Guest Column: The Personal Touch

Rev. Henry Januszkiewicz, a retired priest in the diocese of Washington, D.C., had been assigned to be then-Cardinal Wojtyla’s driver and secretary during a conference of Catholic churchmen. Januszkiewicz, who speaks Polish fluently, and the cardinal formed a lasting friendship, forged over authentic Polish meals, dotingly prepared by Father Henry’s mother.

When the cardinal was elevated to pope, Father Henry’s parishioners took up a purse and gave it to their young associate pastor, urging him to seek an audience with the new pontiff. The modest young priest first tried to make contact through the normal church bureaucracy, but that got nowhere. Undaunted, he knew the former cardinal would receive his call if only he could get through the Vatican bureaucracy.

Not surprisingly, he encountered a largely unsympathetic series of Vatican operators and lower-ranking officials (Cardinal who? Bishop who? And you wish to speak to whom?). Nevertheless, he pressed on and eventually found himself speaking with Rev. Stanislaw Dziwisz, the papal secretary.

After hearing Father Henry’s story, Father Dziwisz excused himself. Moments later, a distinctive and familiar voice was on the line, greeting him warmly: “How is your mother?” the pope wanted to know.

The young priest told the Holy Father that his mother had passed away the previous year. To that, the shepherd of one billion Roman Catholics boomed into the telephone: “Do you mean, Father Henry, that my friend— your mother—died, and you didn’t even let me know?”

This was the man who crushed rocks in quarries during the Nazi occupation of Poland; the man who stood up to the Soviet Empire; the man who would take an assassin’s bullets and live to publicly forgive his would-be murderer.

This man—doubtless, one of history’s greats—never forgot the importance of the personal touch. It was there in all of the small events that history will not record. And yet, his absolute devotion to the person formed the very basis of his theology, from his opposition to secularist ideologies to his unwavering stand on behalf of human life.

Professor Jerome LeJeune was the world’s foremost scientist for life. He testified before the United States Congress—and many other such assemblies around the world—on the absolute humanity of the unborn child. As a medical scientist with both an M.D. and Ph.D., he was chairman of Fundamental Genetics at the University of Paris until his death in 1994.

Having discovered the cause of Down syndrome, Dr. LeJeune traveled endlessly around the world, serving his “little ones” in the world’s largest consultative medical practice for such handicapped children. Already a member of the Pontifical Academy of Science for his work in human genetics, this modest and humble man was invited by Pope John Paul II to lay the groundwork for the new Pontifical Academy for Life and to become its first president.

A year after the pope’s election, several pro-life activists and I had the pleasure of a personal meeting with LeJeune at a pro-life conference he addressed. One of the attendees, knowing that the professor had been in close contact with John Paul II as a scientific adviser and his personal emissary to the Kremlin, asked if he’d give us his personal assessment of the new pontiff.

Dr. LeJeune sat thoughtfully for a moment and then said simply, “He is a God-man.”


  • Charles D. Dean, Jr.

    Charles D. Dean Jr. is a former president of the Tidewater chapter of the Virginia Society for Human Life and has written extensively on pro-life issues.

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