Blessed Frederic Ozanam Biography (I)

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoFrédéric OzanamLeave a Comment

Author: Unknown · Year of first publication: 2003 · Source: Magazine: Ozanam - A Lay Saint for our Time.
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To beatify someone does not mean to erect a statue of the person. On the contrary, according to the Latin etymology (beatificare = beatum facere), it means “to make happy”.

Indeed, in beatifying Frederic Ozanam, the Church solemnly proclaims in the light of God and for all eternity to all of Christendom, and all youth in particular, the sanctity of the principal founder of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. At the same time we are all “made happy” because this admirable witness given by one of our brothers in Christ and in humanity fills us with joy, hope and courage.

Over the centuries, the Church has raised men and women to the altar; many have been adults, some elderly, and others vowed to celibacy as a result of their monastic or priestly vows.

But now we are offered a young man as a model, whose life though brief (April 23rd 1813 to September 8th 1853) was nonetheless exceptionally blessed. This young man elevated family, conjugal and fatherly love to a great height. His many and varied commitments, all sustained with the same spiritual vigour, were dedicated to faith and charity, to the Church, to the poor, to science and to democratic spirit. Last but not least, he was a man of flesh, blood and spirit just like us, who incarnated a type of Christian with whom we can identify. He also incarnated an ideal which was nourished by the Gospel and provided answers both to the questionings of his contemporaries and to the concerns of our generation.

We can never forget that the 19th century, in which Ozanam lived and worked, was the preparation for our 20th century which has now ended. In a similar fashion to the last century, this century is moved by new ideas and technological, economic, social and spiritual change.

Yet one can say quite truly that Ozanam’s life was unique. To insensitive eyes and heart his existence can seem to resemble many others. In fact, it has a more and more powerful influence over our world, this modern world which is so eager for light. When we call upon the Blessed Ozanam for help, it should not be first and foremost to obtain some favour, but above all to ask that our lives as men and women, especially the youth of the world, be invigorated by his example and his witness.

A man rooted in his time

A Man like us

Frederic Ozanam has sometimes been pictured as a holy man who was quite remote from the world – so given to God, to piety, to holy works, that he could seem unfamiliar with ordinary human passion. This image of him must be discarded once and for all. For when we become acquainted with Frederic’s writings and with his marvellous and numerous correspondence, and when we read the witnesses of his daily life, we discover a fascinating soul, a generous heart which was never satisfied and always on the alert, beating at the same rhythm as that of his next of kin, his friends and his brothers and sisters in adversity.

A man of flesh and blood

Frederic was not different from other human beings.

He led a fully human life which was transformed, even made sublime, by a holiness which he acquired progressively, it never gave way to a puritan outlook.

Just like all of us, Frederic was confronted as the days went by with ordinary daily life, much of which was grey and flat.

Like everyone of us, Frederic was concerned about his health, the condition of his family, his standard of living, his future, his success, his promotion in the university, winning such and such a prize or decoration, or quite simply, that life was slipping by and not allowing him to pursue his scientific work as far as he would have wished.

One should add that like a true Frenchman, Frederic did not turn down a good meal or a good wine.

A religious Sensibility

Man does not live on bread alone; above all, he needs spiritual food. Frederic was provided with this thanks to his parents and teachers. However, during his adolescence, like many young people, he was assailed with doubts about the truths of faith and the Christian meaning of life. It was sometimes hard to imagine a possible harmony between Divine Revelation and the modern world that was already turning away from God and thirsty for technical progress.

While he, too, lived through this “night of faith”, Frederic remained deeply attached to the creed of his childhood. He forced himself to persevere in his religious duties, to pray and receive the sacraments. The habit of examining his conscience enabled him to track down what he considered to be the four main obstacles that hindered the progress of grace within him: pride, impatience, weakness and meticulousness.

A Lucid Mind

Frederic was lucid about himself and his faults. This moved him, on the one hand, to ask forgiveness of those who were wounded by his changes in mood; on the other, to maintain an attitude of humility which was only to be intensified over the years with the failing of his health and the trials towards the end of his life. This created in him a genuine spiritual poverty, even to the point of his achieving surrender to the divine will.

