Frédéric Ozanam - A Layman for Now - Shaun McCarty, S.T.

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Frédéric Antoine Ozanam
Blessed Frédéric Antoine Ozanam
Birth 23 April, 1813
Death 8 September, 1853
Birthplace Milan, Italy
Beatified 22 August, 1997
Canonized {{{canonized}}}
Memorial {{{calendar}}}

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly and intimately linked with mankind and its history.[1]

These opening lines of Vatican II's "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World," established the intimate bond which should exist between the Church and humanity. The Church is church for the world, and, of its nature, must continually face the challenge of modernity: to speak the message of Christ to people today by word and deed in terms of a contemporary culture. The scope of the Church's concern embraces everything that is human. And these human persons are called into a community which is led by a Provident God on a pilgrim journey through history to salvation.

As we face the challenge of modernity today, it is perhaps helpful to look for people in the past who have met the challenge successfully so as to find illumination and inspiration for our present task. Frederic Ozanam may be such a model.

In a brief but productive life (1813-1853), Ozanam responded to the call of his own era in France by joining ideas and action in a life's task of reconciling past and future, faith and reason, Church and world, rich and poor. With this work I hope to capture something of his effort, and show its relevance for today.

The Church in general and Christians in particular face the perennial questions of modernity: How can we live the faith today? How discern, receive and hand on a living tradition that is at once faithful to the past and responsive to the present? How love this Church enough to challenge it? How unite a world of ideas with one of action? How square reason with faith? How utilize advances in human knowledge, yet keep the critique of faith? How integrate a career in society with a Christian vocation? How bring one's gifts into concert with others in tasks of ministry? How strive to lessen the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots"? How try to mediate between the factions of a divided world so that we may be one?

More specifically there are current issues that confront American Christians with a challenge to their ministry and spirituality for which we might search the past for illumination and inspiration. We obviously face many of the same challenges confronting the rest of the world, but these are some special concerns for us in terms of urgency and our unique opportunities of responding. Among these are the three related areas of 1) social justice; 2) sharing ministries; 3) spiritual discernment.

First we might focus and clarify the issues:

Social Justice -In a land so richly endowed with this world's goods and the opportunities to pursue the ideals of human life in freedom; in a culture so rich in its diversity; in a land so numerically and nominally Christian; but also in a world of such unequal distribution of the earth's material resources and technological capability; in a world so disparate in terms of the means of human development; in a world where so many are deprived of basic human rights by conscious and unconscious agencies of oppression, how can American Christians live the Gospel genuinely and credibly? How can Christian life be truly "Catholic" for Americans?

This particular issue of social justice happens to be paramount right now for the followers of Frederic Ozanam in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and was a major theme treated in their International Assembly in Paris in 1979. Their preliminary discussions revealed two things: 1) that theoretical research on how to define Justice and Charity was of little value; 2) that they must preserve the character of Charity proper to their Society and avoid going astray toward aims at variance with its vocation and possibilities. It was hoped that the Paris meeting would be an opportunity for "self-examination" to see if this action is "a proper answer to the demands of charity and justice in the world around us and in what ways we might improve on it."[2]

Sharing of Ministries -At a time of growing complexity and specialization, when the needs of ministry are so vast and demanding rendering individual effort more futile and frustrating; with the increasing recognition of the variety of gifts for ministry within the Christian community; and as the scope of ministry widens, how can Christians from various walks of life collaborate better for mutual spiritual growth and apostolic effectiveness?

Spiritual Discernment -In an age of increasing personal responsibility as well as alternatives for choice; with a growing complexity of factors entering the decision-making process; with the decreasing adequacy of safe general norms susceptible to easy application, how can individuals and groups make truly Christian decisions for personal and corporate growth worthy of Christian commitment? In a word, how balance the polarities besieging modem American Christians?

In seeking illumination and inspiration for the pursuit of answers to these questions, I have made certain presuppositions that provided me with a point of view and also colored my process of selection from the thoughts of Ozanam: 1) That ministry and spirituality are closely related in the practice of an apostolic spirituality; that is, one suited for an active Christian in the world. 2) That genuine Christian spirituality is the lived Gospel in response to a contemporary cultural situation. 3) That the contemporary relevance of any Christian spirituality is illumined by its past heritage.

Specifically, there are model individuals who have embodied Gospel values to a marked degree whose vitality continues to incarnate the same Gospel values in a new and different time and culture. Like the Gospel itself, the lives of these individuals tend to reach beyond time and place. Thus, my point of view in approaching the topic: How did a young man of nineteenth century France capture the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul who preceded him by almost two centuries? How might his life and work, especially that pertaining to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, illumine and inspire Christians today, especially young adults in the United States?

My approach in this project did not involve doing history or biography as such. I used history to bring out Frederic Ozanam's Christian character that it might speak to the present. I tried to capture something of the spirit or interiority of Ozanam to see how he perceived a tradition of Christianity, transformed and translated it in terms of his culture and how he handed it on as heritage for the future.

I will, therefore, I) attempt to situate Ozanam in his own times by indicating some of the problems and issues that challenged him to choose among alternatives; 2) present a biographical sketch of Ozanam to provide a context in which specific aspects of his life might better be understood; 3) focus upon how the spirit of the Gospel reflected through Vincent de Paul affected him and his companions; 4) examine how his own process of discernment was at work; 5) allow something of his vision of being a Christian in the modern world to emerge by selecting excerpts from his own writing, especially his correspondence; 6) attempt to see how any insights gained from this search might be used by American Christians today with specific reference to the three areas mentioned above.

Chapter 1 - Cultural Context

...the environment in which Frederic Ozanam sought to realize the Christian ideal was much like our contemporary culture. It was a world full of violence and turmoil -secular, unstable, crisis-ridden. It was a world of uncertainty and fear[3]

Thus writes an American biographer of Ozanam in the mid-1960's.

From the time of the fourth century when Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire, French Catholics, like most Western Christians, assumed that their culture was Christian. It took the Enlightenment and the French Revolution of the eighteenth century to bring to a boil the secular trends that were simmering beneath the surface of the culture.

The French Revolution had left in its wake the uprooting of old beliefs and traditions as well as the destruction of old institutions. With the coming of Napoleon, the country was almost without religion. (To this day, ancient churches like the Cathedral at Chartres bear the scars of vicious destruction and profanation.) Reason was literally enthroned as goddess in the Pantheon, once a sacred shrine to St. Genevieve, one of France's great patronesses of the poor whose relics were desecrated at the time of the Revolution. Atheism and freethinking had become vogue. Religious instruction was absent outside the home. Religious orders had been banished, the faithful clergy scattered. The philosophers declared the "death of Christianity." In 1797 Napoleon himself named religion as "one of those prejudices which French people had yet to eradicate."[4]

Yet a Concordat was signed in 1801 which pleased no one, but provided at least some room for a reconstruction of a new order on the ruins of the old.

Understandably, the Church had grown very defensive about the encroachments made upon its claims. In Ozanam's time, Catholics were divided as to what stand to take. 'there was a widespread rejection not just of the excesses of the Revolution, but also of its ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Conservative Catholics grimly favored retrenchment. Liberal Catholics sought reconciliation and, though rejecting the anti-Catholic dimensions of secular liberalism, saw the acceptance of those ideals of the Revolution and the meeting of legitimate demands of the oppressed as vital to the reconciliation of the Church and modern society.

The basic issue between conservative and liberal Catholics was not a political one, but rather one of defending what the attitude to be taken by the Church toward modernity. On the one hand, should there be a withdrawal from or reconciliation with it? An unyielding defense against it or a search for new applications of Christian principles? To regard change with pessimism and resist it or to look with optimism and hope at the possibilities of development?

We will see that Ozanam made a clear and consistent choice in the liberal direction of bringing the Church to a more positive view of the modern world. This put him out of step with the prevailing conservative mood of French Catholics. But it would anticipate the more universally Catholic view that would surface in the social encyclicals and more recent pronouncements like those of Vatican II.

There was also a strong anti-clerical ( or perhaps anti-Church is a more accurate term) spirit in many quarters. Certain features of it are worth noting.

First, not all enemies of the Church were enemies of religion. Anti-clericalism was due primarily to the political involvement of Church and State.

It was originally a protest against the political pretensions of the Church. In 1798 and again in 1848 the Church cooperated in revolutions which destroyed privilege, but on both occasions it quickly abandoned the popular cause and emerged on the winning, reactionary side. It was rewarded with a reinforcement of its position.[5]

Socialism and Christianity had grown close in France by 1848.

...but the Church was too deeply instilled with the medieval idea that. ..the government of lay and spiritual matters was inextricable and that the state should lend its authority to the Church to ensure that religious principles were obeyed.[6]

It is further noted...

For a whole century, Catholicism and democracy seemed incompatible. ..Politics thus made the people increasingly reject religion -or in occasional reactions, adopt it -for reasons which were not inherently religious.[7]

Second, anti-clericalism was strongest in areas where the monastic orders had large land holdings under the ancien regime where the presence of the Church had been felt most strongly and especially where the Jansenists had been most deeply entrenched.

This was somewhat of a paradox as one historian has noted:

Jansenism ...was also a source of individualism and of a certain kind of egalitarianism -but its moral rigorism undoubtedly had the effect of turning people away from the Church. It set up traditions of anti- clericalism and it was by no means a mere memory in the nineteenth century.[8]

Finally, anti-clericalism to a certain extent was France's alternative to Protestantism elsewhere, but which had been largely stamped out in France by the combined efforts of Church and monarchy. Thus. .."It was no accident that Protestants took a leading part in the anti-clerical movement. ..and its revenge was therefore twofold."[9]

A word must be said about the socio-economic scene. The France of Ozanam's time was marked by increasing numbers of poor people and inadequate measures of assistance for them. The Napoleonic system left public charities to the discretion of each of the nation's communes most of which had very limited re- sources. Cities like Paris had a disproportionate number of very poor people. In 1829, one in twelve were classified as "indigent." By 1856, the figure had declined one in sixteen.[10] Thus there was enormous need and scope for charitable efforts at the time.

An economic survey of the time summed up the plight of the urban poor in this way:

When work is continual, the salary average, (and) the price of bread moderate, a family could live with a sort of ease and even make some savings if there are no children. If there is one, it is difficult; impossible if there are two or three. Then it can survive only with the assistance of the government or some private charity.[11]

In addition to the more obvious problems of the poor - wages, living conditions, lack of necessities of life -a new, industrial, mass society was being born. And its violent birth was met with fear and resistance by the upper-classes.

