A papal blessing for 100-year-old Grandma Merz

Catherine Merz visits with Father Charles Fladung, pastor of her parish, Holy Trinity in Keota, during an open house celebrating her 100th birthday.

By Barb Arland-Fye

Catherine Merz prayed with perseverance and faith for her grandson, John Horras, as he struggled with bone cancer in his mid-20s far away from her. Now, 42, John is doing quite well, he says, and is forever grateful for what his grandmother did for him.

As she approached her 100th birthday, John wanted to honor his grandmother, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Keota, in a special way. His idea was to have a papal blessing presented to her for her 100th birthday, Jan. 15.

“Her faith is so important to her. It gets her through every challenge in her life. It’s something she’s always turned to and instilled in her children and grandchildren and hopefully great-grandchildren as well,” says John, an oncology social worker at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

He mentioned his idea to his mom, Sara Horras, a parishioner at St. Mary Parish in Sigourney. She loved the idea and made inquiries as to how to obtain a papal blessing, with the help of the Diocese of Davenport.


“If it hadn’t been for Grandma’s prayers, it’s hard to tell how much worse it would have been for John,” Sara Horras says. “And Grandma takes credit. She feels like her prayers were answered.”

John’s cancer — and the tough battle that followed — was a shock to everyone in the family. “I know that Grandma prayed the rosary every day for me and on the days I would go in for a planned operation or other big event, she’d pray all day — the rosary, novenas … It meant so much to me, knowing that even though we were half a country apart we were connected through prayer.”

He said it’s impossible to give back what his grandmother gave to him, but obtaining a papal blessing for this milestone in her life is a fitting tribute.

Among the requirements to obtaining a papal blessing was a letter from the parish priest that the parishioner was a member in good standing.

No problem. Catherine Merz had been a prayer partner for her pastor, Father Charles Fladung, when he entered the seminary years ago. She is proud of the priest.

On Jan. 15, when Catherine received the papal blessing, “I think she was just kind of overwhelmed,” her daughter said. But when Fr. Charles visited her at an open house three days later at Maplewood Manor in Keota where she lives, she was able to talk about it with him.

“He said he had never been involved in a papal blessing before for someone being 100 years old. He thought this was wonderful.”

John was not able to travel to Iowa for the special occasion, but telephoned Grandma on her birthday. Communication by phone is challenging because Catherine is hard of hearing. “I think she was probably thrilled and surprised to have something from the pope in her hands. I think she really appreciated that,” John said.

Sara said she and her two sisters never dreamed their mother would live to be 100. “But my kids knew Grandma could do it,” Sara added.

“One thing is certain, Mom was always a woman of deep faith, and my dad (Arthur) was, too.”

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