School in Zagreb, which was attended by Franjo Tuđman at the time, and where Marija was also a class teacher. When Tuđman finished civil school (that was the rank of today’s eight-year school), his class teacher heard that his father could no longer send him to further education due to a lack of financial resources. Since prof. Marošević had noticed Tuđman’s abilities even then, she was very sorry that such a gifted young man could not go on to school. As she could not come to terms with that, she and a friend took the train to Veliko Trgovišće in the summer of 1939 to visit Tuđman’s father and managed to convince him to send his son to further education. Thus, thanks to his teacher and class teacher, young Tuđman continued his secondary education. The conclusion is self-evident: if it wasn’t for Prof. Marije Marošević, the big question is whether we would have Tuđman as we know it and whether we would have the kind of homeland we have now. You can find out more about this information from Tuđman’s great biography, where this information was taken from.