It was not merely a matter of low wages and long work hours. Living conditions, especially in the rapidly growing cities were dreadful. Violence, disease and immorality were rampant.

Furthermore, the plight of the poor was worsened by the greed and indifference of the upper-classes. The power of the State only strengthened the position of the wealthy. The whole spirit of society was hostile to the poor.

In the midst of this exploitation of the wealthy, indifference of the State and alliance between Church and State, it is little wonder that the workers responded with hatred and violence. And it became imperative for Christians like Ozanam to speak and to act so that the Church could be a Church incarnating Jesus in a modern world.

Chapter 2 - Biographical Sketch

Frederic Ozanam was born on April 23, 1813 in Milan, Italy. He was the fifth child of fourteen born to Jean-Antoine- Francoise and Marie Nantas Ozanam, ardent French Catholics of middle-class circumstances. His father had served with distinction as an officer under Napoleon, retiring early to become a tutor and later to practice medicine. When the city of Milan fell to the Austrians in 1815, the Ozanams returned to their native city of Lyons in France where Frederic spent his early years.

At seven he suffered the loss of his sister, Elsie, which came as a great grief to him because they had grown close as she patiently helped him with his early lessons. Frederic became a day student at the Royal College of Lyons where he quickly showed an aptitude for and an interest in literature and where he would later become editor of a college journal, The Bee.

In a letter written when he was sixteen we have something of an autobiographical account of these early years:

...They say 1 was very gentle and docile as a child, and they attribute this to my feeble health; but 1 account for it in another way. 1 had a sister, such a beloved sister! who used to take turns with my mother to teach me, and whose lessons were so sweet, so well-explained, so admirably suited to my childish comprehension as to be a real delight to me. All things considered, 1 was pretty good at this stage of my life, and, with the exception of some trifling peccadilloes, 1 have not much to reproach myself with.

At seven years old I had a serious illness, which brought me so near death that everybody said I was saved by a miracle,. not that I wanted kind care, my dear father and mother hardly left my bedside for fifteen days and nights. I was on the point of expiring when suddenly I asked for some beer. I had always disliked beer but it saved me. I recovered, and six months later, my sister, my darling sister, died. Oh! what a grief that was. Then I began to learn Latin, and to be naughty; really and truly I believe I never was so wicked as at eight years old. And yet I was being educated by a kind father and a kind mother and an excellent brother; I loved them dearly, and at this period I had no friends outside my family,. yet I was obstinate, passionate, disobedient. I was punished, and I rebelled against it. I used to write letters to my mother complaining of my punishments. I was lazy to the last degree, and used to plan all sorts of naughtiness in my mind. This is a true portrait of me as I was first going to school at nine and a half years old. By degrees I improved; emulation cured my laziness. I was very fond of my master; I had some little successes, which encouraged me. I studied with ardor, and at the same time I began to feel some emotions of pride. I must also confess that I exchanged a great number of blows with my companions. But I changed very much for the better when I entered the fifth class. I fell ill, and was obliged to go for a month to the country, to the house of a very kind lady, where I acquired some degree of polish, which I lost in great part soon after.

I grew rather idle in the fourth class, but I pulled up again in the third. It was then that I made my first Communion. O glad and blessed day! may my right hand wither and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I ever forget thee!

I had changed a good deal by this time; I had become modest, gentle, and docile, more industrious and unhappily rather scrupulous. I still continued proud and impatient.[12]

At sixteen the young Ozanam started his course in philosophy and became greatly disturbed by doubts of faith for about a year. However, he was able to survive the ordeal with the help of a wise teacher and guide, Abbe Noirot, who was to exercise a strong influence on Frederic throughout his life. In the midst of this crisis, he made a promise that if he could see the truth, then he would devote his entire life to its defense. Subsequently he emerged from the crisis with a consolidation of the intellectual bases for his faith, a life commitment to the defense of Truth and a deep sense of compassion for unbelievers.

Despite a leaning toward literature and history, Frederic's father decided on a law career for him and apprenticed him to a local attorney, M. Coulet. But, in his spare time, the young man pursued the study of language and managed to contribute historical and philosophical articles to the college journal.

In the Spring of 1831 Ozanam published his first work of any length, "Reflections on the Doctrine of Saint-Simon," which was a defense against some false social teaching that was capturing the fancy of young people at the time. His efforts were rewarded with favorable notice from some of the leading social thinkers of the day including Lamartine, Chateaubriand and Jean-Jacques Ampere.

Ozanam also found time outside of work to help organize and write for the Propagation of the Faith which had begun in this same city of Lyons.

In Autumn of the same year, Frederic was sent to the University of Paris to study law. :At first he suffered a great deal from homesickness and unsuitable company in boarding house surroundings. But after moving in with the family of the renowned Andre-Marie Ampere where he stayed for two years, he had not only the nourishment of a very Christian and intellectual milieu, but also the opportunity to meet some of the bright lights of the Catholic Revival like Chateaubriand, Montalembert, Lacordaire and Ballanche.

It was at this time that Frederic's attraction to history took on the dimensions of a life's task as apologist, to write a literary history of the Middle Ages from the fifth to the thirteenth centuries with a focus on the role of Christianity in guiding the progress of civilization. His aim was to help restore Catholicism to France where materialism and rationalism, irreligion and anti-clericalism prevailed. He made plans for the extensive studies he would need to equip him for this vocation.

It was not long before Ozanam found the climate of the University hostile to Christian belief. So he seized the opportunity to find kindred spirits among the students to join in defending the faith with notable success. Among these was one who was to become his best friend, Francoise Lallier .

Under the sponsorship of an older ex-professor, J. Emmanuel Bailly, these young men revived a discussion group called a "Society of Good Studies" and formed it into a "Conference of History" which quickly became a forum for large and lively discussions among students. Their attentions turned frequently to the social teachings of the Gospel.

At one meeting during a heated debate in which Ozanam and his friends were trying to prove from historical evidence alone the truth of the Catholic Church as the one founded by Christ, their adversaries declared that, though at one time the Church was a source of good, it no longer was. One voice issued the challenge, "What is your church doing now? What is she doing for the poor of Paris? Show us your works and we will believe you!" In response, one of Ozanam's companions, Auguste de Letaillandier, suggested some effort in favor of the poor. "Yes," Ozanam agreed, "let us go to the poor!"

After this, the "Conference of History" became the "Conference of Charity" which eventually was named the "Conference of St. Vincent de Paul." Now, instead of engaging in mere discussion and debate, seven of the group (M. Bailly, Frederic Ozanam, Francois Lallier, Paul Lamanche, Felix Clave, Auguste Letaillandier and Jules De Vaux) met on a May evening in 1833 for the first time and determined to engage in practical works of charity. This little band was to expand rapidly over France and around the world even during the lifetime of Ozanam.

In the meantime, Frederic continued his law studies, but kept his interest in literary and historical matters. He was also able to initiate other ventures like the famed "Conferences of Notre Dame" which provided thousands with the inspired and enlightening sermons of Pere Lacordaire. This was another expression of Ozanam's life-commitment to work for the promotion of the Truth of the Church.

In 1834, after passing his bar examination, Frederic turned to Lyons for the holidays and then went to Italy where he was to gain his first appreciation of medieval art. After this, he returned to Paris to continue studying for his doctorate in Law. When he finished, he took up a practice of law in Lyons, but with little satisfaction. His attention turned more and more to literature. When his father died in 1837, he found himself the sole support of his mother which kept him in the field of law to make a living.

In 1839, after finishing a brilliant thesis on Dante which revolutionized critical work on the poet, the Sorbonne awarded him a doctorate in literature. In the same year he was given a chair of Commercial Law at Lyons where his lectures received wide acclaim and where, after an offer to assume a chair of Philosophy at Orleans, he was asked to lecture also on Foreign Literature at Lyons which enabled him to support his mother. She died early in 1840, leaving him quite unsettled about his future. At the time, Lacordaire was on his way to Rome to join the Dominicans with the hope of returning to France to restore religious life. For a while, Ozanam entertained the idea of joining him, but again under the guidance of Abbe Noirot and with the consideration of his commitment to the constantly expanding work of the Conference of Charity which were multiplying around France, he decided against pursuing a life of celibacy and the cloister.

In the same year (1840), to qualify for the Chair of Foreign Literature at Lyons, Ozanam had to take a competitive examination which demanded six months of grueling preparation. He took first place easily with the result that he was offered an assistantship to a professor of Foreign Literature at the prestigious Sorbonne, M. Fauriel. When Fauriel died three years later, Ozanam replaced him with the rank of full professor, no mean accomplishment for a man of his early years. This established him in the midst of the intellectual world of Paris. He now began a course of lectures on German Literature in the Middle Ages. To prepare, he went on a short tour of Germany. His lectures proved highly successful despite the fact that, contrary to his predecessors and most colleagues in the anti-Christian climate of the Sorbonne, he attached fundamental importance to Christianity as the primary factor in the growth of European civilization.

After years of hesitation concerning marriage, Frederic was introduced by his old friend and guide, Abbe Noirot, to Amelie Soulacroix, the daughter of the rector of the Lyons Academy. They married on June 23,1844, and spent an extended honeymoon in Italy during which he continued his research. After four years of happy marriage, an only daughter, Marie, was born to the delighted Ozanams.

All during this time, Ozanam, who had never enjoyed robust health, found his work-load increasing between the teaching, writing and work with the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul. In 1846 he was named to the Legion of Honor. But at this time his health broke down and ,he was forced to take a year's rest in Italy where he continued his research.

When the Revolution of 1848 broke out, Ozanam served briefly and reluctantly in the National Guard. Later he made a belated and unsuccessful bid for election to the National Assembly at the insistence of friends. This was followed by a short and stormy effort at publishing a liberal Catholic journal called The New Era which was aimed at securing justice for the poor and working classes. This evoked the ire of conservative Catholics and the consternation of some of Ozanam's friends for seeming to side with the Church's enemies. In its pages he advocated that Catholics play their part in the evolution of a democratic state.

At this time, too, he wrote another of his important works, The Italian Franciscan Poets of the Thirteenth Century, which reflected his admiration for Franciscan ideals.

During the academic year 1851/52, Ozanam barely managed to get through his teaching responsibilities as a complete breakdown of his health was in progress. The doctors ordered him to surrender his teaching duties at the Sorbonne and he again went with his family to Southern Europe for rest. It did not deter him, however, from continuing to promote the work of the Conferences.

In the Spring of 1853, the Ozanams moved to a seaside cottage at Leghorn, Italy, on the Mediterranean, where Frederic spent his last days peacefully. Though not fearing death, he ex- pressed the wish to die on French soil, so his brothers came to assist him and his family to Marseilles where Frederic died on September 8, 1853.

