Biography of Frederic Ozanam (1)

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Author: M. Teresa Candelas, D.C. · Translator: Charles T. Plock, CM. · Year of first publication: 1997 · Source: La Milagrosa, Madrid.
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Presentation by: José Ramon Diaz-Torremocha

Jesus said to them again: Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you (John 20:21).

During the Church’s lengthy and fruitful history of service to people and their salvation (salvation being understood as whole and complete and not merely spiritual), she has extended this command of Jesus (mentioned at the beginning), but not always in the same way.

Viewing the last three centuries of the Church’s history which are of interest to us in presenting this important text of Sister María Teresa Candelas, D.C., it becomes obvious that the turmoil in the ecclesial interpretation of its mission is formidable. From a mission that was understood to be exclusively bound to those who had dedicated their life to following the evangelical counsels through the intensity of their consecration, the Second Vatican Council returned to the very roots of the gospel and reminds us that all the baptized who have received a participation in the priesthood of Christ have also received a participation in its mission. It is affirmed: All the laity, then, have the exalted duty of working for the ever greater spread of the divine plan of salvation to all men, of every epoch and all over the earth. Therefore may the way be clear for them to share diligently in the salvific work of the Church according to their ability and the needs of the time (Lumen Gentium, #33).

Several centuries before, Saint Vincent de Paul burst forth on the scene of the Church and caused a profound commotion. The vision of Christ poor and abandoned, served by laywomen who took vows annually, was an authentic revolution in the world that understood the action of the Church as being accomplished through the ministry of the priests (diocesan or religious). Religious life for women was lived out behind the protected walls of the cloister. The foundation of the Daughters of Charity flowed from a conviction that Saint Vincent summed up with the following words: The Daughters of Charity are not religious but persons who come and go like lay women. This supposed a tremendous step forward in the understanding of the laity’s responsibility in the life of the Church. This same vision would be embraced later by Frederic Ozanam during the nineteenth century and its validity and necessity for the universal Church would be confirmed at the Second Vatican Council.

A Daughter of Charity writes about this important servant of the Church, Frederic Ozanam and the pages that follow are the result of years of work and a love of Frederic and all that he represented for Sister Rosalie Rendu, D.C., without whom it would be difficult to understand the history of the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul that Frederic and his companions established in Paris in 1833 and which today is probably the most important organized Catholic movement in the world.

With regard to Frederic Ozanam, professor, politician, parent, committed layman, profoundly convinced about the mission of the laity in the Church, Father Jaime Corera, C.M. has written: with a certain ease the original Vincentian spirit could be adapted to the radical changes of history and this is proven by Frederic Ozanam. His was the only attempt that was seriously undertaken to adapt the original Vincentian spirit to a social and historical era different from that of Vincent de Paul. These pages deal with this adaptation. As the reader moves through these pages, it is suggested to proceed slowly and savor the text. Attempt to situate yourself in the historical era that provided a framework for the life of these young men who founded the Conferences. If Frederic was the primary mover of this group of founders, Sister María Theresa has left open for us a very wide area in which to place the action of the Spirit in an ecclesial group which in that era was quite unusual. As we pointed out previously, many years would pass before the Church, in her thinking and writing, would admit the possibility that the laity could be responsible for the mission of the Church, before the Church would direct such demanding words to both the hierarchy and the laity such as those of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church cited above … the duty of the laity as evangelizers and not mere passive subjects of evangelization.

This group of committed Christians with the prophetic vision of their ecclesial responsibility and with the single mindedness of Frederic Ozanam would have an impact on every area of human activity. Frederic showed the depth of his commitment in his denunciation as a Christian, a denunciation which the author writes in the pages that follow: this article could be catalogued as a sermon of a cleric. Here the reference is to Frederic’s writing entitled To Good People which without a doubt had to be an incredible shock for the society of that time.

This group of Christian intellectuals, whose efforts resulted in the establishment of the Catholic Institute in Paris, was able to take on responsibility and commit themselves to direct cooperation in the plan of salvation history.

Today, as the world continues to move forward and collaborate in the plan of salvation history, it becomes necessary to present non-consecrated individuals, gifted men and women who are able to commit themselves and contribute to this wonderful mission, experiencing the mission as their own, making this mission their mission and carrying out this mission in a communion of prayer and action with their pastors. Such individuals are inspired by the treasures of the Church and empowered to tell people that they are loved by God.