In 1848, he wrote to his friend Foisset: “My youth is fading away and I cannot see myself becoming any better for it. In three months I will be 35 years old. Even supposing that I follow what remains of the path faithfully to the bitter end, I am afraid of finding myself empty-handed.”

To Dufieux in 1850 he wrote: “I have known myself for a long time and if God has been kind enough to grant me a little fervour in my work, I have never taken this grace to be the dazzling gift of genius. No doubt I have wished to devote my life to the service of faith, but considering myself only as a useless servant, as a worker of the eleventh hour…”

If Frederic defended his ideas with spirit, he was nonetheless, deeply respectful of the stand taken by those who did not share them: “Let us learn to stand up for our convictions without hating our adversaries, and to love those who think differently from us.”

On the other hand, he had difficulty enduring the obstinacy of intolerant people: “the bigwigs of orthodoxy who see their political opinions as the 13th article of the Symbole.” We find him rebelling against certain articles in “The Universe”, the extremely right-wing newspaper of Louis Veuillot, who was the leader of the obstinate Catholics who opposed the liberal Catholics.

To his friend Alexandre Dufieux, who seemed shaken by Veuillot’s arguments, Ozanam sent a letter: “Would I, dear friend, be worn out with exhaustion at 37 years of age, then, and handicapped by premature and cruel infirmities, if I had not been sustained by the desire and hope of serving Christianity? Certainly I am nothing but a poor sinner before God, but he has not yet permitted that I cease believing or that I deny, conceal or tone down a single article of our faith.”

Frederic Ozanam was a man of the Gospel Beatitudes: poor in spirit, gentle, pure in heart, and persecuted for the sake of justice, for having been the leader of the “party of love”, founded by Christ.

A Family Man

Antoine Frederic Ozanam was born on April 23rd 1813, in Milan, Italy.

The Ozanams were originally from Dombes, the south-western part of the province of Ain, to the north-west of Lyon in France. Frederic’s father, Jean Antoine François Ozanam was born in 1773, in Chalomont in Dombes.

Son of a royal notary, who under Louis XV had become a royal judge, Jean Antoine had under his jurisdiction Chântillon-sur-Chalaronne, the village where Saint Vincent de Paul, parish priest there in 1617, had founded the first “brotherhood of Charity”.

The French Revolution took place and disrupted everything, particularly the life of the citizens of Lyon. Jean Antoine Ozanam was a law clerk at the age of 20 when he was affected by the military draft of all young single people. He became one of the “Soldiers of Year II” who would be exalted by Victor Hugo.

With the 1st Hussars, he was sub-lieutenant in 1796 and took part in the Italian campaign led by Bonaparte. Demobilized in 1799, Jean Antoine settled in Lyon where on April 22nd 1800 he married Marie Nantas, the 19 year old daughter of a Lyon silk merchant. Marie Nantas was to be a devoted companion to her husband and an exemplary mother to her children.

Jean Ozanam settled with his wife in Lyon and was initiated into the silk trade by his father-in-law. However, the day after the birth of their first child, Elisabeth (February, 1801), the Ozanams were faced with financial difficulties that were to last for several years. Jean Antoine was often without work. He moved to Paris at the end of 1801 and embarked upon business dealings which were always unsuccessful and which often took him abroad.

In 1807, he left the capital and settled his wife and children in Lyon. He then went off to travel all over Italy as a salesperson. In 1809 he called his family to Milan where they settled. On December 27th 1810, after a year of strenuous work, he qualified as candidate for Doctor of Medicine. He was to become “the good Doctor Ozanam”.

But, due to Napoleon’s misfortunes, they were obliged to leave Milan on October 31st 1816. They sailed to Marseille and settled again in Lyon, on rue Pizay, close to the Town Hall. Doctor Ozanam became a doctor at the Hotel-Dieu Hospital in 1817.

Frederic worshipped his father’s memory. If Doctor Ozanam was a man of science whose research and work stood in the forefront of a medical science still somewhat archaic, he was first and foremost a model family doctor who was untiring, human and compassionate. He considered medicine to be a vocation, and he would often tell his children that to carry out this mission fittingly one had to be prepared to give one’s life for one’s patients. During the bloody 1831 riots and the deadly cholera epidemic of 1832, they would witness the truth of such a remark in their father’s dedication.