He has been revered since as an exemplar of the lay apostle in family, social and intellectual life. The work he began with the Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul has continued to flourish. At his death, the membership numbered about 15,000. Today (in 1979) it numbers 750,000, serving the poor in 112 countries, a living monument to Frederic Ozanam and his companions.

The first formal step for his beatification was taken in Paris on June 10, 1925. On January 12, 1954, Pope Pius XII signed the decree of the introduction of the cause. He now (in 1979) enjoys the official title, "Servant of God."

Chapter 3 - The Spirit of Gospel and St. Vincent de Paul

Frederic Ozanam is appropriately buried in the crypt of the Church of St. Joseph des Carmes which adjoins and serves the students attending the Institut Catholique in Paris. Above his tomb is a mural depicting the parable of the Good Samaritan. If there is a single significant passage of the Gospel that his life and that of the group he helped to found incarnated, it was this one. He developed the idea in a letter to a friend who was thinking of founding a Conference of Charity in Nimes.

Although his first apostolate was an intellectual one as student, professor and writer, alongside this was an accompanying compassion for the masses and a practical program to work for them in the realm of action as well as ideas. This he pictured in terms of the parable of the Good Samaritan. In interpreting it for his own times, he saw help to the poor coming under the guidance and care of the Church rather than according to current schemes of social reform, yet being accomplished by laymen because people feared the clergy:

Society today seems to me to be not unlike the wayfarer described in the parable of the Good Samaritan. For, while journeying along the road mapped out for it by Christ, it has been set upon by thieves of evil human thought. Bad men have despoiled the wayfarer of all his goods, of the treasures of faith and love, and left him stripped and broken by the wayside. The priests and the Levites have passed him by. But this time, being real priests and true Levites, they have approached the suffering, wretched creature and attempted to cure him. But in his delirium he has not recognized them and has driven them away. Then we weak Samaritans, outsiders as we are, have dared to approach this great sick patient. Perhaps he will be less affrighted by us? Let us try to measure the extent of his wounds in order to pour oil into them. Let us make words of peace and consolation ring in his heart. Then, when his eyes are opened, we will hand him over to the tender care of those whom God has chosen to be guardians and doctors of the soul.[13]

Ozanam believed that the exercise of charity would do more to reclaim the lapsed than controversy or apologetics. In this he claimed St. Vincent de Paul as an example of someone whom even the revolutionaries admired for they ". ..considering the benefits he had bestowed upon the people, forgave him the crime of having loved God."[14]

Even when the Socialists taunted Ozanam with confining his efforts to the alleviation of individual suffering without getting at the causes, he countered that society can only be reformed by first reforming the character of the individuals making up society. He went on to attack the Socialists for breeding hatred and war in contrast to the Church's approach of building a new world by fostering justice and charity:

Certainly we must endeavor to go to the root of the evil and by wise and social reforms try to reduce the wide- spread distress. But we are convinced that a knowledge of the reforms. to be learned not so much by pondering over books or by discussions among politicians, as by going to visit the garrets in which the poor live; by sitting at the bedside of the dying, by feeling the cold which they feel, and by learning from their own lips the causes of their woes. When we have done this, not simply for a few months, but for many years, when we have studied the poor in their homes, in the schools and in the hospitals, not only in one, but in many cities, then we really begin to understand a little of this formidable problem of poverty. Then we have the right to suggest reforms which, instead of putting the fear of God into their hearts, would bring peace and hope to all.[15]

It is interesting to note that the parable of the Good Samaritan is often associated with the life of St. Vincent de Paul whose patronage Ozanam and his followers chose after beginning their Conference of Charity, later to be named the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.[16] Vincent had captured that aspect of the Gospel call for his own generation; thus it is not surprising that Ozanam and his companions would consider themselves heirs to his spirit two centuries later in the France of their day. Ozanam wrote:

Vincent de Paul was not the man to build on sand or for the moment. The great souls who draw nigh unto God have something of the gift of prophecy. Let us then not hesitate to believe that St. Vincent had a vision of the evils and the needs of our time. He is still making provision,. like all great founders he never ceases to have his spiritual posterity alive and active amid the ruins of the past.

He said in the same letter:

To choose a patron saint does not mean simply adopting a figurehead which will help us to cut a good figure in the religious world. A patron saint is a model whom we must try to imitate, as he strives himself to imitate the Divine Model, Jesus Christ. It means trying to carry on the work he has started endeavoring to acquire something of his warmth of heart, attempting to catch up the threads of the thoughts which were in his brain. A patron saint provides a model for us to copy on this earth and a protector who will watch over us in heaven.[17]

It was for the good of the members as well as for the benefit of the poor that the idea of a Conference of Charity emerged. As one author observes:

It was the novel and original idea of Ozanam to give to young men. ..a chance of doing work similar to that done by the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul. ..A widening and softening process will take place in the young man's heart as he strives to imitate the charity of his patron, St. Vincent de Paul, who on his part endeavored when on this earth to imitate the charity of Christ.[18]

In approaching the poor, Ozanam made the sentiment of St. Vincent equally applicable to the work of the Society in saying, "We must indeed admit with St. Vincent de Paul that. ..they are our superiors. 'The poor of Jesus Christ are our lords and our masters…and we are unworthy to render them our poor services!'"[19]

When the Rule for the fledgling Society was drawn up, based not on theory, but on the actual practice of the already existing Conferences, we find the Introduction inspired by the sermons and writings of St. Vincent de Paul. Baunard comments:

It is instinct with the spirit of humility, unity and charity that ought to reign among brothers as well as with a sense of duty to ecclesiastical authority. The lawgiver of the Society St. Vincent de Paul himself.[20]

It was almost a passion with Ozanam to encourage fidelity to the primitive spirit of the Society which he saw to be the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul with humility as the first virtue. He wrote:

I agree with your intention of emphasizing. ..the necessity for remaining obscure. It would be well to lay down this principle: that humility is as obligatory on associations as on individuals; and to support it by the example of St. Vincent de Paul, who reprimanded a priest of the Congregation of the Mission for calling his Association 'Our Holy Congregation.' Our guiding rule should be neither to force ourselves on the public gaze, nor to conceal ourselves from those who may wish to find US.[21]

He would say later, "Sons of St. Vincent de Paul, let us learn of Him to forget ourselves, to devote ourselves to the service of God and the good of men. Let us learn of Him that holy preference which shows most love to those who suffer most.[22]

On another occasion, when the names of Richelieu and St. Vincent were mentioned in contrasting political action with charitable works, Ozanam remarked:

The great Minister certainly played a glorious part, but who could, and would if he could, continue it today? Richelieu was but a man of one country, of one period, of a few years. St. Vincent de Paul, on the other hand, for all lands and for all time. His name is celebrated wherever the sun illumines the crucifix on a Church tower. His spirit visits the hospitals and schools of our faubourgs (streets) in the persons of his Sisters, as well as the missions of Lebanon, China and Texas, which are manned with his sons. His work never grows old: who does not wish today to continue it? If we have courage and faith, gentlemen, what will keep us back?[23]

Toward the end of his life, Ozanam had the opportunity of making a pilgrimage to the place of Vincent's birth and early years, once Pouy and later named Berceau de St. Vincent in Gascony. In a letter to A. Dufieux of December 7, 1852 he acknowledged a debt to Vincent's patronage saying, "I do indeed owe that to the beloved patron who saved me in my youth from so many dangers, and who has showered such unexpected blessings on our little conferences."

Ozanam found in the ancient oak where Vincent took shelter and prayed as a youth a symbol of the heritage Vincent left. He observed:

That fine old tree is now held to the soil only by the bark, which is eaten into with age. But the branches are superb and, even at the advanced season when we were there, the foliage was beautifully green. I saw in it the type of the foundations of St. Vincent de Paul, which have no apparent bond of union with the earth, but which nevertheless triumph over time and grow strong during revolution.[24]

He subsequently had a branch of the oak cut and sent to the Council General of the Society.

After he died, M. Leonce Curnier, a friend and correspondent of Ozanam wrote, "1 seem to see him in heaven between St. Vincent de Paul and St. Francis de Sales, whose faithful disciple he was."[25]

It was in the Gospel spirit of the Good Samaritan and in that same spirit captured by St. Vincent de Paul before him in his own native France that Frederic Ozanam was to embody a kindred spirit in terms of his own spiritual journey shaped by the influences and challenges of his own time and culture.

Since St. Vincent was the patron of the group, it was natural to turn to one of his followers for direction in finding and helping the poor. The early Vincentians were somewhat perplexed at first from not having any poor people to visit. M. Bailly suggested that they go to Sister Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity who lived and worked in the Mouffetard district of Saint-Marceau, a poor neighborhood of ill repute. Jules Devaux, one of the original band of seven, was sent to see her. She gladly advised him on how to deal with the poor, gave him a list of needy families to visit and provided bread coupons to distribute.[26]

From this time it is said, "…the destinies of Frederic Ozanam and Sister Rosalie mingled in the love of the poor, thus forging lasting bonds between the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the. ..Daughters of Charity."[27] It is further said:

It is scarcely imaginable to retrace the life and work of Frederic Ozanam without evoking the memory of Sr. Rosalie in so much as their collaboration was close in the service of the poor. ..The providential convergence of these two destinies will have marked the history of charity in the nineteenth century.[28]

Chapter 4 - The Emergence of Ozanam's Vision: Being Christian in a Modern World

When he was barely eighteen years old, Ozanam began what was to become his life's task -that of being an apologist for the Catholic faith in a life devoted to the service of "Eternal Truth" in the realm of ideas and to the service of the poor in the realm of action.

At this time he wrote a series of articles against Saint Simon-ism, a false but seductive doctrine especially attractive among the young which claimed to be the new religion with extravagant promises of social reform and liberal theories of equality that called for a return to certain primitive "Laws of Humanity ."

Ozanam attacked this teaching as based on a foundation foreign to Christian faith, as unhistorical, as illusory, as self- contradictory and as ultimately impeding human nature on its journey to perfection. His efforts were rewarded with favorable regard from such notable Christian social theorists as Lamartine and Chateaubriand. In this attempt he later saw "the seed of what is to occupy my life.[29]

His "life's task" took shape in what his biographers consider an extraordinary letter to two friends and fellow students dated January 15, 1831. In it we find: 1) a commitment to a life's task of working in the realm of ideas for the transformation of society; 2) a notion of development of society, the principles and elements of which are to be discovered by a search in our past heritage; 3) a belief in the continued presence of divine Providence in history and the need for religious ideas for continued development; 4) a strong declaration of his Catholic faith both as the solid ground on which he can personally resist doubt and as a force to lead civilization to happiness; 5) a desire to attach himself to others of like mind in pursuing this task; 6) the realization of the necessity of studies that would equip him for the task.