Sister María Teresa Candilas, D.C., does this perfectly as she writes about Frederic Ozanam. Here all persons of good will, all those who follow and believe in the ability of the human person to become better each day, all those who have Christ as the model for their life, … all of you will enjoy reading these pages … a reading that will also be a prayer in the literal sense of raising the mind and heart to God because when speaking of Frederic Ozanam, God is always present.

In a special way, committed lay people will discover that this text opens new paths for them and these pages will be frequently consulted.

Prologue by: Fernando Quintano, C.M.

The 1987 Synod of Bishops dealt with the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and in the world twenty years after Vatican II. In 1988 John Paul II published his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici which constituted a new impulse for the laity in the Church and once again made known the Council’s concern for this branch of the ecclesial tree, the laity. This study about the life and work of Frederic Ozanam, written by Sister María Teresa Candelas, D.C. can be inserted into this current of revitalization that examines the contributions of the laity.

The exhortation of John Paul II points out some positive aspects and some temptations that have accompanied the flourishing of the laity after Vatican II. Among others: the temptation of being so strongly interested in church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world; and the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, that is, a separation of the gospel’s acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world (Christifideles Laici, #2).

In reading this biographical study of Ozanam one discovers that this faithful laymen knew how to overcome the temptation of separating faith from life, faith from culture, faith from social commitment. I am a member of the Church and a member of the University … Charity fills out what justice cannot accomplish by itself. These two convictions of Ozanam reveal a vibrant spirit and are essential elements of his faith and profession, elements that led him to understand that the social and moral questions of his day demanded structural reform. Pope John Paul II points out a similar path to the laity today.

This is not an attempt, as in many biographies of historical persons, to present Frederic as a precursor of the actual currents of thought and action. Rather this is an attempt to state and highlight the fact that in the history of Christianity there have been believers who lived their faith in the midst of the world and that Christian lay people today cannot live out their faith unless they place themselves in the midst of contemporary realities, realities different from other eras, but realities that should lead them to think and act in a different way. This is the evangelical dynamism of faith. This is what John Paul II asks of lay Christians today: A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle (Christifideles Laici, #3).

The author presents us with a man of faith, Frederic Ozanam, fully immersed in the political, social and economic situation of France during the turbulent nineteenth century. Frederic lived his enlightened and militant faith. At times combative, as we see in his lectures as a university professor and the articles that he wrote for different publications as well as the organizations that he established.

In this academic work, Sister María Teresa presents herself as she is: a Daughter of Charity, a professor of history and a catechist of young people. Her intention: that young people today will also overcome the temptation to live their faith on the margins of history. She is aware of the fact that this temptation continues to be strong for many lay Christians, especially for lay Vincentians. Ozanam is a witness who can enlighten the path to overcome this temptation.

As a Daughter of Charity the author is aware of her responsibility to encourage lay Vincentians. This work is her practical contribution to this task. The multi-faceted person of Frederic Ozanam is presented as being bound up with the spirit of Vincent de Paul. The Vincentian spirit resounds in his way of understanding Christ and the poor, wealth and poverty, justice and charity, and the need to be near and with the poor. It was no mere coincidence that Saint Vincent was declared the patron and protector of the Society that Frederic established. It was also no coincidence that Frederic and his companions should meet and collaborate with Sister Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity.

I want this publication of Sister María Teresa to be seen as a way of collaborating with the efforts of aggiornomento which the Society that Frederic established, the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul, must continually engage in. A permanent reflection on the life and action of its founder and the simultaneous reading of the signs of the time are the paths pointed out by the Council for all authentic renewal. The incorporation of new generations of young people, with a keen sensitivity of justice and charity and social commitment toward those living on the margins of society, the incorporation of Christian volunteers inspired by Vincent de Paul and Frederic Ozanam who sincerely love the Church community and the People of God incarnated in the world … this incorporation will urge on the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul to live their vocation as lay Christians in and for the world of today.