A Filial Affection

Frederic retained a powerful memory of his mother. Her deeply Christian faith, that has been tempered by so many trials, helped her share with her husband a life of unremitting work that was invigorated by daily prayer and the practice of the Gospel virtues. The religious life of the Ozanam family blossomed in the setting of the Lyon parish of Saint Peter and Saint Saturnine. It was on his mother’s lap that Frederic, like the other children, learned of the grandeur and gentleness of God and gained a taste for prayer and the practical virtues. At night, the whole household would gather around Jean Antoine and Marie for evening prayer, which was followed by a devotional reading.

And what a warm home! A certain austerity was tempered by limitless affection as well humour and cheerfulness.

Besides his mother, Frederic benefited from the warmth of two other female presences: one was his older sister, Elisa (Elisabeth) – twelve years older than he was, of whom he wrote: “I had a sister, a beloved sister who educated me along with my mother and my childhood lessons in which I found real pleasure”. The other was the faithful family housekeeper, Marie Cruziat, nicknamed “Guigui”. She was already 45 years old when Frederic was born and died only in 1857, aged 89, having serving in the household of three generations of Ozanams for 72 years.

Steadfast in Times of Trial

Yet this happiness was not the whole story: there was another side to the Ozanam family. The repeated bereavements must have taken their toll. Of the fourteen children born to Jean and Marie, eleven died; ten of these were girls and almost of them died very young or were stillborn. Only the eldest survived. She was the guardian angel of the little ones, a friend and companion to her mother, and the apple of her father’s eye. Being a good musician himself, he had Elisa take music lessons as well as classes in drawing and English. And then on November 29th 1820, Elisa, a gentle young girl, was carried off by death at the age of 19.

The fact of having seen his father and mother weep so much over the loss of their children must have intensified Frederic’s natural sensitivity and made him even more attentive to the lives and to the pain of his fellow human beings. Coming from a family whose means were often slender, Frederic learned that material poverty is not only the hallmark of those who are called “poor” but also that it is often present around those who are called “middle class”.

“ I feel like giving thanks to God for having being born in a social position which was on the borderline between financial difficulty and being comfortably off. Such a position accustoms one to hardship without leaving one totally ignorant of enjoyment. In that position one cannot go to sleep at night satisfied in one’s desires but one is not preoccupied either by the constant call of need”. (Letter to François Lallier, November 5th 1836).

He also owed to his mother’s example the concern that he showed throughout his life towards the men and women of the working classes. Despite the fact that she was overwhelmed with domestic work, she still found the time to dedicate herself to the Saint Pierre section of the Society of “Nightwatchers”, made up of volunteer working women who took turns to spend the night with women who were sick or in distress.

After the death of their three month-old Louis-Benoît, in 1822, and the birth in 1824 of their last child, Charles, the Ozanam family found itself reduced to three children: Alphonse (1804-1888) who was to be a priest and receive the title of Monsignor, Charles (1824-1890) who was to be a doctor like his father and Frederic, born in 1813.

The return to the Lord of all their little sisters, then of their father (1837), and mother (1839) naturally intensified the bonds that united the three Ozanam brothers.

After his marriage to Amélie Soulacroix, in the church of Saint-Nizier, in Lyon, on June 23rd 1841, Frederic showed the same filial devotion towards his father and mother-in-law: a respect mingled with deep affection.

A Man of Two Cities: Lyon and Paris

One day Frederic Ozanam declared: “It has been said that Paris is the head of the kingdom and that Lyon is its heart”. What was true for France was equally true in Frederic’s life. If professional obligations divided his life between the capital and the seat of the Primate of the Gauls, Frederic’s thoughts were frequently most often in Paris, which could not be ignored as the indisputable cultural centre, whereas his heart remained in Lyon.

