Venerable Jerome Lejeune Fellowship
An Opportunity of Love and Faith
My name is Mark Bradford and I am honored to have been selected to be the Venerable Jerome Lejeune Fellow for the Word on Fire Institute. The purpose of this new initiative is to acknowledge those living with developmental and intellectual disabilities as equal members of our parish communities, and to provide resources and opportunities that will improve our understanding of the unique gifts they bring, and enable them to grow more fully in faith and into the intimate communion of love that Christ wills for us all.
As the founding president of the Jerome Lejeune Foundation in the United States, I have a deep appreciation for Dr. Lejeune as a medical doctor and researcher who discovered the genetic cause of Down syndrome, but most especially as a faithful Catholic who put his life on the line to improve the lives of those who, in his time, were scorned and often left out of sight in institutions.
My wife and I are parents of a 21-year-old son living with Down syndrome. We are grateful for all that Dr. Lejeune accomplished through his discovery but can understand all the uncertainties parents experience in raising a child with a disability and the need to more fully value and incorporate them into the life of the Church.
We are blessed. Our son is loved in our parish. Thomas delights in serving Mass and taking up the collection at the offertory, but not all are as fortunate.
I once met a single mom with two children—one with autism, and the other with Down syndrome—who had left the Catholic Church and joined a Protestant church. Why? Because she didn’t feel welcomed or supported in forming her children by her Catholic community.
With this Fellowship, I am personally committed to the day when that story will never be told again. This Fellowship is our opportunity to work together to make certain that those living with disabilities are not forgotten in the Church. They deserve to live with us in full communion where their unique gifts are realized in the Body of Christ. With them, we too can grow together in a more perfect love.
In the very near term, I am assessing the current status of resources already available and searching for successful programs that might serve as models for the work we do. We also intend to publish a prayer book in 2023 that will assist those living with disabilities to better understand the Mass, the Rosary, and basic Catholic prayers.
Jerome Lejeune died on Easter Sunday in 1994. As he was dying, he asked that his “little ones” not be forgotten. In speaking of them, he said that it isn’t that “they understand better than us, but that they understand deeper.”
I hope that you recognize the need for this vital initiative and through your generosity help this new project to find a secure place in the Word on Fire outreach to those both inside and outside of the Church. Remember, Jesus said that whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do for him. May God bless you for your generosity.
Support the Venerable Jerome Lejeune Fellowship
Help support this Fellowship’s vital work of inviting our brothers and sisters with intellectual and developmental disabilities into the Church’s evangelization efforts.
This is an ambitious endeavor, but it’s also an exciting opportunity to raise awareness, build community, learn, and grow as a people of faith.
Venerable Jerome Lejeune, pray for us!
Bishop Barron interviews Mark Bradford
The fellowship is named in honor of Jerome Lejeune, the French geneticist who discovered the genetic cause of Down syndrome. Lejuene committed his research to finding what he hoped would be a cure because he knew that his discovery opened a pathway to prenatal diagnosis and abortion.
As the Lejeune Fellow, Bradford’s mission will be raising awareness about the indispensability of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the Church and in the culture. Bradford will advocate and model the pro-life teachings of the Church, especially as they concern people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“As our culture grows further away from understanding the true source of human life and dignity, it is incumbent upon the Church to stand boldly for those that society views as the least among us,” Bradford said. “There is no better platform for this advocacy than Word on Fire. I’m honored to be a part of this incredible ministry.”
Throughout his career, Bradford has excelled at facilitating conversations in the areas of education, disability, medical research, bioethics, the arts, and advocacy. Prior to joining the Word on Fire Institute, he was the executive director at the Regina Academies, and he previously served as the founding president of the American branch of the Jerome Lejeune Foundation, which is based in Paris.
Purpose of the Lejeune Fellowship
Studies suggest that in the US, around 74% of expectant parents who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to abort their child. Continuing the legacy of the Venerable Jerome Lejeune, the Lejeune Fellow will serve as a public advocate for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the broader culture through asserting the Church’s pro-life teachings on human life and dignity.
The Lejeune Fellowship will also continue the legacy of Prof. Jerome Lejeune in bearing witness to the Church and culture about the necessity of integrating people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as valued and participating members in society and especially in the Church’s apostolic work and mission.
A central task of this fellowship is to create and develop evangelization and catechetical resources, materials, and opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to establish a community of support for families whose loved ones are living with an intellectual or developmental disability within the broader Word on Fire community.
The Fellow’s first task is to utilize his or her requisite knowledge and experience to assist Word on Fire in its efforts to hire a person with an intellectual and/or developmental disability to serve as a second Lejeune Fellow.
The two Fellows will work together on developing evangelization and catechetical materials that are age appropriate, beautifully designed, helpful, and relevant, as well as evangelically and catechetically rich.
Who was Jerome Lejeune?
Jerome Lejeune (1926–1994) was the French geneticist who discovered that Down syndrome is caused by an extra copy of the 21st chromosome. Realizing the implications of his discovery—that these individuals could then be identified before birth through prenatal diagnosis and aborted—he committed his life to researching what he hoped would be a “cure.”
As he worked toward that goal, he became their outspoken advocate. He took advantage of every opportunity to assert the value of those living with disabilities in a culture that was becoming increasingly hostile to them.
Jerome Lejeune was a faithful Catholic physician who served the Lord and his Church at every opportunity, by bearing witness to life and opposing abortion. He was a good friend of St. John Paul II, who appointed him the first president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Pope Francis bestowed the title “Venerable” upon Jerome Lejeune on January 21, 2021, in recognition of his heroic virtues—a key step in the process that hopefully will one day lead to his canonization.