Frederic Ozanam has been examined and has obtained the classification cum laude. We are speaking about a total examination with regard to love, God incarnated in the poor, the hungry, the ill, the imprisoned, foreigners, etc. (Matthew 25). As an excellent disciple of Jesus, Frederic always acted consistently, conforming his life to the demands of the Kingdom. In the gratuitous and universal love toward the poor Frederic saw an intimate bond with the suffering Christ.

For this reason John Paul II desired to honor him by raising him up on the altar. As his heroic virtue became known, the Pope invited us to discover, in this servant of God, his personality and his work and so Frederic is placed before us as model of Christian life.

Yes, he is a person who must be discovered. As one becomes more knowledgeable about his writings, his life and his works, one notices an outstanding and noble person who is both attractive and captivating. A sensitive person with regard to truth, beauty, good … he is loved from the first encounter. At times it is necessary to dust off and exhibit such Christian models

• who through their example, help us discover the importance of human action;

• who allow us to move beyond meanness and differences of opinion;

• who allow us to discover them as God’s instruments who move the strings of transcendence and time and history;

• who allow us to recognize that we are human beings and not machines … persons with an eternal destiny, called to collaborate with God in creating a more just and more human world and to do this in the midst of the mediocrity and stagnation of the material world that surrounds us;

• who allow us to recognize that we are human persons and that following their example we can be freed from trauma, bitterness, fear and discouragement when confronted with the contradictions and evils of this world … that following in their footsteps we can become witnesses of God’s love for people, thus sharing with others our joy, love and hope.

In his day Frederic Ozanam was a captivating and prophetic voice to a multitude of people who were disoriented. He was the precursor of the role of the laity in a Church that was stagnated by the Revolution, in a Church that he loved and whose flaming torch he desired to see raised once again on high. He was a deeply spiritual man, filled with a love of God … nothing superficial or inconsistent. He was consistent during his youth and level-headed in his maturity, responsible in his studies and responsible as a university professor, kind toward his friends, and firm in his convictions even when faced with hostility. He appeared as a “graft” on the revolutionary tree that Vincent de Paul had planted in the seventeenth century, thus producing a “new branch” and contributing to the growth of the Vincentian Family. This was done at a time when the Vincentian Community of priests and brothers and the Daughters of Charity were concerned about re-establishing themselves and defining anew their mission and their place in a new society that was beginning to form. By a decree the French Revolution had suppressed the Congregation of the Mission, the Company of the Daughters of Charity and the Ladies of Charity. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, another decree reconstituted the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity, but the Ladies of Charity would have to wait another fifty years before they could engage in ministry as an organized group.

It was during this time that Frederic appeared in history. He was greatly concerned about the future, especially with regards to the social question. He was concerned about the problems that arose at the beginning of the industrial revolution, problems that had severe consequences on those living on the margins of society: the proletariat. With a vision of the future and long before the words of “class struggle” would cry out from socialist voices, Frederic planted the need for a new understanding of the concepts of work, salaries, workers organizations, etc. In light of Marx and other socialists, Ozanam appears as a buffer between the two antagonistic groups who would soon become engaged in a “class struggle” … a struggle that was drawing near. The two groups are the following: the producers or businessmen and the other, the workers. It is necessary to reconcile their respective interests because modern society is found on these interests. This is not a political question, but rather a social question.

Frederic Ozanam presents some insights that should be kept in mind at the present time: The first duty for Catholics is not to fear themselves; the second, not to frighten others. It is rather to reassure those who are uneasy with political and financial crisis through which we are passing, by pointing out that Providence is at hand. Let us not be too solicitous for tomorrow. “What shall we eat and wherewith shall we be clothed?” Be brave, seek first the justice of God, the good of the nation, and all else will be added.

We could fall into the danger of viewing Frederic as a “programmer of ideas” and nothing else. Yet Frederic was continually concerned about seeking concrete human and Christian solutions for the oppressed, for workers, and for the poor. He was insistent on this point and in this he was in accord with his country that was seeking similar solutions. Today, following his example, we can take him as a model, keeping in mind as he did, the present historical situation in which we live … thus, with this broad platform, we can expend and consume ourselves with furthering the establishment of the kingdom.

Sister M. Teresa Candelas, D.C. Province of Saint Louise de Marillac April 23, 1997

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