Charlotte Kellogg.

Mercier, the fighting cardinal of Belgium online

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coPTHionr, 1920, bt


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By the publishers of The Atlantic
Monthly, The Outlook and The De-
lineator permission is granted to dse
in this volume some material which has
already appeared in articles in their



It was the fate of Belgium to be the first and
in some ways the most tragic victim of the war,
but by that very fact it was her immortal
privilege to become the symbol of the great
cause for which the war was fought and won.
To this compensation, there was added the dis-
tinction of having produced two of the great
figures that the war gave to history and to
mankind. One of these will stand forever as
the avatar of honor; the other as the embodi-
ment of the spiritual ideal, and these two, rep-
resenting the Belgian nation, formed an im-
pregnable bastion of truth and faith, proving
the superiority of moral over physical force.
A thousand years from now there will be
poems and paintings and statues to celebrate
Albert, King of the Belgians, and beside him
there will be the figure of the great Cardinal
who, while his King was fighting along the
muddy reaches of the Yser, held aloft in his
pious hands the ideal of patriotism and endur-
ance and kept alive the spirit of the nation.

viii Foreword

^Irs. Vernon Kellogg is one of those Ameri-
cans who devoted themselves to the great work
of ministering to the needs of the Belgians
during that period before America herself
entered the war. She had many occasions to
see Cardinal INIercier and to estimate the effect
of his personality and of his deeds on the peo-
ple to whom lie was a veritable shepherd when
they were in danger of being scattered abroad.
In her "Life" of him, one obtains a closer and
more intimate view of his character and his
deeds than one might otherwise have done had
she not been moved to write this book. No
one is better qualified than she to speak of his
courageous work. For a while she lived the
life of those whom that work so greatly helped.
She knew of its need and was the witness of
its efficiency and its moral beauty, and her tal-
ent and her devotion combine to give us an
inspiring and an ennobling picture of one of
the finest figures of our times or of all times.

Brand Whitlock


I. The Fighting Cardinal 1

II. From Boy to Cardinal 19

III, Pastoral Letters to an Imprisoned People . . 51

IV. The Cardinal and Rome in War-time . . . 101
V. The Good Shepherd 115

VI. The Cardinal Versus the Governor General . 131

VII. The Cardinal at Home 164

VIII. After the Arim!istice — The Visit to America . 175

IX. Trenchant Sayings of the Cardinal . . . 198
X. Text of the Christmas Pastoral, Patriotism and

Endurance 206

Bibliography 248



" Fourteen years from to-day our King
Albert, standing on his throne, will bow his
unconquered head before the King of kings."
The voice rang out above the multitude pack-
ing the Brussels Cathedral one July day in
1916. "His unconquered head," — and we
who had been waiting since early morning,
anxiously, fearfully, to hear the words that
would come from the great Cardinal, knew
that at that very moment the gray conqueror
surrounded the Cathedral. We knew that
after two years* martyrdom of the body of
Belgium that conqueror was more than ever
confident of breaking her spirit.

We had been standing weary hours, scarcely
able to breathe, as increasing thousands forced
their way into nave and transepts, the tense
silence of our waiting in the solemn half-light
beneath the vaulting arches broken only by



the whispered, " Will he come? " " Will they
prevent him?" or by the occasional flashing
rumor, *' Word has been received, — he is still
at ^lalines." And we were asking ourselves,
" If he comes, what can he have of hoj)e to say
to us in this black hour?" This was the
86th anniversary of Belgium's indei^endence.
Would he dare to refer to it? I had come to
Brussels some weeks before as a member of the
Commission for Relief in Belgium but I had
not yet heard the Cardinal speak. I expected
some quiet word of comfort. Then, flnall}'' at a
little after eleven o'clock our waiting had its
reward, when the tall, spare figure in the
scarlet robe, so much taller than any about
him, appeared beneath the velvet-covered dais
of the choir. A deep breath of relief stirred
the air; he had succeeded in coming, he was
safely there! After the opening ritual of the
mass, he left the choir and slowly climbed the
narrow stairway to the pulpit. Would he
allude to the national holiday? These were
his first words :


The Fightmg Cardinal

" Beloved brethren, we ought to have met
together here to celebrate the 86th anniversary
of our national independence.

