A Christian education
Georges Lemaître drew his faith from within his family. From his infancy, he was bathed in an atmosphere of deep respect for Christian traditions.
“My parents and grandparents were sincerely religious people. Admittedly our family had never produced either a scientist or a cleric, but they had always been waiting for a priest.”
In particular he learned how to pay attention to others, in following the example of his father, Joseph Lemaître, whose first concern was compensation for his workers when a fire destroyed the family glassworks. All his life, Georges Lemaîtredisplayed his great tolerance for those who did not share his beliefs. For example, let us cite two anecdotes.
The first took place when his niece, Odette, wanted to marry civilly out of respect for her fiancé's convictions. The family was shocked, but Lemaître, venturing to offer his opinion, told his brother, the fiancée's father, that she should be able to marry the man she loves, and that it was a question of personal conscience.
The second episode took place during the occupation ofBelgiumthroughout World War Two. In November 1941, the Free University of Brussels, founded on the principle of the free examination, was forced to close its doors and Louvain took its students in. Georges Lemaître was among the first to ask the Vice-Chancellor of the Catholic University of Louvain, Mgr Van Waeyenberg, to suspend the obligation imposed on students wanting to enrol at Louvain to swear allegiance to the Catholic Church and to exempt students coming from the University of Brussels from religion courses. That a canon made such a request attests to his great tolerance and open-mindedness. In the United States, that disposition proved to be of paramount importance when he came into contact with Protestant milieux and cosmologists hostile to Rome.
Georges Lemaître was particularly close to his mother, Marguerite Lannoy. He would go on holiday with her in Italy and Switzerland, and chose to live near her, in Brussels, in 1942, after his father's death. When she could no longer get around, he obtained permission to say mass in her room. The Christian faith and values permeating his life owe much to the deep bond between them.