He speaks of the strength and persistence of his call:

When an idea has seized upon you for two years and takes the first place in your thought, impatient as it is to spread itself without, are you master to hold it back? When a voice cries to you without ceasing, (Do this, I will it! Can you tell it to keep silence?[30]

He also spoke of the encouragement he had received in the project from his friend and guide, Abbe Noirot. In another letter the following month he echoed his plans and expressed the great principle that was to dominate his outlook - the Catholicism of religious ideas as well as the great joy of being alive in his own age. He said:

When my eyes turn towards society ...the prodigious variety of events excites in me the most different sentiments: ..bitterness. ..happiness. ..desolation ...I tell myself about the spectacle to which we are called is grand; that it is great to assist at so solemn an epoch; that the mission of a young man in society is today very grave and very important. ..I rejoice at being born at an epoch when perhaps I shall have to do much good and then feel a new ardor for work. .. And I see more clearly for the last result the great principle which at first appeared to me through so many clouds -the perpetuity, the Catholicism of religious ideas, the truth, the excellence, the beauty of Christianity.[31]

I pursue my researches as much as possible. I prepare myself for work. ..and I see more clearly for the last result the great principle which at first appeared to me through so many clouds -the perpetuity, the Catholicism of religious ideas, the truth, the excellence, the beauty of Christianity.[32]

Later that same year he again asserted the absolute necessity of religion for intellectual and moral development, that reason alone was not enough. He again referred to his notion of development (palingenesis) saying:

If, then, it is true that society is to undergo a transformation at the end of revolutions which it experiences, we must acknowledge that the elements of this definitive synthesis are to be found in the past. ..In the same way as a flower contains in its bosom the innumerable germs of flowers which must succeed it, in the same way the present, which comes from the past, contains the future.[33]

His thought was influenced by some German comparative mythologists who pointed out that dogmas of Christian belief could be seen in the myths of all nations, indicating a common parentage.

Thus Ozanam was launched on a life's work of a defense of Christianity which is revealed in his subsequent historical writings.[34]

Writing to his mother on November 7, 1831, he expressed his sadness at the irreligion of Paris, yet found consolation in his parish church, St. Etienne-du-Mont:

I have seen the Pantheon…a pagan temple in the midst of a town whose inhabitants are Christians or atheists -a magnificent cupola, lacking the cross which crowned it so well ...What signifies, in effect, a tomb without a cross, a place of sepulcher without the religious thought which presides there? ...The worship of the Pantheon is a veritable comedy, like that of Reason and Liberty. But the people have need of a religion, and when they have taken from them that of the Gospel, necessity is great to fabricate for them another, were it at the price of folly and stupidity ...[35]

He continued describing the consolation in the beauty of St. Etienne.

Later that same month to his cousin, Ernest Falconnet, he expressed his conviction that all knowledge is included in religion, his admiration for the thinking of Ballanche (though later he will recognize errors in his thought)[36] and his approval of a traditional rather than psychological approach to truth.

In this Ozanam was rejecting the thinking of people like Rousseau whose rationalist thought was represented by certain professors at the Sorbonne. He aligned himself with the thought of people like Chateaubriand, Ballanche, Lamennais and the Germans, Schlegel and Goerres. We hear him beginning to express a desire to join with kindred spirits among the students. much I have desired to surround myself with young men feeling, thinking as myself; now I know that there are many such—but they are scattered abroad as the gold on the dunghill, and difficult is the task of him who would unite the defenders around one flag.[37]

To his cousin again in February 1832 Ozanam mentioned that he was responsible for conferences given by Abbe Gerbet who was laying open for the young students the philosophy of history of Lamennais.[38]

The following month he wrote to his cousin once more expressing interest in the political economics of de Coux and that he was reading Ballanche. He also described an episode involving some successful efforts of Catholic students in defending the Church against the attacks of a rationalist Professor Jouffroy and rejoiced in "God's work being done by young men."[39]

In October of the same year he again spoke of a new era for Europe when Catholicism would be once more understood and with the task of bringing Christianity to the Orient:

This redoubtable crisis will probably be decisive, and on the ruins of the old and broken nations a new Europe will arise. Then Catholicism will be understood; then Europe will be given the task to carry Christianity to the Orient. This will be a magnificent era; we shall not see it.[40]

As the new year of 1833 began Ozanam, the young man of ideas, became a man of action as he linked action to theory in describing his Conference of History: "Let's not relegate our beliefs to the domain of speculation and theory; let's take them seriously, and let our life be the continual expression of them."[41]

Then, in March, his desire for a working group surfaced again: "You know that I aspired to form a reunion of friends, working together at the edifice of science, under the standard of the Catholic idea."[42] He spoke of Montalembert as he said, ". ..another source of life are the assemblies of the young and the excellent Count de la Montalembert."[43] And his vision of the future appeared like a glorious parade of history:

The future is before us, immense as the ocean. ..above us religion, a brilliant star which is given us to follow; before us the glorious track of the great men of our country and our doctrine; behind us our young brothers, our companions -more timid -who wait for an example.[44]

A month after the first meeting of the newly established Conference of Charity, he wrote to his mother describing a public manifestation of faith on the part of the young men at a Corpus Christi procession in the town of Nanterre, home of St. Genevieve. He spoke of the day as "one of the most charming of my life."[45]

As 1834 dawned he wrote to Falconnet of a plan to show Christianity as "the formula necessary for humanity."[46] There was also a humble recognition of his own leadership among the Catholic youth even as he struggled with the uncertainty of his vocation. He referred to himself as:

...a sort of chief of the Catholic youth of these parts ...1 must be at the head of every movement. ..a crowd of circumstances, independent of my will, besiege me ...and draw me out of the line that I traced for myself….I do not tell you this by self-love. For, on the contrary, I feel my weakness so much. I, who am not 21 years old, that compliments and praises rather humiliate me, and I almost feel the desire to laugh at my own importance ...I suffer incredible annoyance when I feel that all these fumes rise to my head. ..and may make me wanting in that which, until now, has seemed to be my career. ..Nevertheless, this concourse of exterior circumstances may it not be a sign of the will of God? I know not; and in my uncertainty I do not go before, I do not run after,. but I let things come -I resist - and if the attraction is too strong, I allow myself to follow.[47]

In April Ozanam's conversion from the world of ideas to the world of action took a sharp turn:

...I have found that Christianity had been for me, until now, a sphere of ideas, a sphere of worship, but not sufficiently a sphere of morality, of intentions, of actions. ..I want to speak of faith! ...religious ideas can have no value if they have not a practical and positive value. Religion serves less to think than to act; and if it teaches to live, it is in order to teach to die. ..The value of Christianity is in this, and not in the attraction which its dogmas may present to men of imagination and of mind.[48]

It is in July of 1834 that we find his belief at the time that the Church need not consider democracy as the only true form of government. His complete espousal of democracy was not articulated until 1848. But at this time he said to Falconnet, "I do not despise any form of government."[49] In this same letter we can perceive a further expansion and integration of united action with ideas of a social scheme in which work for the poor is seen as a kind of school for the young who will regenerate France:

We others, we are too young to intervene in the social struggle: will we then remain inactive, in the middle of a world that is suffering and moaning? No, a great preparatory way is open to us! Before doing public welfare, we can try to do some good for people; before re- generating France, we can assist some of the poor. Also, I would like all young people with judgment and spirit to join together for some charitable works and to form throughout the country a large, generous association for the help of the common classes. I will tell you what to do in Paris in this matter, this year and last year.[50]

His admiration for Lamartine as the embodiment of genius and virtue is evident in a letter to Lallier of October whom he described as "a great man who has brought civilization into these places.”[51]

When faced with the crisis of expansion or restriction of membership in the Conference of Charity, Ozanam took a firm stand on the side of expansion as indispensable to growth. He wrote to M. Bailly:

Don't you think that our charitable society itself, in order to last, must modify itself, and that the spirit of friendship on which it is founded, and the enlargement it must accept, would only know how to reconcile them- selves by dividing into sections which would have a common center…?[52]

Unity with the Conference in Paris would not necessarily be by way of the same works, but by way of sharing a common spirit; namely, unity in friendship which is more important than numbers. Speaking of a harmony of spirit he said to a new Conference in Nimes:

The end which we have in view in Paris is not, I think, absolutely the same as that which you have in mind in the country ...You are breathing a pure atmosphere. You are living in the midst of good traditions and good example. The world is not crumbling under your feet. Your faith and virtue do not need organization for their preservation, but rather for their development. I do not know if I have expressed myself clearly. I would like to draw your attention to the differences in aim, since it calls for a difference in means.[53]

In February of the following year in a letter to Curnier, we find a striking expression of his dynamic and historical understanding of Christianity and his commitment to the cause of modernity.

The faith and charity of the early centuries? It is too much for our age. Aren't we like the Christians of the early times, thrown in the middle of a corrupt civilization and a crumbling society? Glance at the world which surrounds us. The rich. and the happy, are they worth much more than those who answered St. Paul? 'We will listen to you at another time!' And the poor and the people, do they enjoy more well-being than those to whom the apostles preached? ...the earth has grown cold and it is up to us Catholics to begin the era of martyrs again. be a martyr is to give one's life for God and one's brothers. is to give Heaven all that we have received from it; our gold, our blood, our entire soul. This offering is in our hands, we can make this sacrifice.[54]

He drew an important distinction between charity and philanthropy:

Philanthropy is a proud dame for whom good actions are a kind of adorning and who loves to look at herself in the mirror. Charity is a tender mother who keeps her eyes fixed on the child she carries at the breast, who no longer thinks of herself, and who forgets her beauty for her love.[55]

It is in this letter also that Ozanam presented the parable of the Good Samaritan as paradigm for the Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul which has been dealt with earlier .

