Happy Birthday Frederic Ozanam

Blessed Frederic Ozanam

My brothers, what good is it to profess faith without practicing it? Such faith has no power to save one, has it? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and you say to them, “Good-bye and good luck! Keep warm and well fed,” but do not meet their bodily needs, what good is that? So it is with faith that does nothing in practice. It is thoroughly lifeless.

You must perceive that a person is justified by his works and not by faith alone. Be assured, then, that faith without works is as dead as a body without breath.

(James 2:14-17,24,26)

The Life of Frederic Ozanam

Although a patriotic Frenchman, Frederic Ozanam was born on April 23, 1813 in Milan, Italy. His parents were Jean-Antoine and Marie Nantas Ozanam. He was the fifth of fourteen children. He was raised in Lyons, France where his father served as a doctor.

“From his earliest years Frederic was brought into close contact with human misery and suffering, and a realization of the claims of Christian Charity. In one biography of Ozanam, it is recorded that in later years he thanked God that he had been born into a middle class family, neither rich nor poor, so that he was spared the moral dangers that lie both in the luxury of wealth and in the discouragement of poverty.” (FOS,p.3)

He was always an exceptional student. This was reflected throughout his time in various schools and afterward in his career as a university professor. He suffered through some very disturbing religious doubts in his sixteenth year. Strong guidance brought him through it. In fact, during his university studies in Paris, he and his fellow Catholic students became a strong voice for Catholicism in an increasingly non-Catholic society.

These students chose Joseph Emmanual Bailly as their mentor, their guide to their intellectual discussions, their mature advisor in other matters. Bailly provided them with a location and support for their historical debate society. He was selected to be the first president of the conference of charity formed in 1833. And, it was under his influence that St. Vincent de Paul was later chosen as the patron saint for their works of charity. 

Frederic and his friends were challenged during a debate in the spring of 1833. “We agree that at one time your Church was a great Church and was a source of great good…What is your Church doing now? What is she doing for the poor of Paris? Show us your works and we will believe you.” It was as if the letter of James was open before him: “faith without works is as dead as a body without breath.” Some weeks later, under the guidance of Monsieur Bailly, Frederic, Francois Tallier, Paul Lamanche, Felix Clave, Augusta La Tallandier, and Jules De Vaux formed the Conference of Charity (later to be known as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul).

Frederic spent most of his life lecturing at Universities and establishing conferences of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Wherever he traveled, he would either work to found a new conference or be sure to visit an existing one. The Society which he founded to benefit his beloved Church, to serve his loving God, was ever dear to him.

Frederic was a family man. He married late in life and had one child, a daughter. He was very devoted to his wife and child, he would never let other matters draw him away for long. “He retained the youthful amour of his marriage, observing each month the wedding anniversary with a thoughtfully-chosen remembrance. In a busy world and life, he found time for his only daughter, regaling her at his knees with tales and imagery of the past he knew so well.” (AMM:9,p.248)

From early childhood, his health had been a burden to him. He had always been sickly. A few months after his 40th birthday he died in Marseilles. On September 8, 1853, he died peacefully in the presence of his family, while members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul prayed for him.

On January 12, 1954, Pope Pius XII signed the decree of introduction for the beatification of Frederic Ozanam. On August 22, 1997, Pope St. John Paul II presided over his beatification. His official title is now “Blessed Frederic Ozanam” and his feast day is September 9.

(The above excerpt was taken from Mike Syslo’s Book, Vincentian Spirituality)

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