Blessed Frédéric Ozanam

Frédéric Ozanam was a 20 year old university student when he was challenged by another student to put action to his words about his Catholic faith. Along with five other students and an older friend, Emmanuel Bailly, and through the spiritual guidance and practical advice of Sister Rosalie Rendu, DC, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul began.

A brief but productive life (1813-1853)

Doubts of faith

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 Frédéric 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.

Birth: 1813

Frédéric Ozanam was born on April 23, 1813 in Milan, Italy. He was the fifth child of fourteen born to Jean-Antoine-François 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 Lyon, where Frédéric spent his early years.

Early years, loss of his sister

At seven he suffered the loss of his sister, Elsie, which came as a great grief to him: "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." -from a letter he wrote at age 16

Writing about his childhood

"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."

First Communion

"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."

Law Student

Despite a leaning toward literature and history, Frédéric's father decided on a law career for him and apprenticed him to a local attorney, M. Coulet. In 1831 he entered the Sorbonne in Paris to study law.

First major publication

Although a law student, 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.

Apologist

While away at school, 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 environment, 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 Frédéric's attraction to history took on the dimensions of a life's task as apologist...His aim was to help restore Catholicism to France where materialism and rationalism, irreligion and anti-clericalism prevailed. It was not long before Ozanam found the climate of the University hostile to Christian belief.

Conference of Charity

1833 - Establishes the Conference of Charity with other Sorbonne students. 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. The "Conference of History" became the "Conference of Charity" which eventually was named the "Conference of St. Vincent de Paul."

Origin of St. Vincent de Paul Society

At one meeting during a heated debate among Ozanam and his friends, 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!"

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