From the French Revolution onwards, France and its people were to endure much hardship and tragedy, the Catholic Church was also not exempt from this climatic time. For Napoleon was to drag the country almost to utter destruction, but the French people are resilient, and the Church strong and firm, they would both withstand Napoleon's machinations!
Napoleon was to lead France into a terrible abyss of misery and misfortune, because of his uncontrollable ego! From an unsuccessful attempt to invade Russia in 1812, to holding captive the Pope in 1814, this action was taken when Pope Pius Vll excommunicated Napoleon. But like all tyrants Napoleon met his end at Waterloo!
So France was in desperate need of a person of Frederick Ozanam's stature and character, let us examine this son of France.
Frederick was born in the city of Lyon to what would become a very large family in the year 1813, to very proud parents Jean and Marie Ozanam. The family would grow to encompass 14 children, which was not unusual for those times.
His father was a professional, so the family was not poor though they were not of the aristocracy either. But Frederick was blessed with a curious mind and longed to learn new things and be able to discuss these with his family and friends. He longed to study literature and the arts, but his father wished for him to study law, and though Jean was a doctor by trade, he wanted his son to expand the family’s connections in the wider community.
Frederick was an obedient son, so he did as his father wished, and studied law at the Sorbonne. These were difficult years for Frederick as he searched for some meaning in his life, and to ask questions about life and Faith, he had struggled in his teens to define what exactly Faith meant to the ordinary man in the street.
It was at a discussion group that Frederick found himself challenged by the very questions he had been asking deep within his own heart. When a fellow student asked Frederick what exactly Faith meant especially as there was so much poverty, and while many discussed the appalling conditions of the poor, was it all just mere talk and little action.
Frederick after this discussion decided to take a friend and go and visit the poor, to find out for himself who was helping the needy and destitute.
What Frederick saw compelled him to take action, as he visited the poor in their homes, hospitals and prisons, Fredericks soul was on fire with a longing to offer common sense help to these impoverished people.
It was when he was about 20 years old that he met an amazing Religious, Sister Rosalie Rendu, who belonged to 'The Daughters of Charity', founded by Saints Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marrilac.
This humble nun was to provide the need and the knowledge to help the poor as Frederick wished to do, with common sense and a spirit of self reliance that the underprivileged so needed.
For Frederick did not wish to merely apply bandaids to a gaping wound, but, to help the people raise themselves above their humble births through education and trades. This would allow them the dignity to become self reliant and to support themselves and their families.
It was a grand scheme but Frederick, Sister Rosalie and many of their friends and supporters were more than ready to meet them. And with true zeal they set about their purpose of helping the poor become self sufficient, whilst at the same time, befriending them, in a spirit of mutual respect. So was the beginning of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
But love also came into Frederick’s life in the form of the lovely Amelie Soulacroix, whom he married in 1841. Upon marrying he returned to the academic life as a lecturer of great standing, and his students loved him and were often challenged by his way of thinking.
Whilst teaching at the Sorbonne, and also helping the Society of St. Vincent de Paul which had grown to approx 25 conferences, this was to take up much of Fredericks spare time. But true joy was to come into Frederick’s life with the birth of his only child, Marie in 1845, he was a very proud father and also a wonderful husband to Amelie, who grew concerned over Fredericks health.
So it was in 1846 that the Ozanam family decided to visit Italy in the hope of restoring Fredericks health, they stayed a year before returning to their beloved, France.
But Amelie was to remain concerned for Frederick and his enduring love of the poor, which took a heavy toll on his frail health. As the need grew for assistance so did the Society and Frederick was committed to helping the poor, help themselves.
As always the political turmoil in France was no help, as it underwent yet another revolution in the year 1848, but Frederick would find aid in neighbouring countries who also had started their own St. Vincent de Paul Societies.
But unfortunately Frederick paid a heavy price for his long work in aid of the needy and lonely and in setting up the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, in a spirit of charity and companionship. This led to many other countries beginning their own Vincentian Societies based on the Rule of Frederick Ozanam.
Frederick Ozanam died in 1853 at only 40 years of age.
He was beatified by Pope John Paul ll in 1997.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul still flourishes world wide to this day an enduring legacy of the love Frederick displayed towards the poor.
Peace of Christ to you ALL.
Copyright © 2005 Marie Smith. All rights reserved.