The following month he evidences an attack by the "Noon- day Devil" in a letter to Dufieux:

...At this very moment, when the call from above is sounding in my ears, when I feel inspiration withdrawing from me as it were in warning. ..I cannot will, I cannot do, and I feel the weight of daily neglected responsibility gathering on my head ...I fell into a state of languor from which I cannot rouse myself . Study. fatigues me. ..I can no longer write. Strength. not in men. I am blown about by every wind of my imagination. Piety is a yoke to me, prayer a mere habit of the lips, the practice of Christianity a duty which I accomplish with cowardice…[56]

Yet, as he indicated later, he was able to carryon precisely because of the support of his friends which he perceived as an expression of divine Providence:

...I am always the same. ..abundant in words and poor in works, always suffering from my powerlessness ...finding neither strength nor repose, except in friend- ship, the lessons and the example of others. Providence has not willed that this succor should fail me. It has given me excellent friends.[57]

He spoke further of the benefits of association in good works as he acknowledged the fledgling nature of the task they had begun: "Good is done, above all, among us who mutually sustain and encourage one another. We are yet only in our apprentice- ship in the art of charity."[58]

Ozanam's aspirations were not limited to the Conference. He wished to infuse a Christian spirit also in the world of artists and poets as he wrote in reply to a friend who had formed an association of artists and who had asked Frederic to be an officer . His commitment to orthodoxy was clear as he said: "Let us be convinced. ..that orthodoxy is the nerve center, the vital essence of every Catholic society."[59]

His persistent dependence upon Providence in reference to both his own life and the life of the Conferences continually appeared as it does in a letter to his mother in June of 1836: "I am very much persuaded that in the case of charity works, one must never worry about pecuniary resources, some always come along."[60]

In a letter to Lallier on November 5, 1836, Ozanam expressed his gratitude for having been born and raised in moderate circumstances and he articulated for the first time the primacy of the social question and the duty of Christians to mediate between the rich and the poor so as to establish equality. Even this mediation he saw in terms of God's Providence:

I desire to give thanks to God for having caused me to be born in one of those positions on the limit of embarrassment and ease…where one cannot slumber in the gratification of all one's desires, but where at the same time one is not distracted by the continual solicitation of want, God knows. ., what dangers there would have been for me in the soft indulgences of riches, or in the abjection of the indigent classes,

For if the question which today disturbs the world around us is neither an individual question nor a question of political forms, but a social question; if it is the struggle of those who have nothing with those who have too much,' if it is the violent shock of opulence and of poverty which makes the soil tremble under our tread -our duty as Christians is to interpose ourselves between these irreconcilable enemies, and to bring about that the ones may despoil themselves, , , and that the others may receive as a benefit,' that the ones may cease to exact and the other to refuse,' that equality may operate as much as its possible among men,' that voluntary community may replace taxes and forced loans,' that charity may do that which alas justice knows not how to do, It is a happy thing, then, to be placed by Providence on neutral ground. , .to act as mediator…,"[61]

He repeated the primacy of the social question the following week to Janmot. Like St, Vincent and St, Francis of Assisi, Ozanam reflected here a spirituality of seeing God in the poor:

It seems that one must see in order to love, and we only see God with the eyes of faith. , , But men and the poor, we see them with human eyes,' they are there, and we can put our finger and our hand in their wounds .., and we should fall at their feet and say to them with the apostle, , , 'You are my Lord and my God…’[62]

And then, speaking of Christ reflected in Francis, he said:

His immense love embraced God, humanity, nature,'and considering that God made Himself poor to inhabit the earth, that the greater numbers among humanity are poor.. and that Nature herself, in the midst of her magnificence is poor, since she is subject to death, he desired to be poor himself also. The characteristic of love is to assimilate itself as much as is in it to the things beloved. Alas! if in the middle ages the sickness of society could not be cured by the immense effusion of love -which was made above all by St. Francis of Assisi. If later, new troubles called for the helping hands of. ..St. Vincent de Paul -how much are not needed now of charity, of devotion, of patience to heal the sufferings of those poor people, more indigent now than ever , because they have refused the nourishment of the soul, at the same time that the bread of the body is failing them! The question which divides the men of our day is no longer a question of political form; it is a social question…'[63]

In March of 1837 he again mentioned the social question, the social importance of charity and the value of a "community of charity" in addressing social needs:

Do you not find that it is marvelously pleasant to feel your heart beat in unison with the hearts of two hundred other young people scattered over the soil of France? ... And independently of the present employment which results from this community of charity, are there not great hopes for the temporal future? ...We see every day the schism. society become deeper. ..Here is the corps of the rich, there the camp of the poor. .. One only means of safety remains- it is, that in the name of charity the Christians interpose themselves between the two camps. ..that they obtain from the rich such alms, from the poor such resignation. ..that they accustom them to regard themselves anew as broth- ers: that they communicate to them a little mutual charity make them but one fold under one shepherd.[64]

A few months later when he wrote to Ampere, he spoke of his father's death remembering him as a 'servant of the poor' and as such exerting an influence on Frederic.[65]

When he wrote to Lallier in October of 1837, he distinguished various levels of life, the highest of which is the Christian life, "which draws us out of ourselves to lead us to God, where henceforth we find the central point of all our thoughts -the central support of all our works."[66]

A letter to the same Lallier the following April gives us some indication of his attitude favoring a separation of Church and State. In his own words: "For us a great thing has happened: the separation of two great words. ..throne and altar."[67]

Another theme that keeps asserting itself in Ozanam's writings as he spoke of concerted and concrete actions for the poor is individual and corporate humility. But for him it meant a genuine brand, avoiding a "modesty which keeps a man from doing good."[68]

He was insistent on the secular nature of the Conferences. Writing to M. Arthaud in July of 1839 he said, "One wants the Society to always be neither a party, nor a school, nor a brotherhood, but deeply Catholic without ceasing to be secular."[69]

To Montalembert he likewise confided his desire to keep religion separate from politics as well as his aspiration of reconciling past and future:

...the reconciliation of the past and the future, the separation of the religious principle from among the political ideas with which it is involved, the work in a word, to which you have concentrated such generous energy, begins to be accomplished even in our city…[70]

Later that same year we have some indication of the influence of his mother in shaping his notion of Church and Providence as he wrote to M. Reverdy about her death:

…it was she whose first teachings had given me faith; she who was for me a living image of the holy Church -our mother also: she who seemed to me the most perfect expression of Providence.[71]

On Christmas Day of 1839 he had occasion once more to speak of the mediating and reconciling role his Society played in the social division of their times. He pictured it as a kind of a holy 'Robin Hood' band:

The little Society of St. Vincent de Paul subsists and develops. ..We make progress in the art of plundering the rich for the profit of the poor. ..But how little is all this, my friend, in the presence of a population of 60,000 working people, demoralized by work and by the population of bad doctrines! Freemasonry and Republicanism take advantage of the troubles and passions of this suffering multitude, and God knows what future awaits us if Catholic charity does not interpose to arrest the slave-war which is at our doors.[72]

From Germany in 1842 he wrote of his conviction that that nation's greatness consisted "in the fact that Germany is indebted for her genius and her entire civilization to Christian ideals..."[73]

When he was attacked by Conservative Catholics as a "deserter from the Catholic struggle," he wrote to M. Dufieux, in June of 1843, without recrimination. The letter ends with a plea for prayers that he "shall never fail in the fraternal mandate from my friends, to defend the inseparable interests of Religion and true Science."[74]

When he visited Italy in 1847 he wrote to Lallier of finding great consolation in visiting the tombs of the martyrs and also of being present at the inauguration of Pope Pius IX whom he greatly admired because of his progressive policies.[75]

He again incurred the wrath of conservatives in 1848 when he expressed his views on democracy:

Conquer repugnance and dislike and turn to democracy, to the mass of the people to whom we are unknown. Appeal to them not merely by sermons but by benefits- Help them, not with alms which humiliate, but with social and ameliorative measures, which will free and elevate them. Let us go over to the barbarians and follow Pius IX.[76]

We have in the same year a couple of letters in which he expressed his love for the working person and for the ideals of equality and fraternity and exhorted others to go over to the side of the poor.[77] Yet he repudiated Socialism and distinguished it from the Christian reform of society as he said to Dufieux:

We are not. ..socialists in the sense that we do not want the overthrow of society, but we want a free progressive Christian reform of it. ..One cannot avoid the social issues; precisely because they are formidable God does not want us to turn them aside. We must lay a bold hand on the core of pauperism. ..I am afraid that if property does not know how to freely strip itself, it will be sooner or later compromised.[78]

The extent to which he was converted to democracy is clear as he said: "1 believe, I still believe in the possibility of Christian democracy. I don't believe in anything else in political matters."[79]

All this time, while the Society of St. Vincent de Paul had been going to the poor, Ozanam was launching a journalistic effort by way of The New Era to try to elicit the sympathy of the public. The articles embraced the whole doctrine of Christian Economics. One, in particular expressed the need for concrete action for the poor, that deeds are superior to words.[80]

He repeated to his friend Dufieux in 1851 his conviction that politics were inadequate in effecting conversion as was the government in carrying out the Church's mission. He said:

...we do not have enough faith, we want the re-establishment of religion by political means. ..No, conversions are not made by laws, but by consciences which must be besieged one by one. Let us not ask God for bad governments, but let us not try to give ourselves one of them which releases us from our duties, while taking upon itself a mission that God did not give to it in the service of our brothers' souls.[81]

In summary as we become privy to the emerging consciousness of Frederic Ozanam through his letters, we see the ideals of youth move from the realm of theory to practice and both theory and action interweave and mutually influence the other. The dream, to some extent, gets tempered by the realities of life, yet is never compromised. Not only does he never waiver in his determination to mediate in favor of the poor, but it grows stronger, even when his convictions cost him the opposition of conservative adversaries and the misunderstanding or confusion of friends.

Chapter 5 - Crises and Decisions in Implementing the Vision

As Ozanam attempted to respond to the Providential unfolding of his life's work of being an apostle of the Church in a modern world, he had to face a succession of crises in which decisions had to be made between alternative courses of action whereby he could best pursue his life's work.

Concerning his first significant crisis of faith in adolescence, he wrote to a friend in January of 1830 about the interior struggle he had experienced in his fifteenth year: ". ..After constantly listening to unbelievers and to expressions of unbelief, I commenced to ask myself why I believed. I began to entertain doubt…"[82]

Two years before his death he referred to the same crisis in his preface to Christian Civilization in the Fifth Century: "In the midst of an age of skepticism, God gave me the grace to be born in the true faith…."[83] That grace, as we have already seen, was mediated through the wise and understanding help of Abbe Noirot, his, teacher and lifelong guide. His brother-biographer observed that it was this early crisis of faith that helped Frederic become compassionate toward unbelievers.[84]

In reflecting upon Frederic's struggle and its subsequent resolution, certain facts become evident. The influences of environment and culture on faith, for good or ill, were strong. Likewise were the influences of a loving Christian family and a wise and holy guide crucial in the resolution of such a struggle with faith. Yet such struggle and suffering that accompanies it proved to be a time of testing that often precedes genuine grounding and growth for faith. The fruit of such a crisis can include a heightened compassion for others who undergo the same kind of experience. No theoretical insight can match the practical experience of resolving a personal crisis.