" Fourteen years from to-day our restored
Cathedrals and our rebuilt churches will be
thrown widely open ; the crowds will surge in ;
our King Albert, standing upon his throne,
will bow his unconquered head before the King
of kings ; the Queen and the royal princes will
surround him; we shall hear again the joyous
peal of our bells, and throughout the whole
country under the vaulted arches of our
churches, Belgians, hand in hand, will renew
their vows to their God, their sovereign and
their liberty, while the bishops and the priests,
interpreters of the soul of the nation, will
intone a triumphant Te Deum in a common
transport of joyous thanksgiving. . . . To-day
the hymn of joy dies on our lips. The hour
of deliverance approaches, but it has not yet
struck. Let us be j)atient, let us not suffer
our courage to waver."

Thus swiftly he turned our faces from the


darkness of the present to the visioned triumph
of the 100th anniversary of the independence
of Belgium. Outside the cathedral walls the
gray conqueror Avatched and listened. And
even inside with us, we well laiew, were his
agents. We held our breath and clenched our
hands in our struggle not to cry out.

Then, having by the i^ower of his sure faith
fixed our eyes on ultimate victory, from his
lips, touched with the live coal from the altar,
fell the words that restored courage, fortified
the will, comforted and exhorted the spirit.
He announced that universal brotherhood was
dominated by our respect for unconditioned
justice, and that once such justice was vio-
lated, for the guilty there must be retribution.
ru])lic retribution for wrong-doing, he de-
clared, was a virtue. This utterance was like
a clearing wind to many a confused mind. He
led our thoughts away from massacre and
agony to the austere beauty to be found in a
just war. He pictured the people rising
through it to ideals of justice and honor, the


The Fighting Cardinal

greatness of the nation in her sacrifice. *' God
reveals Himself," he said, " in these, as in all
events, as the Master of the universal con-
science." And he ended with an ardent appeal
for further austerity in daily living and greater
unity and devotion in service. It would be
helpful to all nations, of whatever faith, if at
repeated intervals they would re-read this July
sermon of the Belgian cardinal. Per crucem
ad lucem — " from the sacrifice flashes forth
the light." And how admirably his own life
verifies the truth of that title ! I looked down
the dim nave at the rapt multitude ; shoulders
had lifted, faces were shining.

From the pulpit the Cardinal came back to
the choir, or to the space before it, where a
catafalque had been erected in memory of the
Belgian soldiers dead in battle. The raised
memorial coffin was simply and beautifully
draped with the national flag, veiled in crepe,
and was guarded by tall candles. Close about
it pressed the first men of Brussels, the city
dignitaries. The Cardinal took his place on



the choir steps, at the head of the bier, and in
a voice freighted Avith the nation's sorrow, read
the prayers for the dead. These had died on
the other side of the wall of steel and fire that
shut them from their seven million kin. And
the living, fighting army, with the King and
the Queen, those still were cut off. From our
prison we could send not so much as a message
or a bandage to them. There was danger even
in erecting this symbolic coffin, and in reading
before it the praj^ers for the dead. I looked
again on the sea of upturned faces and read
the struggle of anguish and heroic resolve.

The prayers were ended. The Cardinal
moved slowly past the flickering candles, and
turned toward the rear of the Cathedral. Then
suddenly we realized that he was going from
us, back to INIalincs, that it was even possible
we might never see him again. And with that
realization, pent-up tides of emotion swept over
all barriers, as in one great cry we called out
the forbidden " Vive le Roi ! " and " Vive Mon-
seigneur!" Men thrust by me whispering,


The Fighting Cardinal

** What have we done? " "What can we do? '*
"After two years, we have necessity to cry out.
We must cry out!" The Cardinal went
swiftly forward, turning neither to the right
nor the left. I was following close behind, and
I saw that his cheeks were wet with tears.

