Down syndrome researcher’s sainthood cause a 'witness to life'

Dr. Jerome Lejeune. Credit: Fondation Jerome Lejeune via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

The life of Dr. Jérôme Lejeune, a French researcher who discovered the genetic cause of Down syndrome, is an example of faith, respect for the dignity of all human life, and search for truth in science, say those who work to spread his legacy.

"The example of Jerome Lejeune is a man who serves as a witness in contemporary time for challenges that we all face," said Mark Bradford, president of the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation USA, in a March 18 interview with CNA.

As he has learned more about Lejeune, Bradford said he "came to know him as a deep man of faith, a deep man of family, a commitment and love for his family, and an incredible love for science and realized that all of that sprang from his deep faith.”

Lejeune discovered that Down syndrome was caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21 in 1958. People with the syndrome present a variety of different conditions, including growth delays, varying levels of intellectual impairment, and a variety of physical abnormalities.

He spent the rest of his life researching treatments and cures for Down syndrome and the people living with it.

An ardent Catholic, Lejeune was named the first president of the Pontifical Academy for Life by Bl. John Paul II. He advocated strongly against the use of prenatal testing and the abortion of unborn children who were found to have Down syndrome.

After his death in 1994, a cause for his canonization was opened in 2007. Aude Dugast, postulator of the cause, told CNA that Lejeune's life and work is a witness for doctors and researchers, and shows there "is no contradiction between the deeds of doctors and the deeds of Catholics."

Many of those involved in science and research "put their faith on one side, and their jobs on the other, and the two don't go together.” But Lejeune showed that "faith and reason are not opposed, but complementary," Dugast said.

He dedicated himself with passion to his research and learning, Dugast explained, but he also showed a passion for helping children with Down syndrome, to whom he showed an "unconditional love."

Lejeune showed hat through both learning and loving, "one can see the beauty of creation."

Thus, Lejeune's canonization would provide an official "example to the world,” Dugast commented, adding that in today's world, "there is a terrible need for people today in our world who respect human life.”

Through canonizing Lejeune, "the Church would recognize his sanctity" and it would "manifest to all that our right" as persons, is to respect and to protect life.

"If they canonize him, it would be a good demonstration of the heroic life of Jerome Lejeune."

Bradford, who has a son living with Down syndrome, said that Lejeune's legacy shows that "there was no contradiction between the practice of medicine and faith because they both have the same source" -- a grounding in the "natural moral law."

This witness, he continued, is a "sign of hope and an example of strength," particularly for the contemporary world. Today "we see a crisis in family and we see so many cases of absent fathers," as well as "cases of disingenuous practice of medicine or pursuit of science," and other transgressions of the natural law.

"In Jerome Lejeune we see a man who only sought the truth in each of those areas," Bradford said, "giving no place for the evil he saw."

“We can see the consequence of remaining true to our beliefs and true to our faith.” While Lejeune "lost almost everything, we're here talking about him tonight: he won."


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