Archbishop of Mechelen; b. Ophem (Brabant), Nov. 2, 1792; d. Mechelen, Dec. 4, 1867. He came of peasant stock. After ordination (Jan. 18, 1815) he taught logic and ethics at the major seminary in Mechelen (1815–21) and was also attached, from 1813, to the archbishop's secretariate. He became pastor at Bouchout in the Province of Antwerp (1821) and vicar-forane of Antwerp (1824). In the Archdiocese of Mechelen (Malines) he was named vicar-general (1827); vicar-capitular (Jan. 15, 1831); archbishop (Feb. 24, 1832); and cardinal (1838). Before becoming archbishop he was noted for his diligence, pastoral zeal, and skill at conciliation. He had acted as mediator in the lengthy conferences (1825–30) between the Belgian episcopate and the Dutch government to assure liberty for Catholic worship and education.
When belgium became independent (1830), he immediately accepted, despite some opposition from Rome, the liberal institutions imposed on the country by the constitution. He discovered in them the means of favoring the Catholic faith. Some based their opposition to modern liberties on the encyclical Mirari vos of gregory xvi, and on Pius IX's quanta cura and syllabus of er rors. Sterckx, however, remained loyal to the constitution despite the proponents of ultramontanism and some governmental secularizing intrigues. It was in these circumstances that he published his Lettres sur la Constitution (1864), which led the Holy See to accommodate itself to modern liberties. His moderation and competence won from the Belgian public authorities acceptance of a practice favorable to the Catholic religion, yet on the fringe of separation between church and state.
Once the politico-religious tasks were accomplished, Sterckx reorganized his diocese, multiplying parishes, Catholic schools, and good works. He summoned congresses at Mechelen in 1863, 1864, and 1867, which systematized the lay apostolate. Agreements with the state to assure the teaching of religion in public schools in the primary (1842) and secondary (1854) grades met his approval. He played an important role in the reopening of the University of louvain and in its reorganization (1834).
Conscious of his authority, he centralized all priestly activity in his diocese, although sometimes without taking into account the canonical rights of religious. He succeeded in unifying all the apostolic efforts of the Belgian hierarchy, proving by his prestige and diplomacy that he was truly primate of Belgium.
Bibliography: a. simon, Le Cardinal Sterckx et son temps, 2 v. (Wetteren 1950).