Outside, to pass to the Archbishop's palace,
he was obliged to cross the road. And there
those of us who had come by this door were
overwhelmed by the crowd from the main
portal, surging down for a last look at His
Eminence. They had thrown control to the
winds now, and were shouting, arms outthrust,
canes and handkerchiefs waving, as they called
and recalled the dangerous words. The few
Belgian police were swept off their feet. Even
the Germans, though livid with anger, were for
the moment powerless. " Vive le Roi ! " *' Vive
Monseigneur ! " echoed and re-echoed about
beautiful Sainte Gudule, breaking the silence
of two years. It was only after the gate had
closed on the Cardinal that I was able to free



The world knows the rest. There were other
manifestations that day, throughout the city,
which had suddenly that morning blossomed
into green (the color of hope) ; there were in-
dividual arrests and fines, and Brussels her-
self was made to pay 1,000,000 marks. All
of which greatly strengthened the national

It must not be thought that Cardinal ]Mer-
cier encouraged these outbreaks. Quite the
reverse ; his coimsel ^^•as always toward wisdom
and moderation. While never yielding a point
in submission, he yet strongly believed in the
necessitj'^ of maintaining order, and in preserv-
ing an attitude of calm and dignity. Always
he counselled against the folly of mere
bravado. Fearing for the people (not for him-
self, we well know) he had especially asked
them to promise that if he came to Brussels
on this day there would be no least demonstra-
tion connected with liis appearance. Long be-
fore, the enemy had taken care to warn him
that innocent parties would be made to pay for


The Fighting Cardinal

his behavior, and he tried to make all under-
stand the risks they were taking in acclaiming
him. The Bruxellois had promised to remain
quiet ; but his own example steeled their hearts
to danger. We have seen how splendidly they
broke their promise.

I have seen Cardinal Mercier many times in
church and political and social gatherings, and
on several occasions in his own archbishop's
palace he talked with me freely and generously
of his work. But no memory is more vivid
than this one of the 1916 service in Sainte
Gudule, when in one of the darkest hours of
the Occupation he managed to come from
Malines to Brussels, and, appearing in person
as spiritual chief, caught and lifted and held
us by the power of his fearless spirit.

Clearly, here was something that might well
shake the confidence of the Invader. But he
failed to understand it, or to measure its j)ower.
He could not see his flashing bayonets grow
dim before the scarlet of a cardinal's robe, nor
hear above the roar of his Krupp guns the



rushing of wings, as the souls of millions rose
to the call of their leader.

If this war has taught us anything, it has
taught us that peoples, tortured through long
years, were able to carry on to the day of de-
liverance, only because of a spiritual energy,
born of an unalterable faith in God. Doctor
Ducamps, during the war director of public
health at Lille, voiced this coiiiinon conviction
when we were talking recently of one aspect of
France's problem of reconstruction, that of re-
claiming her debilitated children. He said:
*' I myself have no confession ; I may be said
to belong to no Church; but I am absolutely
convinced of this ; if we are to save these chil-
dren, we must give them religion. All through
the four years I saw proved daily just one
thing; those who had it came through; those
without it were wrecked." Belgium under the
Occupation, without Cardinal IMercicr, as
guide and support, is untliinkable.

It was not often during the long four years
that His Kminence could appear at so import-


The Fighting Cardinal

ant a gathering as this July one in the Brussels
Cathedral; in fact, he officiated in Sainte
Gudule perhaps not more than four or five
times. It was entirely contrary to the enemy's
isolation policy that any person in the con-
quered territory should be permitted to move
about. The Cardinal was dependent for
journeying on his motor, and during at least
one brief period, he was not allowed to use it,
while he was held practically a prisoner in his
archbishop's palace at Malines. But the Ger-
mans were playing a dangerous game in touch-
ing the personal liberty of a prince of the
Catholic church, and they knew it. How mucH
would German Catholics stand for? How far
could the occupying powers go without stirring
up trouble within their o\vn frontiers?

Moreover, from the outset, the Imperial
design was to split Belgium in two and by
offering the Flemish, strongly Catholic half,
autonom}^ to win it. And since the people of
this territory were led by the priests, it was
manifestly unwise to anger them too deeply



and too frequently by attempts against the
liberty of their Primate.