Then there was a more protracted crisis of career in which Ozanam was torn between his parents' desire for one in Law and his own leanings toward Letters.

It was not uncommon in the culture of his time for a young man's profession to be chosen by his parents. As a matter of fact, even today, the pressures of family preference are strong among middle and upper class French families especially. Filial docility would have prompted compliance. Thus it was that Frederic was to undergo eight years of anguish over his parents' wish that he enter the law profession. They were wary of the "temptations" of literature, a pursuit which did not seem to them to lead to any practical end.[85]

He wrote in January 1834 of his resistance to a law career, "I am experiencing what must be one of the greatest trials of my life….”[86] At the same time he was experiencing an attraction for a literary career not just through his own natural leanings, but also in outside recognition that his gifts in this direction were receiving. He says, “I am put forward…I am not saying this out of self-pride…"[87]

But Frederic's uncertainty was not ended. He consulted his brother and realized that it was not the time for a change of direction. He went on to finish his law studies, eventually got a doctorate and became for a time a barrister in Lyons, which brought a sadness at having to leave science and literature. He wrote in 1837: "1 am suffering from an uncertainty of vocation. I am to see the stones and the dust of every walk of life, but the flowers of none. The Bar especially holds less and less attraction for me."[88]

Then he came in contact with the seamy side of the law profession as he observed the methods used and said:

There is scarce any case, no matter how good it may be, wherein there is not something wrong, and in which a just advocate would not have to admit weakness. But that is not the way in which the case comes before the court. ..The Bar has thus grown accustomed to invective, hyperbole and suppression, which even the best members employ, and to which one must grow accustomed![89]

He was also shocked at the insincerity and excess with which many claims were made and declared, "I shall never get acclimated to the atmosphere of chicanery.”[90]

Yet he still found in his law career a chance to defend the poor. In one of his first cases he was appointed to defend a person too poor to afford a lawyer. He undertook the case with great energy and sincerity. For this he was ridiculed by the prosecution for taking things too seriously, to which he replied that he was amazed to find a responsible official making so little of the dignity of the court. He asked, "Was the defense of the poor mere comedy and the position of the judge that of an actor?"[91] The judges smiled approval and one bystander shook his hand.

The point that emerges here is that even in his distaste for a law career, Ozanam's deeper life commitment to Truth and to the poor remained evident.

Even later, when he was a law professor, he declared that he was interested in explaining law by the two basic ideas of justice and utility. One author points to the social theory even in his lectures on law:

Much of his emphasis was on morality in the field of jurisprudence and social economy. His twenty-fourth lecture is particularly noteworthy, for he encouraged the association of laborers, payment of just wages, and government intervention against individualistic economy.[92]

Perhaps the most arduous and persistent of his crises was that of deciding between the married and lay state and the celibate and religious state. Early in adulthood he seems to have disregard (or fear) of marriage. At 22 he wrote laughingly at one of his comrades "who is inclined to light candles at the altar of hymen with hundred thousand franc notes!" He went on to say:

To fortify myself against such a fate, and to inoculate myself against such contagion, to steep myself in the love of solitude and liberty, I have just concluded a pilgrimage with my brother to the monks of the Grand Chartreuse![93]

Frederic began to experience the awakening of passion and the desire for affection beyond the friendships he enjoyed. Yet he seemed to have woman idealized as he said:

Although my age is the age of passions, I have scarcely felt their most distant tremors. My heart has, so far known only the sentiments of comradeship. ..Yet I seem to begin to experience symptoms of another order of affection, and I begin to be afraid. I feel a void growing within me, which neither friendship nor intellectual work fills. I do not know what will fill it. Will it be the Creator? Will it be a creature? If the latter, I am praying that she may come when I shall have made myself worthy of her. I am praying that she may be. ..good looking ...she may bring great virtue in a great soul. ..that she may elevate me. as brave as I am often fearful, as ardent as I am lukewarm in the things of God, sympathetic, so that I will not have to blush before her for my unworthiness.[94]

Two years later the idea of religious life had come to compete with the call to married life and he wrote, "It is not that I have to distrust the inclination of my heart, but I feel there is such a thing as male virginity, which is not without honor and charm.”[95] He thought of joining the Dominicans because his friend, Lacordaire, had joined them and had plans of re-establishing the Dominicans and other religious orders in France. He expressed the need for guidance In this uncertainty concerning his vocation and turned once more to the Abbe Noirot who advised marriage.

Two months later at Christmas he mentioned the idea of religious life, but less hopefully to his friend Lallier. In the Spring, after his mother's death, he decided to postpone a decision pending a year's mourning. Following that year, further reflection, the course of events and the advice of Abbe Noirot, he finally decided that he was not fitted for life in the cloister, that he had a lay mission.

Baunard says that the most weighty of the many private and domestic reasons for his decision was that he was not morally free to enter religious life since he had contracted "an indissoluble bond with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. ..a work of apostolate, but of lay apostolate."[96] He recognized not only his intense loneliness and' need for affection beyond that of ordinary friends, but he also could see that good works were not incompatible with marriage. His comrades in works of charity had married. And, of course, his old friend, mentor and guide Abbe Noirot, always felt that Frederic should marry.

In fact, he had someone in mind and arranged a "chance" meeting with the daughter of the rector of the Academy in Lyons—Amelie Soulacroix. His first glimpse on entering the room where he first met her was of a young girl attending to a crippled man who was apparently her brother. "It was the charming image of charity that had just appeared to him." says Baunard.[97] He paid more frequent visits, became engaged and eventually married. He wrote to his friend Lallier on December 6, 1841:

My dear friend, the awful question of vocation, which had been unsettled for so long, has been suddenly solved. A t the same moment that Providence called me to the steep moral incline of the metropolis, an angel guardian was given me to console my loneliness.[98]

Frederic and Amelie then faced the decision of where they would live -Lyons or Paris. He put the question to her. If they stayed in Lyons it would keep them close to home. But it would mean for Frederic the abandoning of the noble mission that he had dreamed of sharing with her. She expressed confidence in him and willingness to risk the uncertainties of Paris.

After a separation of six months during which he went ahead to assume teaching responsibilities at the Sorbonne which he considered a sort of exile, he returned to marry Amelie on June 23, 1841, at the Church of St. Nizier in Lyons. He was 28 she 21. His letters to friends subsequent to the marriage expressed his intense happiness. They then left for a honeymoon in Italy that sounds more like a pilgrimage!

On August 7, 1845, an only child was born to the Ozanams and he wrote, "After a succession of favors which determined my vocation and re-united my family, yet another is added which is probably the greatest we can have on earth: I am a father."[99]

Theirs proved to be a very happy marriage. On the 23rd of each month, the date of their wedding, until the eve of his death, he presented his wife with a bouquet of flowers. When he lectured on "Christian Women in the Fifth Century," his comments on marriage were inspired by his own experience.[100] When he failed in health, he couldn't thank God enough for his wife's devotion.

In summary, what becomes evident in Ozanam's long vocational struggle is the necessity of being aware of one's personal needs as well as the directions in which one's gifts seem to be leading and the commitments one had made. Once again we see that the influences and counsel of one's friends and guides are important to the decision-making process. But what seems most obvious is the confirmation that a right decision brings peace, contentment and the furtherance of life's commitment; in Ozanam's case, to the service of Truth and the poor.

Chapter 6 - A Model for Today

In the on-going need for the Church to address the question of modernity and adaptation to a culture while yet confronting it with Gospel values, are there any insights to be gained from the life and work of Frederic Ozanam? Is he a person for our times? I believe that this brief glance at his spiritual journey reveals a number of insights with pertinence for today.

In general the very fact that he had both the conviction and the courage to make Christianity relevant for his own time and culture speaks strongly to the Church today in which some would seek to evade the painful responsibilities of adaptation and renewal. Under the aegis of orthodoxy, there are those who would hanker after "the good, old days" and like to turn the clock back to the safety and security enjoyed pre-Vatican II.

Ozanam demonstrates a strong compatibility between passionate love for the Church and orthodoxy and yet a profound commitment to a tradition of development of society aided and abetted by Christianity as promoter of growth. At the same time, his was an orthodoxy accompanied by an orthopraxy—right doctrine along with right behavior. Not only was he concerned about the integrity of Truth as preserved in the tradition of the Church, but he was also concerned about how that Truth was lived and practiced -in a spirit of love for the poor to be served and also for those both inside and outside the Church who did not share his views.

I would think that there is something here to be heard by those whose zeal for either right or left seems uncompanioned by a charity of manner in pursuing their cause. Ozanam's deep appreciation of the past as a basis for meeting the challenge of present and future confronts those who would dismiss the past as irrelevant. His unremitting belief in the action of a Provident God in the unfolding of history likewise provides confrontation for those who would see events and seek solutions from a limited, closed-world view.

His youthful aspiration and accomplishment of so much in such a short span of years is perhaps living proof of the spiritual power of the union of knowledge and virtue effected by a singleness of purpose that lends life an unequivocal sense of direction. Yet his struggle with faith and subsequent decisions about his life while experiencing intensely the human condition in terms of feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, anxiety and the like would seem to make him all the more imitable. His life hardly bears the stamp of unapproachable sanctity.

In a world since that has seen such advances in the realm of knowledge, Ozanam's love for science and his devotion to scholarship would certainly make him a kindred spirit. But, at the same time, he found no enmity between the acquisition of knowledge, the development of a critical sense and his life of faith. On the contrary, his faith lent depth to his perception and direction for his pursuit of Truth.

Despite a general aloofness from politics as such, Ozanam's vision of the future with a growing respect for and advocacy of Christian democratic principles and structures of government as well as his support of the separation of Church and State would seem to make him a congenial figure for Americans. As a matter of fact there is some indication that he was influenced somewhat by a book about the United States by a friend and kindred spirit—A. de Tocqeville's Democracy in America.[101]

(A) More specifically, Ozanam's life and work provide a model of spiritual insights in three especially pertinent areas: a) spiritual discernment; b) sharing of ministry; c) concern for justice. This is of current concern to many serious about their Christian commitment and seeking directions in their own journey today. Ozanam's early commitment to his life's work of being an apologist for the Church provided him with a basic orientation for all his subsequent decisions.

