The story goes that, sometime in the late 19th Century, a young French student was riding a train. An old man was sitting next to him and saying the Rosary.
The student said, “I can’t believe you’re saying that outdated nonsense!”
The boy scoffed. “The Rosary is an outdated practice of fools! Modern science has disproven all that religion business! Throw the Rosary out the window and learn what science has to say.”
“Really?” said the old man, beginning to cry. “This is quite disturbing. I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
Not wanting to upset the man, the boy said, “Why don’t I send you some books on the subject? Do you have a card?”
The old man reached into his pocket and handed the boy a card. The boy’s head fell down in shame. The old man was Louis Pasteur.
I’ve heard the story before–either from Fr. Corapi or Bishop Sheen.
I’ve also heard that it’s nothing more than an urban legend, especially as its’ been embellished from the retelling or it’s been retold with different scientists plugged in in place of Pasteur. However, the story does go back at least as far as Chesterton, and even if it’s not 100% true, it does reflect a truth about Pasteur himself.
According to the New Advent Catholic Encylcopedia,
Pasteur’s faith was as genuine as his science. In his panegyric of Littré, whose fauteuil he took, he said:
Happy the man who bears within him a divinity, an ideal of beauty and obeys it; and ideal of art, and ideal of science, an ideal of country, and ideal of the virtues of the Gospel.
These words are graven above his tomb in the Institut Pasteur. In his address Pasteur said further “These are the living springs of great thoughts and great actions. Everything grows clear in the reflections from the Infinite”. Some of his letters to his children breathe profound simple piety. He declared “The more I know, the more nearly is my faith that of the Breton peasant. Could I but know all I would have the faith of a Breton peasant woman.” What he could not above all understand is the failure of scientists to recognize the demonstration of the existence of the Creator that there is in the world around us. He died with his rosary in his hand, after listening to the life of St. Vincent de Paul which he had asked to have read to him, because he thought that his work like that of St. Vincent would do much to save suffering children.