Despite difficulties, he succeeded several
times in going to Antwerp and Brussels, and
also in visiting Vise, that sad Pompeii of the
north, Liege and Namur, and Dinant, Aer-
schot, Louvain and Termonde, of terrible
memories. There were wide areas in the
etapes, or zones of direct military preparation,
including all of western, and most of eastern
Flanders, where not any Belgian of another
district, not even the Primate, could set his
foot. He was, indeed, even refused permis-
sion to go to Ghent, after the death of the
bishoj) of that city, to fulfil the important duty
of consecrating the new bishop).

Early in 1916, he announced that it was
necessary for him to go to Rome in answer to a
call from Pope Benedict for a general confer-
ence of representatives of Catholic colleges and
universities. One obstacle after another was
put in his way, ])ut in the end he won, and per-
mission to travel was granted. On his way, he


The Fighting Cardinal

was acclaimed with loud enthusiasm by both
Italians and Swiss, which naturally greatly
disturbed the Germans, who already bitterly
regretted having allowed him to go, — they
would not repeat that mistake. The return
journey was beset with difficulties. However,
as has been true of other great men, their chal-
lenge had a tonic effect. And he brought back
from his visit to Rome, as the lenten pastoral
of 1916, "INIy Return from Rome," so nobly
proves, a more unshakable faith in ultimate
victory, an increased fervor in his effort to
secure it. More ardently than ever, he
preached the virtue of patience and the duty
of self-sacrifice.

The average teacher and churchman of
sixty-three (Cardinal INIercier was born in
1851) probablj^ would have been content to
fight his fight from his own study and pulpit.
But it was necessary to this zealous shepherd
to be in the midst of his flock, and personally
to protect and guide them. He called on in-
ner sources of energy, and between sixty-three




and sixty-eight worked with the apparent vigor
of a young man. He had a charming way of
saying to us, deprecatingly, with an ahnost
boyish smile, when we were talking with him,
"All, but 3'ou must remember I am old. If
I were young! . . ." And we smiled back
our remonstrance, grateful to him for demon-
strating to us, as he did, the possibility of car-
rj^ing that precious thing we call the spirit of
youth with us along the sixty-to-seventy road.
No, Cardinal ^lercier, though he is a great
thinker and teacher, could not sit in his study
at jNIalines. He resolutely took the road, go-
ing from church to church; from chaumidre
to chateau; from prison cell to prison cell. My
husband's first meeting with him in 1915, was
in Brussels, where he had come to visit one of
his priests in prison. Seizing his loyal priests
was one of the enemy's indirect ways of strik-
ing at him; and their danger and suffering
were never out of the Primate's mind. I got
my o^v7l first direct picture of his priests in
trou])le in 1916.


The Fighting Cardinal

After a particularly unnerving day at
Tournai, where I witnessed the eviction of
hundreds of families in preparation for the
arrival of fresh enemy forces from Lille, I
turned my car, with a longing for relief, to-
ward a quiet little town in the North. And
with what heartache, as I remembered that in
all that stricken country, I was practically the
only woman who could seek such relief! The
neutral ministers, the American members of
the Relief Commission, and a few physicians
and Belgians directing the ravitaillement were
allowed motors. Mrs. Whitlock, the wife of
the American minister, could, of course, ride
in the Legation car, and two Brussels women
responsible for vital relief departments had
limited district permits, — that was all. And
not only was mine practically the only automo-
bile carrying a woman on the road, but I could
take no Belgian, besides my chauffeur, with me.
I started alone in my car for Hasselt, a place
of 17,000 inhabitants near the Dutch border.

The sky was low and gray over the quiet


little to^^Tl when I began my rounds the next
morning. As I turned into a street, I saw
crossing it, about three squares beyond me, a
strange, silent procession. I hurried ahead,
determined to follow at an inconspicuous dis-
tance. Clearh% this was not a f micral cortege,
though resembling that more than anything
else, with its long line of marching people,
over fifty on foot, and the black-covered
wagons, — I could only guess at the two or three
dozen persons inside. In the line there were
eleven young women, and I counted four of
the Cardinal's priests. But I dared not follow
too closely or with a too apparent interest, for
the line was flanked and led by bayoneted sol-
diers. No to\vnspcoplc came near, nor could
one see them peering from the windows. The
farther I followed, the more deserted the
street, the more terrible and unreal the whole
spectacle. The dumb, driven line with tlie
bhick wagons, spelled terror and death. Pres-
ently, I realized that we were approaching the
town Tribunal Hall ; I was forced to stox^ bc-


The Fighting Cardinal

fore a wired-off, guarded park in front of it.
Then suddenly flashed before my mind that
early decree: "Trials for espionage shall be
held in Hasselt." And I sickened Avhen I
remembered what espionage had been made to
cover. The line was being led slowly around
the square, up the Tribunal steps, and in
through the judgment door. I looked across
as a young girl was going in; next passed a
priest, — had he comforted his people ?