Lyon: Spiritual Centre, Seat of Rebellion

There is plentiful evidence of Frederic’s attachment to Lyon, the city where he spent his childhood, adolescence and some of the best years of his youth and where he got married. As he wrote in 1832, “childhood habits, family affections and the bonds of friendship” linked him to this city. Mentions of these abound in his correspondence, for example, in a letter addressed to Dominique Meynis from Paris in 1843: “ You know that I have remained very attached to Lyon in the depths of my heart… Since I have been called to my perilous duties in Paris, every year I have gone to place them under the patronage of Our Lady of Fourviére, to whom I was dedicated from early childhood.”

He also wrote, again from Paris, to his brother Charles, in 1850: “I am writing these few words so that you never pass through Lyon without finding a reminder of me, and so that you do not feel alone in a city where everything is shared by us, and where you must think even more vividly of all those whom we miss.” (Frederic’s father and mother lie and rest in the Lyon cemetery).

When the Ozanam family settled in Lyon in 1816, the city consisted of only 140,000 inhabitants. In 1846 there were 180,000, the growth in population being noticeable in la Guillotiére and on the Hill of the Croix-Rousse. Here, taking advantage of the sale of former monastic land, the silk workers set up new workshops with ceilings high enough to contain the Jacquart looms whose technical efficiency ensured Lyon’s supremacy in the silk trade. In 1831, at the time when the silk workers rebelled against the terms of the salary imposed on them by the manufacturers, foremen in the silk workshops numbered 8,000.

Frederic was in love with this city situated at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone, with its high narrow streets, its embankments, its hills, its “slopes”, its panoramas, its cheerful surroundings, its noise – the clatter of the looms, the stamping of the horses pulling the countless heavy cargoes of silk bundles, and its active and industrious population.

Lyon was above all a spiritual centre whose vitality was to play a large part in making Frederic Ozanam one of the pioneers of the Catholic Renewal in France. In 1905 a journalist rightly pointed out that “the city of Lyon has always been one of the centres where the spiritual life and Christian thought exist in all their intensity and this is likely to become more and more true. The soul of the natives of Lyon is deeply religious and accompanied by a remarkably practical and cool spirit and a bold and enterprising character.”

Lyon was the cradle of the first Christian community and of the first Episcopal Church of the Gauls (2nd century), from which comes the title of “Primate of the Gauls” given to its Archbishop. It was again a fervent religious centre from the 11th to the 14th centuries; throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Lyon enjoyed an intense spiritual vitality (“Lyon School”, the “Social Chronicle” the spiritual Resistance during the Second World War).

Soon after a revolution which had dismantled it, the Church in Lyon found its footing again, thanks in particular to Cardinal Joseph Fesch, Napoleon’s uncle. The Church’s works of mercy and institutions grew in number. The most influential and universal of these was the Propagation of the Faith, founded in 1820 by Pauline Jaricot, the daughter of a Lyon clothing merchant. She became the symbol and foundation stone of the rebirth of the French Catholic missions. Frederic, who was one of the driving forces behind this movement, always considered it as typically part of his home city. In 1845, when he was the Paris correspondent for the Lyon Council of the Propagation, he wrote: “Just as neither Saint Ireneus nor Our Lady of Fourvière can be taken from us, we cannot be robbed of the Propagation of the Faith either.

The poor, in Lyon more than anywhere else, cried out for the attention and dedication of Catholics. During the great floods of 1840, the new Archbishop, Monsignor Maurice de Bonald, estimated the number of the poor in Lyon at 20,000. The mortality rate there was higher than in the rest of France, rising as high as 30 in every 1000 in 1834, due to a year of destitution, strikes, unrest and typhoid and smallpox epidemics. During the winter of 1829 -1830, the intense cold had lasted from early October to late February, and the mortality rate had doubled. And one must not forget the bloody rebellions of the silk workers in November 1831 and April 1834, which caused hundreds of deaths.

It is not surprising then that, very early on, Frederic tried to develop the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Lyon, where he lived from 1836 to 1841.

This picture of a fervent Lyon must not eclipse the existence during the same period of powerful anti-clerical movements in this city of silk manufacturers and silk workers: in 1820, ten Masonic lodges were rebuilt. As always, Frederic was very sensitive to the very noticeable alliance between middle class egoism and lack of belief. On January 15th 1831, he expressed the aversion he felt for the new class in power: “They live an industrialized and materialistic life, each is concerned with his own personal comfort and well being… Material order, a modicum of freedom, bread and money, that’s all they are interested in.”

