Children's Literature Bookshelf

“Gregor Mendel: Genetics Pioneer,” by Della Yannuzzi. Franklin Watts, New York, 2004, 111 pages, Grades 4-6.

“Gregor Mendel: Genetics Pioneer,” by Della Yannuzzi.
Franklin Watts, New York, 2004, 111 pages,  Grades 4-6.

The Catholic Church has sometimes been attacked in recent centuries for being opposed to science. These critics would have us believe that the Church is all about faith and has little to do with reason. St. John Paul II dispelled these attacks with his outstanding encyclical, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) The Holy Father brilliantly demonstrated that both faith and reason lead people to the truth, which is God.

Many scientific advances in the last thousand years have been discovered in monasteries by monks. The Church encouraged this exploration of the physical world because scientific knowledge can and should lead us to God. Della Yannuzzi has written a compelling account of the life of Father Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian priest from the modern-day Czech Republic. She shows how the Church actively assisted Father Mendel in his work which resulted in the discovery of genetics.

Johann Mendel was born on July 22, 1822 on a farm in the Czech province of Moravia. His father is a hard-working farmer on an estate of a nobleman. Resembling American sharecropping, the Mendels give a portion of their crops each year to the landowner. Because of this, Mr. Mendel wants to get as much production from the land as possible. So he begins grafting various types of apples onto strong apple trees. He takes his son Johann and teaches him these various agricultural experiments to produce more crops.

Johann becomes fascinated with these experiments and their results. Why do some of the grafts produce more fruit? Is there something inside the trees that causes this? If so, what is it? Young Mendel begins going to better and better schools as he grows up. He is an absolutely brilliant student.

But because of his poverty and resulting poor clothes, he is picked upon by wealthier students. He learns to endure many problems. But times are really difficult in Moravia and on several occasions, the pressures of getting an education and his economically impoverished family cause him to have physical collapses. But one of his teachers, Professor Franz, contacts an Augustinian monastery and encourages them to ask Johann to consider a priestly vocation.

In 1843, the young man joined the order as a novice. After four years of study, Johann was ordained with the name of Father Gregor Mendel. In the years that followed, Father Mendel’s abbot encouraged him to conduct large research projects using various kinds of pea plants. There at the monastery, Father Mendel would make the first great discoveries in the field of genetics. What were they?

How did this poor, hard-working Czech boy become one of the world’s first great geneticists? What problems did he face and overcome? How did the Catholic Church help him in his work?

In his later years what additional difficulties were imposed upon him? Even in these difficult times, how did Father Mendel continue to show generosity? Have you ever had tough challenges? How did you overcome them? Why is Father Mendel both a great priest and a great scientist? To find out the answers to these questions, go to the library and check out this fine biography, “Gregor Mendel: Genetics Pioneer,” by Della Yannuzzi.

Father Gregor Mendel is an inspiring person. This biography tells his life in an uplifting manner. Even today, Mendel’s Laws are the basis of the field of genetics.

A picture book biography entitled “Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas” by Cheryl Bardoe is also a fine title. I hope you get a chance to encourage your middle school family members to read this fine book. Or better yet, read it yourself. It is well worth your while. Enjoy!

Terrence Nollen




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