Saint of the Day – 9 September – Blessed Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam (1813–1853) “Servant to the Poor” Married layman, Literary scholar, Lawyer, Journalist, Professor of Law and of Foreign Literature, Apostle of Charity, Writer and Equal Rights Advocate, Doctor of Letters with a thesis on Dante that then formed the basis of Ozanam’s best-known books. His writings and teaching always revolved around the benefits to individuals and society of Christianity. Born on 23 April 1813 in Milan, Italy and Died on 8 September 1853 in Marseilles, Bouches-du-Rhône, France of natural causes, aged just 40. He founded, with colleagues, the Conference of Charity, later known as the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. He was Beatified by St Pope John Paul II in the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris in 1997. Patronages – the St Vincent de Paul Society, Politicians, Economists, Social Workers, Teachers, Journalists, Criminologists, Anthropologists, Historians, Geographers.
Antoine Frédéric Ozanam (commonly called Frédéric) was born on 23 April 1813 in Milan, Italy, the son of Jean-Antoine François Ozanam, doctor in medicine and Marie Nantas, daughter of a shopkeeper. Two years later, the Ozanam family moved back to their home town of Lyon, France. Frédéric was the fifth of 14 children, only four of whom survived. In his youth, Frédéric experienced doubt regarding the Catholic faith, during which he was strongly assisted by one of his teachers at the Collège de Lyon, the priest Abbé Noirot.
Ozanam received the degrees of Bachelor of Laws in 1834, Bachelor of Arts in 1835 and Doctor of Laws in 1836. His father, who had wanted him to study law, died on 12 May 1837. Although he preferred literature, Frédéric worked in the legal profession in order to support his mother and was admitted to the Bar in Lyon in 1837. At the same time, he also pursued his personal interest and in 1839 he obtained the degree of Doctor of Letters with a thesis on Dante that influenced many of his writings. A year later he was appointed to a professorship of commercial law at Lyon and in 1840, at the age of 27, assistant professor of foreign literature at the Sorbonne. His lectures were popular and focused on Christianity as the primary factor in the growth of European civilisation, unlike most of his colleagues, who shared in the predominantly anti-Christian climate of the time.
In June 1841, he married Amélie Soulacroix, daughter of the rector of the University of Lyon and the couple travelled to Italy for their honeymoon. They had a daughter, Marie.
Ozanam was described as ” … a man of great faith. He valued friendships and defended his friends no matter what the cost. He was attentive to details, perhaps to the extreme. … He showed a great tenderness when dealing with his family. … He had a great reverence for his parents and revealed his ability to sacrifice his career and his profession in order to please them.”
Upon the death in 1844 of Claude Charles Fauriel, Ozanam succeeded to the full professorship of foreign literature at the Sorbonne. The remainder of his short life was extremely busy, attending to his duties as a professor, his extensive literary activities and visiting the poor.
While still a student, Frédéric Ozanam and his friends led a discussion group called a “Society of Good Studies.” At one meeting during a heated debate, one voice issued the challenge, “What is your church doing now? What is the church doing for the poor of Paris? Show us your works and we will believe you!” From this, Frédéric created a group called the “Conference of Charity,” composed of pious friends, who joined works to their words. The first meeting took place on 23 April 1833 near the Saint-Sulpice Church, chaired by Emmanuel Bailly who became the group’s mentor. The Conference was placed under the patronage of Saint Vincent de Paul (1581-1660), Apostle of Charity. The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul grew rapidly and focused on two areas – visiting the poor families of Paris and nurturing the spiritual life of its members.
In his final years, Frederic oversaw the expansion of the society to Italy and then additional countries. He pioneered a newspaper, The New Era, dedicated to securing justice for the poor and the working classes. 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.
Frédéric’s naturally weak constitution fell prey to consumption, which he hoped to cure by visiting Italy but on his return to France, he died in Marseille on 8 September 1853 at the age of 40 of Tuberculosis. At that time, the St Vincent de Paul Society was active in 29 countries. Frédéric Ozanam was buried in the crypt of the church of St Joseph des Carmes at the Institut Catholique in Paris.
In 2013, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul celebrated the bicentennial of the birth of Frédéric Ozanam and its 180 years of existence. Despite the difficulties of practising faith in some countries, the Society and its members remain faithful to the spirit and ideals originally inspired by Frédéric Ozanam – Go towards the poor, go and meet them in their homes, in respect and brotherhood.
In 1925, the Diocese of Paris opened the procedure for Canonisation of Frédéric Ozanam. In February 1926, an 18-month old Brazilian boy experienced a miraculous cure from a dangerous form of diphtheria. On 22 June 1995, after a lengthy enquiry, this was officially recognised as a miracle through the intercession of Frédéric Ozanam. The 2nd stage was passed on 22 August 1997 with the Beatification of Frédéric Ozanam by St Pope John Paul II. His cause for Canonisation continues.
Ozanam“is recognised as a precursor of the Catholic Church’s social doctrine, whose cultural and religious origins he wanted to know and on which he wrote books which are still in great demand.” His works were published in eleven volumes (Paris, 1862–1865).