Ordained in 1874, Désiré-Joseph Cardinal Mercier (Nov. 21, 1851 – Jan. 23, 1926) taught philosophy at the seminary of Malines, Belgium (1877–82). In 1880 Pope Leo XIII requested that a program in Thomistic philosophy be offered at the Catholic University of Leuven (Louvain), Belgium, for which Mercier was appointed professor in 1882. His lectures on Thomism in relation to modern philosophy and science attracted an international body of students.
With the support of Pope Leo, Mercier, serving as its first president, founded (1894) the Superior Institute of Philosophy at Leuven, which became a major center of Thomism. Pope St. Pius X made Mercier archbishop (1906) of Malines and cardinal (1907). During World War I Mercier’s stand against the Germans for the burning of the Leuven Library and for deporting workmen made him an international spokesman for Belgium. Invited to the United States by President Woodrow Wilson, Mercier made a tour of the U. S. and Canada in 1919 that brought him honors and financial support to rebuild the Leuven Library. During his tour, Cardinal Mercier visited Providence College where this photograph was taken.