BLESSED FRÉDÉRIC OZANAM (1813-1853), holy man and founder
Today, the Church honors Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, a man who believed in the inestimable and tremendous worth of each human being, and who was instrumental in the founding of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.
Frédéric was born in Milan, Italy, on April 23, 1813, the 5th of 14 children, only three surviving to adulthood. At the age of twenty, he obtained his baccalaureate; at twenty-six, he received his doctorate in literature in Paris. And, at the age of twenty-seven, he won the competitive examination for the chair of foreign literature at the Sorbonne University.
It was during his time of academic studies that Frédéric became involved in discussion groups, composed of Catholics, atheists and agnostics. Once, after Frédéric spoke about Christianity’s role in civilization in reaching out and helping all those who were less fortunate, a club member said, “Let us be frank, Mr. Ozanam; let us also be very particular. What do you do besides talk to prove the faith you claim is in you?”
At first, Frédéric was taken by surprise with the question. Realizing that his words were not supported by any personal involvement in the needs of the disadvantaged, poor and the sick, he decided to live his faith in a very real and practical way by visiting Paris tenements and offering assistance wherever he could. Soon a group dedicated to helping individuals in need under the patronage of Saint Vincent de Paul formed around Frédéric – thus were the beginnings of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.
After having married and fathering a daughter, Frédéric devoted his talents as a journalist and wrote numerous articles in support of the working classes of his day. He also became known as a well-respected lecturer and became deeply interested in social problems and presented ideas up to that time unknown in the Christian environment.
In one of his lessons, he foresaw and proposed workers’ associations to benefit the poor working class. Meanwhile, the Saint Vincent de Paul Society was continuing to grow throughout Europe, giving assistance to the poor, the hungry and the sick wherever needed, without distinction to age or gender.
It was during this time that the French Revolution of 1848 began, which left many Parisians in need of the services of the Society. The unemployed numbered 275,000 and the government asked Frédéric and his co-workers to supervise the government aid to the poor. Vincentians throughout Europe came to the aid of Paris as volunteers in fulfilling the mission for which the Saint Vincent de Paul Society was originally created.
Due to his ailing health, Frédéric died on September 8, 1853, at the age of forty. He lived his life resigning himself to always being led by the hand of God in all that he undertook, and saw the foundation of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society as God’s will in his life.
He was beatified on August 22, 1997, by Pope St. John Paul II in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris. In his homily at the beatification ceremony, our late Holy Father said of Blessed Frédéric, “He observed the real situation of the poor and sought to be more and more effective in helping them in their human development. He understood that charity must lead to efforts to remedy injustice.”
We commemorate Blessed Frédéric Ozanam’s feastday on September 7.
(From americancatholic.org, baragastvincent.com, newadvent.org and vatican.va/jubilee_2000)
(The following prayer is from the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul for Blessed Frédéric)
“Lord, we thank You for inspiring Blessed Frédéric to establish the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. Help us to follow his dream of ‘embracing the whole world in a network of love’ by bringing support and friendship to those we visit: by helping them achieve self sufficiency and in solidarity to advocate and work for the changes required to create a more just and caring society. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”