August 13, 2007

From Delano to Medjugorie

The story behind Jim Herzog and his many trips with fellow friends

By Kelsey Linden
Staff Writer

Since 1996, Jim Herzog of Delano has been chaperoning people to the miraculous location of Medjugorje, located in Bosnia.

After many years of traveling, Herzog reveals the power of faith in his miraculous story.

Back in May 1990, Herzog was out to lunch at Herberger’s with his boss in Chicago. He was a traveling salesman who sold women’s clothing.

Taking a bite of his sandwich, Herzog looked up as a woman with a book in her hand stepped into the restaurant. Hope and love shined in her eyes as she approached each person with flyers explaining the book she had in her hands.

The book caught Herzog’s eye right from the start. The book was about the Virgin Mary, whom has continuously appeared to six Herzegovinian-Croats women in the land of Medjugorje.

Medjugorje is a small Catholic Parish in Bosnia and Herzegovina, consisting of five villages (Medjugorje, Bijakovii, Vionica, Miletina and Surmanci).

Politely taking a flyer and listening to her speak about the miraculous wonders of the apparitions, Herzog and his boss absent-mindedly went back to lunch.

Herzog was born and raised Catholic, so he understood everything the woman said, and he stored her story in the back of his head with the focus of returning to his home in Delano.

The next day when Herzog and his boss were back in Minneapolis, they began looking for the book that the woman had. Unfortunately, no shop had ever heard of such a book. Not completely giving up, Herzog went back to another long day of work.

Exhausted from the tiresome day, Herzog settled into bed. Herzog’s wife, Bernadine, was calmly reading to herself beside him. Just as he was about to doze into a deep sleep, Bernadine randomly said to her husband, “I think our daughter, Jackie, is in trouble. I think one of us better go out there.”

At the time, Jackie was living in California, and was battling an eating disorder, Neither Bernadine or Jim had heard from Jackie, so it came as a surprise to Herzog that his wife would propose such an endeavor.

Yet, he put complete faith and trust in the idea. The next day, they called the airline, and got on a flight to California.

When arriving in California, he opened his daughter’s apartment door to find her in bed and weak. She had two jobs at the time, but had not worked at either for the past month.

“I think she had a dollar and 13 cents, and her rent was past due. You don’t stay in California very long when your rent is past due,” said Herzog.

Trying to get her back on her feet again, Herzog stayed with his daughter another two weeks. Each day he would get up at 5 a.m. and walk across the street to the Olive Garden.

Out of the blue, he began to think about the woman in the restaurant. Seeing a bookstore not too far from the apartment, he walked in.

Unfortunately, the bookstore was unfamiliar with the book he had seen in Chicago, so he continued to focus on his daughter. He happened to find a very kind doctor from a children’s hospital who helped Jackie.

“I remember when they handed me the ‘bill.’ Down in the right hand corner, the amount read $0.00. She really got her stabilized, and it helped her tremendously,” said Herzog.

A few days after, Herzog and his daughter walked into the same bookstore across the street and asked about the book one more time. Again, the bookseller informed him that they did not carry the book, but she knew that he could get it at the Ave Maria bookstore in Saratoga.

“That morning, Jackie and I went down there to get it. Low and behold, they were out of it, but the priest working there said that they will get it tomorrow,” said Herzog.

Unfortunately, he was planning on leaving to return home the next day. Calmly looking into her father’s eyes, Jackie smiled before she said, “You can come and get it tomorrow.”

Sure enough, the next morning, Herzog drove the 45 minutes to the Ave Maria bookstore and they had the book.

“When they handed me that book, something went right through me,” recalls Herzog. “From the top of my head, right through me, and I didn’t know what was going on. I got out of the store and I started crying. It was like I was having a nervous breakdown, but I knew it had something to do with that book. I got in the car and read the back cover of the book and maybe a page or two and I composed myself a little, went back in, and asked if they had another one of those books. I wanted one for my daughter.”

Smiling at Herzog, the priest nodded his head as he handed him another book. Herzog felt comfortable around these people so he asked the priest if he had been to Medjugorje himself. The priest replied “no,” but pointed to a woman close by who had.

“She smiled at me and said to me, ‘I have been there, and I know everything in that book and you should go.’ She pointed right at me. And right at that moment, I knew I was going to go. I think the priest knew, too,” said Herzog. “He spent two hours with me telling me about Medjugorje,”

“I didn’t know it at the time, but this Ave Maria bookstore was a northern California information center on Medjugorje. There were other priests even waiting to talk to him, and he spent that time with me.”

Herzog caught the midnight express and started reading the book. Laughing to himself, he said, “So, I read a little on the way to Las Vegas. I read a little on the way to Salt Lake City. I read a little on the way to Denver, and when I finally got home to Minneapolis, I still had to read a little before I went to bed.”