This atmosphere of unbelief succeeded in sowing the seeds of doubts in the heart of the adolescent. In October 1822, he went to the Royal College of Lyon and studied Classics with brilliant results. In 1827, his studies in Rhetoric caused him to question his faith. However, it was at the same college, thanks to his philosophy teacher, Father Joseph Mathias Noirot, that he gained both peace of mind and spiritual enlightenment.

In 1829, with a Bachelor in Arts, he decided to “devote his life to the service of the truth”. He even envisaged a “demonstration of the Catholic religion from historical, religious and moral beliefs in Antiquity.”

Frederic’s dream was nurtured by his reading of Chateaubriand, Lamartine and Lamennais, renowned apologists of Christianity captivating so many young people of that period, and whose style and argumentation were to influence Ozanam. He also rediscovered peace of mind and his enthusiasm as a young Christian in the company of two great thinkers who were natives of Lyon but whom he met in Paris: Andre Marie Ampère (1775-1836), member of the Lyon Academy who wrote a dissertation on the “Historical Proofs of the Divine Nature of Christianity”, and Pierre Simon Ballanche (1776-1847), a writer who in 1801, had his work “Of Sentiment” printed on his father’s press, a work which prefigured “The Genius of Christianity”; Ballanche was the one who communicated to the young Frederic the hope which he invested, as a citizen and Christian, in the spirit of liberty and solidarity.

In October 1830, Frederic, who was drawn to the study of the Arts and History, but whose father wanted him to study Law, began working as a clerk for Jean Baptiste Coulet, an attorney to the Lyon Magistrates’ Court. One year later, on November 1st 1831, Frederic bought a ticket on the coach of the Royal Mail Service that was to take him on a four-day journey to Paris where he was going to study Law.

Paris: Intellectual Capital; Melting Pot of Poverty

On November 5th 1831, Frederic Ozanam discovered the capital. Right away the capital disappointed him. The sight and even the visits of its monuments did not impress him. He quickly became conscious that beyond its beauties and its lights “Old Lutetia” flaunted its “horrors, its shacks, its corruption”Ostentatious luxury rubbed shoulders with appalling poverty, the same poverty that Victor Hugo was to depict a few years later in “Les Miserables”.

The Paris de of Louis-Phillipe in which Frederic settled was not yet the Paris which Baron Haussmann (appointed Prefect of the Seine on June 28th 1853) was to transform into the “City of Light” where some 700,000 Parisians lived. Many lived in precarious conditions in this metropolis that was ill-adapted to the demands of modern life.

With the exception of the aristocratic neighbourhoods, everywhere else there were dilapidated tall tenements and overarching narrow streets. There were grimy and cluttered, with no pavements or drains. They reverberated with the cries of the tradesmen, and the noise created by the uneven cobblestones and the bad repair of the wheels and springs of carriages drawn by horses. It is understandable that the dreadful spectacle of cholera, which claimed million of victims in the capital in 1832, shattered Frederic.

The majority of the inhabitants had such meagre incomes that still in 1846, out of the population of about a million inhabitants, more than 650,000 were exempt from taxation. Two out of three of these were unable to pay for their death shrouds, the mortality rate was 30 out of every 1000, was higher than the national average. 11,000 out of the 27,000 annual deaths occurred in hospitals, which was a considerable proportion when one recalls the fear that people had for those places.

Prior to the 1848 revolutions, Paris contained 300,000 destitute people who were numerous in the arrondissements and suburbs. The city was eaten away by the raw wounds of irremediable moral depravity, abandoned children, prostitution, cohabitation among the workers and common people. It is necessary to take account of these miseries and misfortunes in order to understand Frederic Ozanam’s vocation for social charity.

Quite naturally this city, with its revolutionary tradition, and whose narrow streets were suitable for making barricades, became the scene of social eruptions. Frederic was a witness to the workers’ uprisings of 1832, 1833 and 1834, as well as to the enforcement of tough police laws, after the attempt made by Fieschi on the life of the King Louis-Phillippe in July 1835.

