Thought for the Day – 9 September – The Memorial of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam (1813–1853) “Servant to the Poor” and Founder of the St Vincent de Paul Society
A man convinced of the inestimable worth of each human being, Frédéric served the poor of Paris well and drew others into serving the poor of the world. Through the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, which he founded, his work continues to the present day.
Once, after Frédéric spoke about Christianity’s role in civilisation, 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?”
Frédéric 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 Saint Vincent de Paul formed around Frédéric.
Feeling that the Catholic faith needed an excellent speaker to explain its teachings, Frédéric convinced the Archbishop of Paris to appoint Dominican Father Jean-Baptiste Lacordaire OP (1802-1861), 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. Meanwhile, the Saint Vincent de Paul Society was growing throughout Europe. Paris alone counted 25 conferences.
In 1846, Frédéric, Amelie, and their daughter Marie went to Italy, there he 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 Saint Vincent de Paul conferences. The unemployed numbered 275,000. The government asked Frédéric and his coworkers to supervise the government aid to the poor. Vincentians throughout Europe came to the aid of Paris.
In 1852, poor health again forced Frédéric to return to Italy with his wife and daughter. He died on 8 September 1853. In his sermon at Frédéric’s funeral, Fr 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.”
Frédéric was beatified in 1997. Since Frédéric wrote an excellent book entitled Franciscan Poets of the Thirteenth Century, and since his sense of the dignity of each poor person was so close to the thinking of Saint Francis, it seemed appropriate to include him among Franciscan “greats.”
His commitment to the plight of those in need and social justice for all, inspires us to look around our communities today—outside our safety zones—and activate the Christian virtues of charity that we are all called to by the life of Jesus. He said:
“Yours must be a work of love, of kindness, you must give your time, your talents, yourselves. The poor person is a unique person of God’s fashioning with an inalienable right to respect. You must not be content with tiding the poor over the poverty crisis, You must study their condition and the injustices which brought about such poverty, with the aim of a long term improvement.”
Prayer for the Canonisation of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam
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 those 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 inspired
by St Vincent de Paul’s love, boldness and humility.
His prophetic social vision appears in every aspect of his life,
together with the radiance of his virtues.
We thank you Lord, for these many gifts.
May the Church proclaim his holiness,
as a saint, a providential light for today’s world!
We ask this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord.