Swiss cardinal and pioneer in modern Catholic social movements; b. Carouge, Switzerland, Sept. 22, 1824; d. Rome, Feb. 23, 1892. After studies at the Jesuit college at Fribourg and ordination in 1847, Mermillod served as a curate in Geneva where he established two periodicals, Les Annales Catholiques and L'Observateur Catholique (1856–67). In 1857 he was appointed pastor of the city and vicar-general to the bishop of Lausanne for the canton of Geneva. He built the church of Notre Dame at Geneva between 1851 and 1859 with funds subscribed from all parts of Christendom. In 1864 he was consecrated titular bishop of Hebron and auxiliary bishop of Lausanne for the canton of Geneva. During his first seven years as bishop he was especially active in the cause of Catholic education, founding with Maria Salesia Chappuis the female Oblates of St. Francis of Sales at Troyes for the protection of poor working girls.
When the Holy See made him independent administrator of Geneva (1870), the radical government of the canton protested. A long and serious conflict ensued. Mermillod was at first forbidden to exercise any episcopal functions whatever and later was declared deposed even as a parish priest. When the bishop of Lausanne renounced unconditionally the title of Geneva and Mermillod was appointed vicar apostolic (1873), he was exiled from Switzerland. He repaired across Lake Geneva to Ferney in France, whence he governed his diocese as best he could. At the cessation of the religious conflict Leo XIII made the newly elected bishop of Lausanne bishop of Geneva as well, without, however, depriving Mermillod of his office. The government did not alter its tactics, and Mermillod was able to return to Switzerland only after he succeeded to the Diocese of Lausanne (1883). The conflict was by no means ended even then, for the canton of Geneva refused to recognize him as bishop, and normal relations were resumed only when he become a cardinal (1890).
Mermillod was one of the great preachers of modern times. In his far-sighted policy he founded, in 1885, the Union catholique d' études sociales et économiques (Union de Fribourg) that held international conferences on the social question and prepared the way for the encyclical rerum novarum. His Lettres à un protestant sur l'autorité de l'Église et le schisme (Paris 1859) made a great impression. Another important work was his De la Vie surnaturelle dans les âmes (Paris and Lyons 1865).
Bibliography: Oeuvres, ed. a. grospellier, 3 v. (Lyon 1893–94). j. t. de belloc, Le Cardinal Mermillod, sa vie, ses oeuvres et son apostolat (Fribourg 1892). c. massard, L'Oeuvre sociale du card. Mermillod (Louvain 1914).
[c. j. nuesse]