One can understand that in this macabre city of Paris, Frederic Ozanam was at first perplexed, discouraged and indeed frightened. This all the more for the fact that his deeply sensitive nature bore his solitude with difficulty, and especially the separation from those he held most dear: “I am so used to family chatter…, and here I am thrown, without any support, or any rallying point, into this capital of egoism, into this whirlwind of passion and human error.” … “How I miss my parents. I am too young to be able to get used to coming back to a deserted home and going to bed without having anyone to tell what’s on my mind. Separated from those I love I cannot put down roots in this foreign soil. In myself I feel a childlike need to live in the family home, close beside my father and mother, and this need withers in the air of this capital.”

Happily, it was the Latin Quarter in which Frederic lived, with its 5,000 students. Many came from Lyon and in the heart of this colony of natives of Lyon, with André Marie Ampère, who opened up his home to him, Frederic found his joy of living again and was able to preserve his Christian faith.

At the time Paris was considered to be “one of the capitals of disbelief”: an important number of the propertied and ruling upper and middle class as well as the majority of academics were supporters of Voltaire. This fostered an atmosphere that Frederic could only escape by keeping the company of dedicated Christians like Emmanuel Bailly and André-Marie Ampère, or by the company of liberal Catholic intellectuals. Frederic admired their combination of faith, eloquence, courage and freedom of mind and expression. They were: Felicity de Lamennais, Henry Lacordaire, Charles de Montalembert and Lamartine.

It was by listening to these teachers that Frederic convinced himself “that somewhere the words of a believers must be uttered, a religious education must be given, at a level of competence and notoriety that would thwart the teachers of the public who are broadcasting rationalist doctrine.” (Marcel Vincent).

Yet Frederic was in Paris, above all, to complete his studies. After obtaining his degrees – Bachelor of Law (1834) of Arts (1835), Doctor in Law (1836) and in Arts (1839) – he became an attorney of the Bar in Lyon in 1837. It was in the city of Lyon that in 1839 he became a tenured Professor of Commercial Law. The following year, he passed the aggregation exam of the Faculty of Arts and, although recently appointed, specialized in teaching. On October 9th 1840, he was appointed deputy to Claude Fauriel as a professor in Foreign Literature at the Sorbonne. After getting married, the newlyweds settled in Paris. Frederic was given tenure at the Sorbonne in 1844 and in 1845 they were graced with the charming addition to their home of a little girl, Marie.

Frederic, who had been feeling sour about life in the capital for a long time, then acknowledged that Paris was really the city “in which everything comes alive: one’s ideas, spiritual work, conversation, even the most insignificant of the society acquaintances”.

A Man who was all heart

Frederic was all heart: throughout his entire life, his whole being came alive when in contact with others, whether they were friends, parents or students. In his letters, he expressed countless times his need for others: “I number myself among those who need to feel they are surrounded with love and support, and God has never allowed me to lack in either of these.” And again, when he was 18 years old, in a letter to Auguste Materne: “Oh, my friend! May the law of love be our law, and then, trampling all vainglory underfoot, our heart will no longer burn for anything else but for God, for men and for true happiness.”

A network of Friendships

In Frederic’s life, love and friendship were inseparable. It is rare, in the history of Christianity and of the saints to find a sensibility like this. It was constantly tuned into the joys and sorrows of those he loved. No doubt this is a reflection of the Franciscan side of him which was very evident throughout his existence.

His numerous friends seem to have formed a warm and fraternal circle around this ultra-sensitive being. A separation, however brief, for a birth, a marriage, or a trial such as sickness or bereavement, left Frederic emotionally overwhelmed by the event. He was convinced that “God has made our soul in such a way that we need two things: we need parents who cherish us, but we also need friends who are attached to us. The affection that springs from blood ties and that which comes from friendship are two pleasures which are indispensable to us and which are mutually irreplaceable”.

He wrote to Henry Pessonneaux: “I have the agreeable habit of identifying myself with my friends, of making them into my second family, surrounding myself with them in order to fill the vacuums which misfortune creates in my life”. And to Prosper Dugas, ten years later: “I have never been able to do without my friends”.

