Geneticist who discovered cause of Down Syndrome was fierce opponent of abortion.
A Catholic physician and geneticist who was responsible for scientifically explaining Down Syndrome has gotten a step closer to being declared a saint of the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis on Thursday authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate a decree concerning the heroic virtues of Jérôme Lejeune (1926-1994). He now will be referred to as Venerable Jérôme Lejeune.
The Archdiocese of Paris, where Lejeune died, opened the cause for his beatification and canonization in 2007. The diocesan inquiry was carried out by Dom Jean-Charles Nault, Abbot of the Benedictine abbey of St. Wandrille. After the case was sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican, Aude Dugast became the postulator of the cause.
Now that a new phase in the cause has begun, a miracle must be recognized by the Church before Lejeune can be beatified. So far, no miracle has been formally reported to the Vatican. “But many graces, and among them some really exceptional things, have already been reported to us,” Dugast told the French news agency i.Media.
Lejeune was born in Montrouge, a suburb of Paris. He studied medicine, then became a researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research in 1952. In July 1958, assisted by Marthe Gautier, he established a link between a state of mental debility and a chromosomal aberration, by the presence of an extra chromosome on the 21st pair, thus discovering trisomy 21.
But the fruits of his research have been used for purposes he disapproved of, such as early detection of trisomy 21 in embryos, leading to their abortion. Lejeune decided to publicly defend Down children by fighting against abortion. As a professor of fundamental genetics at the Faculty of Medicine of Paris from 1964, he became a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences 10 years later, then, in France, a member of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, and then of the Academy of Medicine.
Friendship with John Paul II
Lejeune forged a strong friendship with Pope St. John Paul II. On May 13, 1981, the professor and his wife were having lunch with the pope a few hours before the pontiff was shot in an assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square.
Appointed by John Paul in February 1994 to head the new Pontifical Academy for Life, Lejeune died two months later, on April 3. The day after his death, the pope wrote that Lejeune had “always known how to use his deep knowledge of life and its secrets for the true good of man and of humanity, and only for that.”
During his trip to France in August 1997, on the sidelines of World Youth Day, John Paul visited Lejeune’s tomb near Paris.
The Jérôme Lejeune Foundation said it received the news from the Vatican Thursday with “an immense joy.” The step will “help to make the name of Jérôme Lejeune shine in France and throughout the world, pioneer of modern genetics, doctor, great scientist and man of faith.”
But the announcement comes in the midst of a debate in France over a bioethics law that “objectifies and dehumanizes the embryo which is the youngest member of the human species,” the foundation said.
It said Lejeune’s lifelong fight “for respect for the embryo” included opposition to the Veil Law which legalized abortion in France in 1975.
The Vatican’s announcement also comes on the eve of the 48th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s dual ruling in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, which legalized abortion throughout the U.S.
For Dugast, the date has a special significance. Since Lejeune’s discovery had to do with the 21st chromosome, the fact that the announcement was made on January 21, 2021, she said, is like a “wink from Heaven.”