Blessed Frederic Ozanam (1813 – 1853) was founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Frederic was a husband and father, professor and servant of the poor. He founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as a young student with others of the Sorbonne in Paris. Sister Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity, is considered a mentor of Frederic and of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as she taught the first members the art of helping the poor and the sick. Frederic’s writings on social justice anticipated the first social encyclical of our modern times, Rerum Novarum
Frederic Ozanam was born in 1813 in Milan. In 1853 he died at the early age of 40. During those 40 years, Frederic Ozanam lived a life of Christian love that provided an example for his contemporaries.
As a student at the Sorbonne in Paris, this brilliant, sensitive young man of modest middle class background was confronted daily by the misery of the poor of Paris. It was at this time in his life Frederic was challenged to bring his faith to service. He not only devoted himself to service to the poor but, as a charismatic leader, he organized others to do the same. Frederic invited his friends to join his cause saying to them, “If we are too young to intervene in the social struggle, are we then to remain passive in the middle of a world which is suffering and groaning? No, a preparatory path is open to us. Before doing public good, we can try to do good to a few. Before regenerating France, we can give relief to a few of her poor.”
In early 1833 Frederic met Sister Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity, who served the needy and stood at the barricades with the poor. Sister Rosalie inspired Frederic and his companions and through their association with her they learned first hand the needs of persons oppressed by poverty.
Committed to do more than talk about faith, Frederic, with a small group of friends, formed the first “Conference of Charity,” which met weekly to contribute to a secret collection and then visit the poor in their homes. This active witness was not only derived from Ozanam’s faith vision but also from his “Vincentian Preference” for what he called self-forgetful charity over ostentatious philanthropy.
In 1834 the “Conference of Charity” was renamed the “Conference of St. Vincent de Paul”. That was also the year Frederic passed the bar examination. In 1835 Frederic received his first degree in Literature from the Sorbonne. That was also the year he wrote his famous passage about the Good Samaritan.
“Charity is the Samaritan who pours oil on the wounds of the traveler who has been attacked.
It is justice’s role to prevent the attack.”
-Blessed Frederic Ozanam
Frederic knew professional success and professorial achievement. While he honored his father’s wishes and became a lawyer and professor of law, he also pursued his abiding passion for literature. Having earned two advanced degrees, he was a prolific scholar on a broad range of topics from the theory of law to Italian and German literature.
His journalistic writings are strikingly modern in social analysis, praise of democracy, support of workers’ rights. His lectures, books and correspondence document his belief that Christianity and progress, like faith and science, far from being incompatible, are mutually generative.
A loving husband and devoted father, Frederic achieved greatness as a gifted scholar, a dedicated teacher, a generous Christian and a gentle but effective reformer. True to the example of St. Vincent de Paul, he creatively sought to respond to the needy with sensitive charity and worked tirelessly to replace class struggle with just relationships.
A good man is a good man . . . is a good man. Even so, each period of history establishes its concept of goodness, requiring of those so classified the special virtues which match the unique needs and spirit of the times. The model man is usually associated with such terms and practices as personal maturity; social responsibility; sensitivity to others and to all living beings; compassion and authenticity. These are the very qualities which Frederic Ozanam cultivated to an extraordinary degree.
If people everywhere – and especially the young – seek identity in a Man for Now, their best model can be found in the person of Frederic Ozanam.
Enthusiasm for the man and his achievements has not diminished through the passing years; and today many voices are being raised, suggesting and praying that the Church herald his example by declaring him a modern day saint.
Throughout his life Frederic Ozanam remained a constant beacon of compassion and charity. Frederic Ozanam was a true man of the people.
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