Too ill to stand there longer, and with a
kind of unreasoned fear at my o>vn heart, I
turned away toward the edge of the restricted
area, where I came upon a group of women
huddled against the corner of a building as if
the wind had blown them there. A¥ith their
black shawls drawn closely about them, they
crouched, watching, waiting, — waiting for the
sunset, when the grscy guards would lead out
the line they had driven in that morning, —
but not all of that line.

And to-morrow morning they would huddle
together again at this corner for just these two



gliinx^scs of their loved ones, — their going and
returning, if return they might, and always in
fear lest they be driven from their corner.
^Morning after morning the ever-diminishing
procession (for each day some did not return)
would march from the prison to the court-
room, and in the evening back to the prison.
Until its unfortunates had ended their march-
ing in German prisons, or against the wall, or
for the lucky few, in at least temporary free-
dom. And no sooner would this procession
end, than another would begin marching.
These were the Cardinal's people, these were
his priests. It was for them that he fought
his great fight.



Even in his cradle, the shadow of war fell
on Desire-Joseph Mercier. He was born on
November 2, 1851, a few miles south of Brus-
sels, at Braine d'Alleud, on the southern
border of that field of glorious and terrible
memories, Waterloo. And he was scarcely
nineteen when Western Europe staggered
under the first thrusts of the Franco-Prussian

That his parents lived near a famous battle-
field was of little consequence; but that this
territory was a kind of borderland between the
differing Walloons and Flemings, from whose
union modern Belgium was born, was signifi-
cant. The Fleming- Walloon fusion, as late
distressing events have amply sho^Mi, has never
been complete. Belgium continues her strug-
gle to make it so. That Cardinal Mercier was



born in neither an extreme Flemish nor a dis-
tant Walloon outpost, but a Walloon near the
Flemings, meant that, so far at least as geog-
raphy could help, he was prepared to take his
part in the advance toward national unity.

There was nothing in his birth that promised
an unusual career for him. The jSIerciers were
intelligent, industrious and devout peoi)le, de-
scended two centuries back from French stock,
who had been swift to join in the struggle for
Belgian independence. His grandfather had
been for many j'cars mayor of Braine. His
father, it is reported, had a talent for painting,
but since his desire for an artistic career met
only family opposition, he turned instead, in
the hours not spent in building up a distillery,
to the study of literature and mathematics, and
to civil engineering. Desire-Joseph had two
uncles in the church; one of his mother's
brothers was the Doyon of Virginal and an-
other half-brother. Rev. Adrian Croquet, went
in 18o9 as a pioneering missionary to the great
Northwest. For almost forty years he was in


From Boy to Cardinal

charge of the missions of the Granderonde
Reservation in Oregon, in whieh new land he
was commonly known as The Saint of Oregon.
The Cardinal resembles this micle in appear-
ance, as well as in other waj^s.

Desire-Joseph was one of seven children,
four of them older sisters. The family were
living comfortably in a roomy rural chateau
when the father, Pierre-Leon Mercier, died,
and the mother, Barthe Charlier Mercier, was
left to bring up her brood of seven, alone. The
distillery which Pierre-Leon had hoped would
always provide a comfortable income, had to
be sold, and the family moved from the large
house to a smaller, simpler one near the church.
We are told of the brave struggle there, and
of the economies practiced so that there would
be enough money to give Desire a good

The boy Desire attended the Braine parisH
school. There his unusual capacities were al-
ready apparent, and it was decided that he
should go to the seminary at Malines to com-



plete his classical and theological studies. To
the average Belgian family, there is no honor
so great as to have one of its children join the
priesthood, and Desire's mother in her prayers
dedicated him to the church.

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