Ever since Bryan Mercier shed his all-black Ninja clothing in college to follow Christ, he has devoted his life to spreading his faith as an impassioned Catholic speaker and retreat leader who focuses on Catholic teens and adults.
“I try to bring the message of hope and love to people; to bring the Catholic faith, and make it relevant to teens today,” he said from his home in Milford, where he, with the help of his wife Katherine, coordinates the St. Mary Parish Youth Ministry to “help teens develop a deep, unshakable faith in God and a vibrant, real relationship with him.”
Among his goals is to help teens and young adults learn, love and live their Catholic faith. “I want them to become excited about their faith and to live it out every day after confirmation as something that’s part of their life,” said the evangelist and apologist, who at age 42 could pass for a decade younger.
Today, his time is consumed by leading confirmation group and Catholic school retreats; presenting parish missions, seminars and workshops; talking to students at Catholic colleges and universities and, recently, at Theology on Tap and Catholic Underground gatherings of millennials; speaking at men’s conferences and at other regional and national conferences; and broadcasting on national TV and radio programs, including EWTN’s “Life on the Rock.” He also is a substitute teacher at the high school level. “It keeps me relevant to teens with everything they’re going through today,” he said.
If that isn’t enough, for the past 10 years, Mercier has led 30 people in a Bible study in his home. He runs a ministry team called The R.O.C.K. (Revival Of Catholic Kids) Group. He also recently published his first book, Why Do You Believe in God? “It’s 15 years of people asking me the same questions over and over and over again,” he explained with a laugh. “People tell me that if they had read this book years ago, they wouldn’t have left the Church,” he said about the easy-to-understand book that answers questions on the existence of God and other questions of faith.
“I love it,” he said about his ministry. “I’m actually writing three more books as we speak because I know how much joy, peace and fulfillment my faith has brought to my life and to the lives of others. I love seeing people’s lives change. It’s really the desire of my heart to help them be all God wants them to be.”
It wasn’t always so. A cradle Catholic born in Walpole, Mass., he was the oldest of six children and said he had low self-esteem, was bullied in high school and was angry.
“I had a lot of difficult times growing up at home and in school,” he recalled. “That’s why I think I’m so successful, because I can relate to teens and understand what they’re going through.”
His mother decided to send him to Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. He arrived depressed, angry and garbed in his trademark black threads. And when friendly, energetic students swarmed him to help unload the back of his station wagon, he was thrown off guard by their easy selflessness. It was a turning point and the beginning of his conversion.
“I needed to be healed,” recalled Mercier, who talks with the rapid-fire pace of someone whose mind has already skipped to the next series of thoughts.
One day, he was sitting in the middle of a field under a huge 150-foot steel cross and cried out to God.
“I told him that I wanted to heal people the way he had healed me, to help people the way he had helped me and to bring great love and joy to as many people as I possibly could,” he states in his conversion story on his website (www.catholicbryan.org). “I wanted to help others experience the abundant love and fulfillment that I had received, which completely transformed my life for the better.”
The problem with young people in the Church today, he said, is that “kids are told they’re supposed to be part of the Church and follow God, but they can’t see how God or the Church is relevant in their lives because they’re not taught that.
“Every church should have a youth group, but they don’t invest the money,” Mercier said. “We really need to reach teens where they’re at, and that takes a special gift.
“We need to ask questions like, ‘Tell me why you don’t believe. ... Why don’t you like church? Tell me what doubts and concerns you have about God, and let’s talk about that.’ But no one asks them those questions,” he lamented. “I find that by speaking to them one-on-one and creating a picture for them, that they’re much more willing to embrace that God is approachable, he’s lovable and he desires to have a relationship with them.”
Sue Loin, a member of St. Casimir Parish in Terryville, has known Mercier since her son was his roommate at Steubenville.
“Bryan is so intelligent,” she said. “He’s just phenomenal, bubbling over; and when he’s talking to the kids, he really gets them engaged ... really holds their attention.”
St. Mary’s Deacon John Hoffman spoke along the same lines. “Bryan has a lot of energy; and his enthusiasm for his faith makes [the faith] more attractive to the young people,” he said, noting that the youth group encourages teens to live their faith, go to church and increase their love for God.
Years after graduation, Mercier providentially took over the R.O.C.K. Group ministry that Mrs. Loin had founded with her husband.
“I asked him one day years ago to get up and talk at one of our retreats,” recalled Loin. “But he became the star. Not only is he intelligent, but he has such a funny way of putting it out to the teens. And he can talk on almost any topic.
“If you’ve ever heard Bryan’s conversion story,” she continued, “you’ll know that the hand of God has always been all over him.”
When he arrived at Steubenville, “here was this Ninja teenager, all dressed in black,” she recalled. “He felt that everyone hated him so he hated them back.
“But Bryan gave himself over to God and said, ‘God, use me however you want,’” she said. “He had this gift of being able to stand up in from of people and talk, and now he’s using it to do all this speaking.
“And we need people like him,” she went on. “Just look at our churches and how many kids we don’t see. After confirmation, we don’t see them anymore.”
In addition to speaking at events that come by word-of-mouth, Mercier also receives invitations through the Catholic Speakers Bureau, CMG Booking and the Catholic Speaking Association.
Jennifer Romano has been a member of his Bible study group for the past 10 years. “He’s a very thoughtful person, a very good listener. He can ask you a question that is thought-provoking and then lead you through self-discovery to form your own conclusion in a very positive, non-judgmental way,” Romano said.
Plus, he is “so engaging, really able to target his audience and is very fast-talking,” she said about his style. “He just pulls from so much experience and knowledge ... and is able to draw these amazing conclusions and make them relevant to your life.”
Mercier, who holds a master’s degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, is clearly passionate about his call to minister to young people in the Church.
“A lot of people say that youth are the future of the Church, he said. “But we have a saying: They’re not the future, they’re the now.”