Désiré Joseph Mercier

[Désiré Joseph Mercier] Cardinal, archbishop of Malines, born Braine-l'Alleud, Belgium, 1851; died Brussels, Belgium, 1926. In the neighborhood of his birthplace, his family had for two centuries been prosperous farmers and, latterly, tradesmen. Though his father died before the seven children were reared, Desire had connections which could have opened to him an administrative career; he chose to follow his two uncles who were priests. Educated successively at the Episcopal College of Saint Rombaut and the Small and Great Seminaries, at Malines, he was ordained in 1874. He was immediately sent to the University of Louvain as Vice-regent of lay students and for four years of study, afterward becoming Director of Philosophical Studies in the Small Seminary. Thus he unconsciously prepared for the great work of filling, in 1882, the chair of Thomist philosophy at Louvain, founded by invitation of Pope Leo XIII in 1880. His enthusiasm, labor, and supreme fitness for the task of reconstructing the presentation of scholastic philosophy to meet modern requirements, were watched by Leo from afar, and in 1886 he gave the "great Abbe" a Roman prelacy. Under Monsignor Mercier, the means of unification of all knowledge were created at Louvain, and the definite philosophy of Thomas Aquinas was revived for the uncertain modern mind. In 1906 Pius X made him Archbishop of Malines and cardinal, and until the World War, of which he is one of the greatest heroes, he was the outstanding figure in Belgian public and intellectual life, as his "OEuvres Pastorales" (Pastoral Works), public lectures and conferences, and addresses as President of the Belgian Royal Academy, testify. From the invasion of Belgium in 1914 he took an intrepid stand against all unjust demands, particularly censorship of his correspondence, during the German occupation. After the fall of Antwerp he published his "Patriotism and Endurance," a challenge in the name of right as, to him, suffering implied neither silence nor yielding. He defied the Germans by keeping Rome and the outside world constantly informed of the devastation wrought in Belgium. While at the conclave to elect Pius X's successor in 1914, he had merely said, on hearing of the burning of Louvain, "They have destroyed; well, we will build again," a promise which he fulfilled after the War. In 1924 began the "Malines Conversations," his renowned attempt to unify the Anglican and Roman Churches. The fifth and last of the Conversations occurred January 1926, at Saint Elizabeth's Hospital, Brussels; where he died a few days later. After his death, his body was brought back to Malines, but the great public funeral was held at Saint Gudule's, Brussels. He is interred at Saint Rombaut's, Malines. Beside the works mentioned, he wrote: "General Criteriology," "Report on the Higher Studies of Philosophy," "Logic," "Psychology," "Origins of Contemporary Psychology," "Pastoral Retreat," "The Voice of Belgium," and "The Voice of God."

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