Bl Frederic Ozanam
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 St. Vincent de Paul Society, his work continues to the present
Frédéric 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.
Frédéric wanted to study literature, although his father, a doctor, wanted him
to become a lawyer. Frédéric 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, Frédéric defended the Church.
A discussion club which Frédéric organized
sparked the turning point in his life. In this club Catholics, atheists and agnostics debated the
issues of the day. Once, after Frédéric spoke about 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?"
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 St. 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 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.
Frédéric earned his law degree at the Sorbonne, he taught law at the University of Lyon. 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, Frédéric 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, 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 St. Vincent de Paul
conferences. The unemployed numbered 275,000. The government asked Frédéric and his co-workers to
supervise the government aid to the poor. Vincentians throughout Europe came to the aid of Paris.
Frédéric 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 Frédéric wrote. Referring to
the poor man as "the nation´s priest," Frédéric 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 Frédéric
to return to Italy with his wife and daughter. He died on September 8, 1853. In his sermon at
Frédéric´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
Frédéric was beatified in 1997. Since Frédéric wrote an excellent book entitled
Franciscan Poets of the Thirteenth Century and since Frederick´s sense of the dignity of each poor
person was so close to the thinking of St. Francis, it seemed appropriate to include him among