Sep 8 – Blessed Frederick Ozanam (1813-1853), Husband, Father, Founder of the St Vincent de Paul Society

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On this Labor Day, please remember in your prayers all those who, as His beloved children, too, believing or not, ache for the dignity of meaningful employment and physically suffer from the lack of it.  As a loving Father, may the Lord sustain them and envelop them in His loving Providence, every one, and quicken their obtaining of meaningful and satisfying work.  May He relieve all their cares, and fears, anxieties, and worries.  (Matt 11:28-30)

Many of you know my overwhelming passion for married saints, so far, far, am I from one myself!  🙂  Just ask Kelly!  🙂  On second thought, DON’T ask Kelly, please! 🙂

Also, classes begin this week at DePaul.  And so, it is almost spooky we celebrate the Feast of Blessed Frederick Ozanam this week.  Please pray for my students.  Please pray for me.  Please pray I may be faithful in my teaching and be an example of Vincentian “service to others” as St Vincent DePaul & St Louise de Marillac would have me teach and be.  Please pray my students take more away from their time spent with me than mere technical skill.  St Vincent DePaul & St Louise de Marillac, pray for me!

Frederic Ozanam lived a short life in one of the most tumultuous periods of history. Born in the year of Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Leipzig, Ozanam would witness two major political upheavals in France during his lifetime–The overthrow of the Bourbon Dynasty in the 1830 July Revolution and the end of Louis Philipp’s “Bourgeois Monarchy” during the 1848 Revolutions.  By the time of his death forty years later, France was once again an empire and once again ruled by a Napoleon.

Frederick Ozanam was a man convinced of the inestimable worth of each human being.  Frederick served the poor of Paris well and drew others into serving the poor of the world. Through the St. Vincent de Paul Society, his work continues to the present day.

Frederick was the fifth of Jean and Marie Ozanam’s 14 children, one of only three to reach adulthood. As a teenager he began having doubts about his religion. Reading and prayer did not seem to help, but long walking discussions with Father Noirot of the Lyons College clarified matters a great deal.

Frederick wanted to study literature, although his father, a doctor, wanted him to become a lawyer. Frederick yielded to his father’s wishes and in 1831 arrived in Paris to study law at the University of the Sorbonne. When certain professors there mocked Catholic teachings in their lectures, Frederick defended the Church.

A discussion club which Frederick organized sparked the turning point in his life. In this club Catholics, atheists and agnostics debated the issues of the day. Once, after Frederick spoke on Christianity’s role in civilization, 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?”

This icon of Blessed Frederic OZANAM is at the Vincentian Shrine in St Peter's Church, Phibsborough, Dublin 7, Eire.
This icon of Blessed Frederic OZANAM is at the Vincentian Shrine in St Peter’s Church, Phibsborough, Dublin 7, Eire.

Frederick was stung by the question. He soon decided that his words needed a grounding in action. He and a friend began visiting Paris tenements and offering assistance as best they could. Soon a group dedicated to helping individuals in need under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul formed around Frederick.

Feeling that the Catholic faith needed an excellent speaker to explain its teachings, Frederick convinced the Archbishop of Paris to appoint Father Lacordaire, the greatest preacher then in France, to preach a Lenten series in Notre Dame Cathedral. It was well attended and became an annual tradition in Paris.

After Frederick earned his law degree at the Sorbonne, he taught law at the University of Lyons. He also earned a doctorate in literature. Soon after marrying Amelie Soulacroix on June 23, 1841, he returned to the Sorbonne to teach literature. A well-respected lecturer, Frederick worked to bring out the best in each student. Meanwhile, the St. Vincent de Paul Society was growing throughout Europe. Paris alone counted 25 conferences.

In 1846, Frederick, Amelie and their daughter Marie went to Italy; there Frederick hoped to restore his poor health. They returned the next year. The revolution of 1848 left many Parisians in need of the services of the St. Vincent de Paul conferences. The unemployed numbered 275,000. The government asked Frederick and his co-workers to supervise the government aid to the poor. Vincentians throughout Europe came to the aid of Paris.

Frederick then started a newspaper, The New Era, dedicated to securing justice for the poor and the working classes. Fellow Catholics were often unhappy with what Frederick wrote. Referring to the poor man as “the nation’s priest,” Frederick said that the hunger and sweat of the poor formed a sacrifice that could redeem the people’s humanity.

In 1852 poor health again forced Frederick to return to Italy with his wife and daughter. He died on September 8, 1853 at Marseilles on his way back to Paris. In his sermon at Frederick’s funeral, Lacordaire described his friend as “one of those privileged creatures who came direct from the hand of God in whom God joins tenderness to genius in order to enkindle the world.”

“Those who mock the poor insult their Maker” (Proverbs 17:5)

Professor Bailly, the spiritual leader of the first St. Vincent de Paul conference, told Frederick and his first companions in charity, “Like St. Vincent, you, too, will find the poor will do more for you than you will do for them.”

“Charity must never look back, but always ahead, for the number of its past benefits is always quite small, as the present and future miseries it should alleviate are infinite”.–Bl Frederic Ozanam

On August 23, 1997, the day of Frederick’s beatification by John Paul II in Paris, the Saint Vincent de Paul Society included 875,000 members in 47,000 Conferences (teams) in 131 countries of five continents.  Frederick’s motto always was “To become better – to do a little good.”  Frederick integrated his professional life with his ministry so well.  Frederick Ozanam remains a model example of a Christian life well-lived.  His commitment to the relevancy of the Gospel in modern life continues to inspire.

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Lord,
You made Blessed Frédéric Ozanam a witness of the Gospel, full of wonder at the mystery of the Church.
You inspired him to alleviate poverty and injustice and endowed him with untiring generosity in the service of all who were suffering.
In family life, he revealed a most genuine love as a son, brother, husband and father.
In secular life, his ardent passion for the truth enlightened his thought, writing and teaching.
His vision for our society was a network of charity encircling the world and he instilled St Vincent de Paul’s spirit of love, boldness and humility.
His prophetic social vision appears in every aspect of his short life, together with the radiance of his virtues.
We thank you Lord, for those many gifts and we ask, if it is your will, the grace of a miracle through the intercession of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.
May the Church proclaim his holiness, as a saint, a providential light for today’s world!
We make this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

Love,
Matthew

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