Not being much of a reader, Herzog said he read the 359-page book in a matter of days. The next morning, Herzog came into the kitchen and the newspaper was spread out on the table. A front page article was about his cousin’s trip to Medjugorje.

“Within a week, a gal had called me about a trip to Medjugorje. She said someone told her to call me. I had no idea who she was, but I said ‘yeah I want to go,’” said Herzog.

It was during the month of June at the time, but the trip was scheduled for August. Herzog went with an open mind.

“I had no expectations. I just knew and I believed all that in the book had happened,” said Herzog. “I remember being on the top of the mountain and a passing thought came over me. Wouldn’t it be nice to take people here on a regular basis? That was it. I didn’t think about it. That was it.”

Herzog went next in 1991 as well, only this time, he had not realized that a war was going on. He took his seat on the plane expecting to see many tourists like his past two trips, but there were none. He smiled as he approached the flight attendant and said, “I suppose things have slowed down a bit.”

She eyed him curiously and asked what he had meant. He said, “The tourists. Where are they?”

The flight attendant absurdly replied, “There are none. You’re the only tourist on the plane. Everyone else is local.”

Being in the familiar country was different with the war. No planes were flying out, and there was no such thing as a tourist in the city.

However, that year, something miraculous happened to Herzog. After visiting the six women whom the Blessed Virgin Mary had recently appeared to, Herzog had bought a statue of the blessed Virgin for one of the six women.

He wanted to bring the statue over to her house so it could be blessed.

“I was going to get a taxi, and then I thought, ‘you know, this is penance.’ So, I carried the 50-pound stone statue that mile to her home.” The next day, the taxi came to pick him up from the house, but once again, Herzog decided to walk.

“I kiddingly say that I lost five pounds on that walk,” he said, adding that the silver St. Jude medallion he wore around his neck had turned gold.

Herzog never forgot that year for more than one reason. The days were winding down and it was almost time for him to go home.

Herzog said, “Every day the phone would ring, and they would say your flight has been canceled. Well, I told him that I had to go home some time.”

Finally, a week later, Herzog was able to get a flight home.

Because of the war, Herzog did not venture out to Medjugorje until 1995, when he went by himself.

“Then, in 1996,” said Herzog, “a guy from Fargo called me and said ‘I’m ready to go.’”

Immediately, Herzog began to try and find people that this man could travel with, but the man corrected him by saying, “No, I want you to take me.” After much debate and arguing, Herzog agreed.

Ever since that first trip, Herzog has been chaperoning one to three trips to Medjugorje a year. Each trip is 11 days long.

“It takes that long to see all that is there,” he said. The group will take days to climb the mountains of Medjugorje, visit the old wall in Dubrovnik, and then visit the prison that held a healing priest. They will also take time to visit the orphanage, the old churches.

“There is something all the time,” said Herzog.

Before the trip even occurs, Herzog ensures that each person has a suitcase filled with medical supplies to take over. Major hospitals donate medical supplies for Herzog’s warehouse, where he packs suitcases (which are also donated) full of medical equipment such as gloves, gowns, shots, tape, lotion, and orthopedic supplies.

He will send a suitcase with each person who travels with him to Medjuguorje. Herzog insists that only one bag is needed for the trip. He will spend countless hours in the warehouse packing to get the most weight in suitcases without exceeding 50 pounds.

Herzog has taken people from all around the US; some have traveled more than once, even up to 10 times. Last November and October, he took 79 people.

“I think my mission is to take people to Medjugorje, and let the Blessed Virgin take over from there,” he said. “It was a passing thought in 1990, and in 1996, I was trying not to do it, but it happened and I’m glad it did.”

Before moving to Delano, Herzog grew up in Owatonna. He met his wife, Bernadine, when she was a nurse in Austin. Together they have six children, three boys: Jim, John and Joe, and three girls: Julie, Jackie, and Judy.

Over the years, his family has been extremely supportive of his trips to Medjugorje, especially his wife, who is unable to travel due to medical reasons.

On his own medical venture, Herzog also met a minor roadblock this past February when he developed a tumor in his pancreas.

Unfortunately, Herzog had already planned on taking two groups to Medjugorje March 3. Already preparing for someone to take his place, he had the surgery.

He sat home a few days after the surgery, waiting for the phone call from his doctor with the answer that he longed to hear. Could he go to Medjugorje or not? The doctor called on a Monday afternoon with the news he was hoping for – Medjugorje was a go.

After returning from the trip, he went in for a checkup, but the surprised doctor came to report the unexpected. The tumor was completely gone.

“I guess I got work to do yet. I kind of felt that I better not quit,” said Herzog.

Over the years, Herzog has taken more than 900 people to Medjugorje and he plans to continue his work in hopes that he can bring others closer to God.

For more information about Medjugorje, contact Herzog at (763) 972-2159.

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