Frederic’s oldest and longest lasting friendships, and perhaps the more endearing because they went back to his childhood, were those with his friends from Lyon. At the top of the list were his two cousins Henry Pessonneaux e Ernest Falconnet.

In Frederic’s heart, his first playmates on the slopes of the Croix-Rousse, such as Pierre Balloffet, held the same place as his college friends: Joseph Arthaud, Prosper Dugas, Auguste Materne, Hippolyte Fortoul (future minister of Napoleon III), Armand Chaurand, Louis Janmot, Antoine Bouchacout. When he first settled in Paris, he met several of these old friends again in the colony of Lyon natives in the Latin Quarter, along with many new ones.

Frederic kept up a regular and hearty correspondence with his friends from Lyon. In the homes of Andre-Marie or Charles Montalembert, he also struck up new friendships with other young men from the province. On March 19th 1833, he told Ernest Falconnet: “There are about ten of us, united even more closely by the bonds of the spirit and the heart. We form a sort of literary and chivalrous band of devoted friends who have no secrets and open up their souls to each other in turn, to share their joys, their hopes and their sorrows”. He recalled in his letters the endless evenings of discussion and exchange of views that took place in the moonlight close to the Pantheon.

Family Love

Frederic manifested an extraordinary affection for his father and his mother. Their deaths distressed him, and he expressed this in very moving terms. The day after his father’s death, in 1837, he confided to Ernest Falconnet : “What solitude on earth from now on! What emptiness all around us! It is like being lost in the crowd without someone to look out for me, and without any hands stretched out to protect one. I’ve lived 24 years under his shadowed protection and now I suddenly find myself without the shelter from the storm. The family oracle has become quiet, our guardian angel has become invisible. Perhaps it is possible to encounter greater affliction than this, but never such comparable grief!”

The death of his mother, in 1839, further increased his suffering. He wrote to Edouard Reverdy: “Oh my friend, we are orphans! What tears and sobbing! Seemingly our age ought to render my elder brother (Alphonse) and I more confident and courageous, but we lived our family life so intensely, we were so comfortable under our mother’s wing, that in spirit we had never really left the nest where we were born…”

Frederic transferred his affection to his parents-in-law, whom he called in his letters “My good father, my beloved mother”. After having hesitated for rather a long time to commit himself to marriage, he took, as his wife Amélie Soulacroix, the daughter of the rector of the Lyon Academy, on June 23rd 1841, in Lyon,. This event and then the birth of their daughter Marie, on July 25th 1845, matured and transformed the man. Ozanam became less anxious and withdrawn and more open.

This transformation was such that Frederic does not appear as an “ascetic” saint, but as a Christian in whom conjugal love and fatherhood brought forth new reserves of affection and care for others. When he spoke of his wife and daughter, it was in terms which are very real to us. Here he is, for example, describing the difficult birth of his daughter, Marie: “My dear friend, one day you will experience the same emotion after several hours of terrible pains you hear the last cry of the mother and the first cry of the newborn child, then suddenly you see a tiny creature appear, that immortal creature of whom one becomes the guardian. At that moment something terrible and yet supremely sweet occurs in the depths of the soul, not in the metaphorical sense but in a real, physical sense. One feels as if the hand of God is remodelling one inwardly and shaping a new heart within…”

He called Amélie, whose heart was so in tune with his own “my beloved”, “my dearly beloved”, and “my beautiful and cherished soul”. When she was absent or he himself was far from her, Frederic sent her letters with a tenderness tinged with nostalgia. For example, in July 1844: “My beloved, I awaited your dear letter this morning with eager hope. You don’t say whether you slept well, and whether your sickness was more serious than usual. How are your poor eyes? Can you tell me in your next letter?

From time to time, he expressed himself in poems. It was not by chance that this romantic writer so enamoured of Italy took a keen interest in the Franciscan poets of 13th century Italy. His correspondence, which was never trite, was full of colourful and accurate description of the towns and countries he visited and the scenery and monuments that impressed him. There was always a warm, personal note to these descriptions. His pen made the mountains, the sea, Florence, Pisa, Rome, Burgos, Biarritz come alive, and seemed to be one in harmony with the genius of man and the grandeur of God.

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