A few observations about his process of discernment:

1) His choices of career and life style were made in the light of his fundamental vision and the gifts he discovered in himself with the help of others.

2) He possessed a faith conviction that a Provident God was guiding both the history of mankind and his own personal destiny. This enabled him to move step-by-step from decision to decision with trustfulness in God. There was a sense of God's help being mediated through the guidance of his mentors and friends, yet he did not abdicate the anguish and responsibility for making his own choices. Throughout his life he possessed a strong critical sense and intellectual approach to life; yet, at the same time, he was attentive to affective dimensions of his life and allowed them to influence him. He was all too aware of his areas of un-freedom such as ambition, vanity, and anxiety for which he took measures to reduce their influence for ill on directions he took.

3) Ozanam did not leave inspirations in the realm of inoperative intentions, but translated them into action. He was not satisfied with theoretical insights or vague commitments to a cause, but rather put his gifts and energies to work to make his dreams reality. His convictions got beyond rhetoric to the point of life-involvement and were not compromised by convenience even when they were met with opposition by foe or friend.

4) The convincing criteria of true discernment in his life seem to be fundamental charity and humility. Charity animated him habitually and found concrete expression in his love of family, friends, and especially in his dedication to the cause of the poor. His humility preserved his purity of heart that is prerequisite to all spiritual discernment.

5) His love for the Church and all it represents both defending it against unjust attacks and challenging it to meet the demands of modernity constitutes the kind of ecclesial sense that seems to be the hallmark of valid discernment. Sentire cum ecclesia appears invariably in various traditions of discernment. It certainly found expression in Ozanam's life.

(B) Sharing of ministries. In addition to a current reawakening of interest in the tradition of spiritual discernment, there is also a developing sense of ministry .Its scope is broadening as recognition is being given to different gifts for ministry among all the people of God, not just clerics, and efforts have been launched to bring these gifts into concert in team efforts to further the Church's mission.

At the same time, we Americans are heirs to some extent of a Protestant work ethic and a tradition of rugged individualism which has not left our practice of ministry and spirituality un-affected. Cultural influences like these have left us more prone to individualistic rather than communitarian piety, to solitary rather than communal models of ministry, to competitive rather than cooperative striving in group effort and to work-oriented rather than person-oriented attitudes even in ministerial projects concomitant with dichotomous relationships between ministry and spirituality.

In addition, one finds at times a somewhat trivialized notion of ministry that is used to cover a multitude of altruistic activities without Gospel or Church reference or to relegate the contribution of laity to auxiliary services for the clergy.

Several observations concerning Ozanam's efforts might be made apropos of all this:

1) He had a perception of vocation as layman in the Church as well as the lay character of the Conference that grew in clarity with the passing of time. It was precisely because of the alienation of the clergy and Church from the people that he and his followers saw their work as that of a Good Samaritan.

The work to which they were committed, however, was directly related to the Gospel in that it was seen as a means of self-sanctification as well as a visible and tangible concern of Christians as Christians for their brothers and sisters in need. The intent was an explicit one of reconciliation of factions antagonistic at the time to the point of violence -rich and poor, faith and reason, past and present, throne and altar. And he saw clearly the relationship of those charitable efforts to one's personal growth in faith.

This, it appears, is pertinent to our present exploration of the concept of lay ministry in the Church and the search for integration between such ministry and spirituality.

2) It was clear from the beginning that Ozanam never meant to accomplish his great work for the Church, for the cause of Truth and in service of the poor through solitary venture. His entire disposition was to seek his goal in the company of others. He saw vividly the need for a Christian environment for both study and charitable work not just to protect one from the influences of seductive thought and un-Christian behavior, but also positively to support each other in the rigorous. demands of the apostolate as well as to enhance and broaden the base of its effectiveness. In the group he was able both to recognize and accept his own gifts and those of others and to nourish their development. Everything seems subordinated to the larger vision to which they were mutually committed.

His life seems imbedded in a mosaic of significant and mutually enriching relationships -family, wife and child, numerous friends,[102] models, guides, peers, students and followers. He was able to align himself with the thinkers and the doers who shared his vision {indeed helped to create it) and mission to the under- privileged. Yet he was able also to maintain a critical sense in dealing with what he perceived to be errors and differences in their thinking and behaving from his own.

3) Ozanam had a strong sense of Church to which his life and work were strongly attached. As we have seen, the initial impulse for the work of the Conference came as a response to a challenge for the Church to respond to the needs of the poor so that it might truly be credible.

His allegiance was to the Roman Catholic Church, not merely to a Gallican expression of it. He delighted in Italy, Rome and the papacy with all the Church's tradition they embodied. Particularly was he enamored of the ascendancy of Pope Pius IX and his promise of liberal reform. His own studies and travels brought him to Church horizons beyond his native France and these expanded horizons were reflected in his teaching and writing; in his founding and nurturing of charitable works -not just the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul, but others like the Propagation of the Faith as well. His love for the Church and his insistence on orthodoxy enabled him to espouse liberal causes and yet to avoid their pitfalls. His commitment to social reform enabled him lovingly to challenge the Church and the tradition he cherished.

This love and adherence to the Church would seem to have important implications for those who seek reform and renewal today in dealing with the structures and institutions that seem so obstructive even within the Church itself. He and his followers were adamant about keeping their Society from political involvements so as not to prejudice their purpose of serving the poor. The same logic would still hold for today when groups, both secular and religious, are prone to exert the leverage of a political power base.

4) Ozanam's leadership among his "Vincentian" brothers advocated a great openness and flexibility. From the start he advocated expansion of the Conferences as people near and far were attracted. And when it came to the variables of places and works, he favored a diversity kept in unity by the same spirit. There is much to be gained from this attitude in efforts today to find unity rather than uniformity in shared ministries and in balancing the polarities of unity and diversity in groups.

5) Social justice. Frederic Ozanam and his followers would seem to speak to current issues of social justice in ways in which these issues might be more effectively addressed by Christians. His love for and dedication to the poor was expressed in both theoretical and practical ways. As teacher and writer, he sought social reform aimed at causes and systems. As founder of the Conference, he worked tirelessly and in concrete ways to bring help to those in need and influenced countless others to join him in the task. His words and deeds foreshadowed the social encyclicals and lay apostolic movement that would come later in the nineteenth century.

(C) As he pursued this double-pronged effort to champion the cause of the poor by word and deed, several observations might be made with particular challenge to our contemporary situation:

1) He was unwilling to seek change by means of mere humanitarian reform. As we have seen, he made careful distinctions between charity and philanthropy. Both his motivating force and methodology were rooted in the Gospel. The love of God and neighbor and finding Christ in the person of the poor were the Vincentian heritage to which he made himself and his followers heir. And the protection of that fundamental charity that informed the works was a personal and corporate humility that saved the effort from the contamination of selfish pursuit or ambiguous motivations. Great insistence on anonymity in services rendered and on benefits received from serving the poor were a legacy preserved in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul.

This would seem to speak to modern efforts for liberation and the need to ground them in such charity and humility so as to avoid the pitfalls of neglecting the spiritual dimension so essential to total human development of people and sustained dedication in their behalf. This spirit of charity and humility would seem to offer much to media-conscious Americans to save them from individual and corporate recognition needs and political ambitions that can upset priorities. The spirit of Vincent and Ozanam challenges advocates of social reform to save them from the illusion of building merely a kingdom of this world for the poor, and from the deception of messianic aspiration. There are lessons to be learned in the practice of these Christian principles of charity and humility that perhaps purged the ideals of the Revolution from the chaff of selfishness that produced new oppressions. One gets the feeling with some of the modern liberation movements of our own time and culture that some striving for liberation often become new oppressors.

2) Consonant with this spirit of charity and humility, it is not surprising to find in Ozanam and his conception of the Conferences that of a mediator. Though he took clear and strong stands on issues, his design was to bridge the gaps. Consequently he displayed great respect for those whose views differed from his own as well as insistence on finding solutions through peaceful rather than violent means because he perceived this as the Gospel way.

This appears to confront polarization and tactics today that tend to divide and to conquer rather than to unite and to elicit free cooperation.

3) For Ozanam, the real school for those who would work for the poor was 'personal involvement in the lives of those to whom help was given -through visiting the poor and the sick and the underprivileged in the places where they lived and struggled. And it meant for Ozanam and his followers not just bringing them material aid, but it involved attention to deeper needs of the spirit.

Further, such personal attention to the needs of the poor was not just token and for a time, but was to endure through the years. Then Ozanam felt people would have the right and competency to theorize.

Does this not speak of an "education by action" for our own time and needs? Does it not remind us of a priority of action over theory and warn us of the dangers of theorizing from a dearth of praxis and of substituting rhetoric for action?

4) The charity of which Ozanam speaks and which he and his followers practiced would seem to embrace a biblical and contemporary understanding of justice. It was not charity in the sense of giving to people out of abundance what they have no right to. Rather it seemed to be the sharing of what belongs to the poor by right. Nor was it that the members of the Conference were to give condescendingly as a mere expression of their own largesse. Rather it was that they needed the poor more than the poor needed them. Seemingly central to the Vincentian spirit is a charity that embraces justice and makes of the poor masters to those who help them. Perhaps those sentiments attributed to St. Vincent [103] best summarize the spirit that animated him and was likewise reflected in Frederic Ozanam.

You will find out that charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the bowl of soup and full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give bread and soup. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor. ..They are your masters, and the more difficult they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give them.

In the end, the question I seem left with is how this spirit of Vincent, so well embodied by Ozanam and his followers, found such congenial soil here in the United States so early on after its beginning in France, how it has grown since and what promise it has for the future for the Church as Christians here and elsewhere seek the perennial presence of Christ in the poor.

Addendum 1 - Examen on the Spirit of Vincent


How humble am I?

In acknowledging my origins?

In letting go of my ambitions?

In seeking anonymity? In working quietly?

In giving credit to others?

In being aware of my gifts?

In handling opposition? Criticism? Misunderstanding? Being unnoticed or unappreciated?

In owning failures and faults?

In being aware of my creatureliness? Dependency?


How simple am I? How uncluttered?

In my life-style? Dress? Possessions? Tastes? Entertainment?

In my speech?

In the company I seek?

In my transparency? Straight forwardness? -53-


How charitable am I?

In realizing how much God loves me?

In putting myself out for others who don't deserve it?

In not expecting return?

In being faithful despite lack of return?

In abandoning myself to the Father's Will?

In taking on the burdens of others?

In being sensitive to the needs of others? Near and far?

In loving the poor and finding Christ in them?

In making the needs of the poor known to those who can help?

How much of a sister/brother am I to others?

