Rome, Feb. 20 ( – Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini has called for the opening of a cause for the beatification of the late French geneticist Jerome Lejeune.

Cardinal Angelini made his proposal during the first day of a four-day meeting of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Lejeune was appointed by Pope John Paul as the first president of that body when it was created in 1994. The French physician died just 33 days after the appointment.  “He was a man of science who lived his Christian faith in his profession work, heroically, showing his faith with a simplicity and joy, serving life with a full devotion and complete disinterest,” said Cardinal Angelini, the former president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care.

Born in 1926 in Montrouge, Jerome Lejeune gained international fame in 1958 when he discovered the Trisomy 21 genetic defect responsible for Down Syndrome. As he gained renown as a scholar, teacher, and researcher, he continued his work with children suffering from severe disabilities. In his later years he became an outspoken defender of human life, speaking out frequently against abortion in Europe and abroad despite the hostility of many of his medical colleagues.

Dr. Lejeune gave important professional testimony during abortion-related court cases in the US and during the Borowski case in Canada. Many pro-life activists who met the world-renowned geneticist were moved by the exceptional depth and warmth of the humble medical scientist.

Jim Hughes, vice-president of International Right to Life and president of Campaign Life Coalition, Canada hosted Dr. Lejeune in Toronto in the 1980’s. Hughes says that the doctor was an obviously holy man and recalled that “Before he would go out on speaking engagements he would contact various convents of nuns and ask for prayers for the success of the event”. Lejeune would usually attract an audience of a few thousand people to his pro-life talks, said Hughes, and his stories to large and small groups were usually “beautiful and inspiring”.  During a 1997 visit to Paris for World Youth Day, Pope John Paul II made a point of visiting Lejeune’s grave, paying homage to the illustrious French scientist.

Since Lejeune died in Paris, the responsibility for opening a formal cause for his beatification lies in the hands of that city’s Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger.