Venerable Jérôme Lejeune is an outstanding contemporary example of brilliance brought to the service of the human good
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Regular readers of Aleteia may be familiar with the name Jérôme Lejeune from previous articles that can be found here, here, here, and here. If you don’t know of him, he would be worth researching. He was the French geneticist who in 1958 discovered that Down syndrome is caused by a third copy of the 21st chromosome, but he is far more than that. He is one who Catholics in our day should get to know. His discoveries put him within the pantheon of the most notable men and women of science through all of history, but more broadly, as a man of science and a man of faith, his witness to the compatibility of the two is unparalleled.
The Venerable Jérôme Lejeune is an outstanding contemporary example of brilliance brought to the service of the human good and heroic action in the defense of life. At a time when so many deny the reasonableness of faith and worship science as the font of all truth, Lejeune shows us how one can be a world-renown man of science and remain faithful to his deeply held Catholic beliefs.
He knew that when science is done well, guided by the virtue of humility, it can’t possibly conflict with faith since they both emanate from the same source, God himself.
I was privileged to be in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 11, 2012, for the conclusion of the Diocesan Phase of his process for canonization. We carried box after box of his writings and other evidence of professional work and personal life into the cathedral and put them at the foot of the altar. After Mass, they were sealed with a wax seal and sent on their way to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.
I rejoiced when Pope Francis confirmed the progress of his cause on January 21, 2021, and proclaimed him Venerable.
All who are affected by disability now have an unofficial patron who worked tirelessly on earth in their defense and can be called upon now for assistance through his intercession.
Jérôme Lejeune’s life was a living witness of the compatibility of science and religion and it should be celebrated and imitated along with his strong pro-life advocacy.
April 3, 2023, marks the 29th anniversary of Lejeune’s death. In fact, his earthly life ended on Easter Sunday in 1994 when he was 67 years old. St. John Paul II wrote immediately to Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the Archbishop of Paris, to express his condolences.
Commenting on Lejeune’s scientific expertise and defense of human life, he said that he
“fully assumed the expert’s particular responsibility [and] was prepared to become a ‘sign of contradition,’ regardless of the pressures exerted by a permissive society or the ostracism to which he was subjected.”
It is difficult for us in the United States, even in the growing permissiveness of our own society, to understand the profundity the Pope’s words would have had to those living in France, still deeply wounded by the French Revolution. The memory of the hostility and brutality exercised against the Church in the name of liberté, egalité, and fraternité was, and still is fresh and oppressive. The confrontations Lejeune had with the cultural elites of his time were brutal and they severely punished him personally, professionally, and financially. Even his young children weren’t unscathed. One day walking home from school they saw spray painted on a wall, “Dr. Lejeune and his little monsters must die!” and so they often feared for their father’s safety.
Being a “sign of contradiction” to a culture intent on killing babies in the womb has a high cost but it’s one we all must we willing to pay. As Lejeune said,
“In modern democracies, which no longer refer to a higher moral law, upright citizens have an innate duty to aspire to laws that reflect what they believe to be best for society: That is the only duty incumbent upon them, and the only freedom they still possess.”
And so, for medical doctors facing political pressure to cave to political and social agendas hostile to human dignity; for pro-life advocates being arrested and charged under FACE laws; for parents facing school boards that are intent on indoctrinating their children and normalizing gender confusion, homosexuality, and sexual promiscuity; for parents who are struggling with children who tell them that science has disproven the existence of God; and, for individuals living with disabilities and their families, the Venerable Jerome Lejeune is one to whom we all can turn as an example of a faithful Catholic whose brilliance only drew him closer to Jesus Christ, and strengthened his resolve to defend innocent human life at any cost.
Word on Fire has established the Venerable Jerome Lejeune Fellowship at a time when bringing attention to this great man could not be more important. I would encourage you to get to know him and then to share his life with others. You can find out more about his cause for canonization at www.amislejeune.org.
Venerable Jérôme Lejeune, pray for us!
Mark Bradford is the Venerable Jérôme Lejeune Fellow at the Word On Fire Institute.