How much does the American culture in which I live help me to be humble? Simple? Charitable?

How much does it obstruct?

How can my Conference help me to be more humble? Simple? Charitable?

How can I help the other people in the Conference?

If Vincent were in my situation, what would he do differently?

Addendum 2 - Examen for a Vincentian

How do you see yourself as poor?

How do you see yourself as needing the poor for your personal spiritual growth?

What special gift do you have for helping the poor?

What kinds of poverty have you found and tried to help alleviate?

Do you spend more energy in discovering needs not yet met or in reporting on those you have?

How do you help the poor beyond providing material things?

Do you take time to listen to the people you help?

How do their needs affect your prayer?

How do you show concern for the poor who suffer elsewhere in the world?

What do you do to remove the causes of people's poverty?

Do you care who gets the credit for the good you do?

What effort do you make to see if anyone else can meet the needs that you meet?

How, as a Vincentian, are you related to the Church?

What are the special needs of the Church in your region?

Do you see your work as a Vincentian as ministry?

How well are you working together with other Vincentians?

Do you attend meetings regularly?

Are you finding spiritual nourishment from them?

How shared is your decision-making?

Has growth in numbers and funds hurt or helped personal attention to the poor?



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Zeldin, Theodore, France 1848-1945. The Oxford History of Modern Europe, vols. I & II. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1973.


Baker, D., "St. Vincent de Paul, Society of," New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 12, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill, 1966, pp. 957-59.

Dattilo, F ., "The Youth Who Shook Pagan Paris," Our Sunday Visitor 61 (August 20, 1972), pp. 1ff

Hanley, G., "For your Love Alone," The Anthonian. Paterson, N.J.: St. Anthony's Guild, 1976. 30pp.

Macmillan, F. "Ozanam, Frederic, New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 10, N.Y.: McGraw-Hi1l, 1966, pp. 847-48.

Murphy, M. P., "The Frederic Ozanam Story." St. Louis, Mo.: St. Vincent de Paul Society, 1976, 16pp.

About the Author

Father Shaun McCarty, S.T. is a Missionary Servant of the most Holy Trinity (Young American congregation dedicated to a ministry with the laity for the poor), Teacher, retreat and workshop director, lecturer, consultant to religious and lay groups, spiritual director, and writer. His articles have appeared in Priest, Bible Today, Review for Religious, Sisters Today, and Catholic Digest. He has several major works in progress.

Maricopa County Particular Council Society of Saint Vincent de Paul


  1. Vatican II, "Pastoral constitution on the Church in the Modern World," The Documents of Vatican II, W. M. Abbott, ed. New York: American Press, 1966, pp. 199-200.
  2. Pittsburgh Catholic, Friday, December 1, 1978, p. 6.
  3. Thomas E. Auge, Frederic Ozanam and His World, Milwaukee: Bruce, 1966, p. viii.
  4. Kathleen O'Meara, Frederic Ozanam: His Life and Works. New York: Christian Press Association, 1911, p. 27.
  5. Theodore Zeldin, France 1848-/945. The Oxford History of Modern Europe, Vols. I-II. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1973, pp. 1024-25.
  6. Ibid., p. 1025.
  7. Ibid., p. 1027.
  8. Ibid., p. 1029-30.
  9. Ibid., p. 1034.
  10. Ibid., p. 1015.
  11. Supra, p. 32.
  12. O'Meara, supra, pp. 6- 7.
  13. Ainslie Coates, trans., Letters of Frederic Ozanam. New York: Benziger, 1886, (Letters to M.X. ____, Paris, February 23,1835), pp. 123-27.
  14. Henry Hughes, Frederic Ozanam. St. Louis: Herder, 1933, p.58.
  15. Ibid., p. 60.
  16. The idea of re-naming the Conference of Charity as the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul came on February 4, 1834, apparently at the suggestion of Leon le Provost. This confirmed a practice which had been the group's from the beginning of invoking the saint's patronage at each meeting. (cf. Charles K. Murphy, The Spirit of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. New York: Longmans Green, 1940, p. 17.) It has been suggested elsewhere that perhaps M. Bailly had suggested the name since devotion to St. Vincent had long been a tradition in his family. (cf. Albert P. Schimberg, The Great Friend: Frederic Ozanam. Milwaukee: Bruce, 1946, p. 68.)
  17. Hughes, supra, pp. 63-64.
  18. Ibid., p. 64.
  19. Msgr. Baunard, Ozanam in His Correspondence. Translated by a member of the Council of Ireland of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Australia: National Council, 1925, p. 127.
  20. Ibid., p. 114.
  21. Ibid., p. 130.
  22. Ibid., p. 273.
  23. Ibid., p. 275.
  24. Mary Ann Garvey Hess, trans., Frederic Ozanam. Cahiers Ozanam, Nos. 37/38/39 (January/June 1974), p. 125.
  25. Baunard, supra, p. 406.
  26. 0'Meara, supra, p. 62.
  27. Hess, supra, p. 73.
  28. Ibid., p. 71.
  29. Baunard, supra, p. 20.
  30. Coates, supra, Letter to M. Hippolyte Fortoul and M.H.____, Lyons, January 15, 1831, pp. 18-22.
  31. Ibid., ______, Lyons, February 21, 1831, pp. 22-24.
  32. Ibid., p. 23-24.
  33. Ibid., pp. 25-30.
  34. Sr. Emmanuel Renner, The Historical Thought of Frederic Ozanam. Doctoral dissertation, CUA, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, 1959, p. 3. This author's primary concern with Ozanam is with his historical thought. Although this is not the focus of my concern here, some of her conclusions are germane: ( 1) Ozanam as apologist comes out even in his historical writings, although he approached his study of history in a spirit of intellectual open-mindedness; (2) He demonstrated a sense of historical criticism that he developed largely through self-education; (3) His writings on literature from the fifth to the thirteenth century show the influence of traditionalism, liberal Catholicism and social Catholicism. She says: "Under the influence of the traditionalist school, he thought that art, science and morality were so clearly related to religion that progress was possible in these areas only if they were rooted in Christian metaphysical principles. He believed that the plan of God for man was the progressive realization of Christian principles in the temporal order and looked upon men and nations as instruments of divine Providence in this Christianization of the world….Despite ages of apparent decline there was progress, for society underwent a series of "revolutions; which aided in the transformation from pagan into Christian civilization..." (p. 74) .She continues: "Through his contact with liberal Catholics and social Catholic movements in France and as a result of his knowledge of the sweep of history, Ozanam came to look for the gradual establishment of the Christian principles of liberty, equality and fraternity in the political and social order. By the time of the Revolution of 1848 he had become convinced that democracy was the natural goal of political progress and that Providence was leading mankind in that direction." (pp. 74-75). ( 4) A spirit of conciliation was characteristic of his historical works, social and political activities. She says: "Conciliation did not mean concessions in matters of principles; where it was a question of defending the truth, Ozanam never hesitated." (p. 75) . It was typical of him that his defense of the Church was done in a spirit of charity. She quotes him: "The sanctity of a cause must not be compromised by the violence of the means." (Des devoirs litteraires des Chretiens, Oeuvres, VII, 153-54.) She goes on, "He deplored the use of vitriolic polemics by Catholics as detrimental to the cause of the Church." (p. 75) .( 5) Her final conclusion is that he was a good historian. She says: "Ozanam's position as an historian has been overshadowed by his contribution to social reform...his historical works deserve a greater recognition...he was a pioneer in these studies...His thorough understanding of the Catholic Church gave him a valuable insight into medieval society and enabled him, without ignoring the imperfections of time, to portray the essential influence of Christianity on medieval language, literature and art." (p. 76)
  35. Coates, supra, p. 36.
  36. 0'Meara, supra, p. 8.
  37. Coates, supra, p. 47.
  38. Ibid., p. 53.
  39. Ibid., p. 55.
  40. Ibid., pp. 60-62.
  41. Ibid., pp. 63-67.
  42. Ibid., p. 70.
  43. Ibid., p. 71.
  44. Ibid., p. 72.
  45. Ibid., p. 75.
  46. Ibid., p. 84.
  47. Ibid., pp. 85-86.
  48. Ibid., pp. 96-98.
  49. Ibid., p. 107.
  50. Ibid., p. 107ff.
  51. Ibid., p. 111; cf. also p. 121.
  52. Hess, Supra, pp. 60-62.
  53. Coates, supra, p. 117ff.
  54. Ibid., pp. 123-27; cf. also footnote 34.
  55. Ibid., p. 124.
  56. Ibid., pp. 128-31.
  57. Ibid., p. 138.
  58. Ibid., p. 146.
  59. Ibid., p. 154ff.
  60. Hess, supra, p. 120.
  61. Coates, supra, p. 167ff.
  62. Ibid., p. 173ff.
  63. Ibid., p. 173ff.
  64. Ibid., p. 182ff.
  65. Ibid., p. 193ff.
  66. Ibid., p. 200ff.
  67. Ibid., pp. 211-14.
  68. Ibid., p. 214ff.
  69. Hess, supra, p. 17.
  70. Ibid., p. 18.
  71. Coates, supra, p. 248ff.
  72. Ibid., p. 262ff.
  73. Baunard, supra, p. 195.
  74. Ibid., p. 214.
  75. Ibid., p. 249.
  76. Ibid., p. 254.
  77. Ibid., p. 255.
  78. Hess, supra, p. 21.
  79. Ibid., p. 127; cf. also footnote 92.
  80. Baunard, supra, p. 291.
  81. Hess, supra, p. 27.
  82. Baunard, supra, p. 10.
  83. Ibid., p. 9.
  84. Ibid., p. 12.
  85. Ibid., p. 79
  86. Ibid., p. 80.
  87. Ibid., p. 180.
  88. Ibid.,p.131.
  89. Ibid., p. 132.
  90. Ibid., p. 132.
  91. Ibid., p. 133.
  92. Renner, supra, p. 121.
  93. Baunard, supra, p. 177.
  94. Ibid., p. 178.
  95. Ibid., p. 198.
  96. Ibid., p. 164.
  97. Ibid., p. 182.
  98. Ibid., p. 183.
  99. Ibid., p. 231.
  100. Ibid., p. 322.
  101. Albert P. Schimberg, The Great Friend: Frederic Ozanam. Milwaukee: Bruce, 1946, p. 232.
  102. Ibid. The very title of the book gives some indication of the presence and priority Ozanam gave to friendship in his lifetime.
  103. Apparently these words from the script of the film, Monsieur Vincent, are a paraphrase of similar statements made by Vincent in various contexts.