“The New Era” – Political Commitment
Frederic had no natural taste, nor any particular competence for politics. However, he agreed under pressure from his friends, but without any illusions, to run in the election in the Rhone department as a candidate for a seat in the National Assembly. This was to be elected by universal suffrage for the first time.
He defended the setting up of institutions that would improve and renew the position of the workers.
Frederic was not elected, but this defeat barely affected him; his future political activity would be confined to his articles in editions of “Nouvelle Ere”. He was reunited with other liberal Catholics such as Lacordaire e and the Father Henry Maret.
The newspaper was launched on April 15th 1848 and was reminiscent of Lamennais’s “L’Avenir”, in its modernity, the sort of underlying jubilation in all its articles, and in its fidelity to the principles of liberty. Its non-conformism irritated the majority of Catholics who ere more sensitive to Louis Veuillot’s invectives in “L’Univers”. The latter considered Frederic Ozanam as the leader of “the party of love” made up of “rabid sheep”.
During the workers’ uprising of June 1848, Frederic showed a compassion and understanding toward the insurgents contrasting sharply with the fierceness of too many people who called themselves Christians.
Frederic’s Newspaper “Nouvelle Ere”, ran into financial difficulties; its very existence was in danger. On April 5th1849, the paper was sold. This was a serious setback for Christian Democracy. It excluded the most clear-sighted minds from the struggle: Ozanam and Maret in particular.
In December 1852 came Louis Napoleon’s coup d’etat, which was applauded by the majority of Catholics. Even though Frederic Ozanam deplored this defeat for the cause of liberty, he did not despair. On the contrary, in a letter to Foisset, on September 24th 1848, he reasserted his conviction: “I believed, I sill believe that Christian Democracy is possible. I can even say that I believe in nothing else as far as politics are concerned.”
Faith and Social Justice
The Christians and the People
Frederic Ozanam was sensitive to the social question, which, in the 19th century essentially centred on the position of the social workers. The social upheavals in Paris and Lyon and the consequences of the Revolution brought the workers’ position to light even more clearly.
In 1836, when the Conference of Saint Vincent de Paul was starting to grow, he wrote to Falconnet: “ We are too young to intervene in the social struggle. Are we then to remain passive in a world which is suffering and groaning? No, a preparatory path is open to us Before doing public good, we can try to do good to a rare few. Before regenerating France we can give relief to a few of her poor.”
He found himself more and more ill at ease in a political regime whose motto, destined only for the ruling classes, seemed to be “Get Rich!”. This was all the more true since the government of the July Monarchy did nothing to provide adequate social legislation. They went no further than the liberalism of the 1791 upper and middle classes.
It was the approach and the explosion of the Revolution of February 1848 that caused Frederic to become a key figure in a committed social Catholicism.
If the liberal Catholics of the time were very timid in a social matters. Frederic Ozanam stood out through his daring, which even frightened some of his friends. An example of this was his famous article of February 10th 1848, in “Le Correspondant” in which he invited all French Catholics finally to give their attention to people and their needs.
Justice and Charity
In fact, the political and social thought of Frederic Ozanam was far less that of a theorist than that of a Christian living his faith deeply. This was the spirit of the most influential of all the original members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. Frederic wished to give his Church a face of fraternity and make her attentive to all forms of poverty in order to obliterate poverty both spiritually and materially. Few liberal Catholics linked their personal religion with their social pre-occupations to this extent.
On many occasions, Frederic asked of his correspondents for their social spirit prevail over their convictions and political theories. He longed to unite, in view of the relief of countless forms of poverty, all those who were striving towards a world that was more conductive to solidarity. In his mind, Christians should place themselves in the forefront. Since their religion itself was based on brotherhood and a spirit of sacrifice.
When he demanded equality, that is, social justice, Frederic took good care not to oppose it to Christian Charity. In his eyes these two principles, far from nullified each other: “The order of society is based on two virtues: justice and charity. However, justice presupposed a lot of love already, for one needs to love a man a great deal in order to respect his rights. These which limit our rights, and his liberty, which hampers our liberty. Justice has its limits whereas charity knows none..”
Sentence from one of his lectures in Commercial law echoes this thought: “Charity is the Samaritan who pours oil on the wounds of the traveller who has been attacked. It is justice’s role to prevent the attacks.”
Farewell to Life
As early as1845 – at the age of 32 – Frederic Ozanam voiced his concern about the various palpitations he was experiencing; he attributed them to utter exhaustion. He was advised to reduce the number of his activities, but to no avail.
The years of 1846 and 1847 did bring him some respite. He left on vacation to Meudon, but overworking in the following years of 1848 and 1849 drained the strength that he had regained: haemorrhages and back pains were a further cause for worry. Long weeks of rest in Ferney only brought a precarious recovery. The day before he returned to Paris, on November 3rd 1849, he consulted Dr. Joseph Arthaud, his friend from Lyon: “I am demoralized; give me fresh heart. Tell me if I can start work again, and to what extent. Tell me, must I behave like a man who can still count a little on his strength in the future, or must I tighten the sails and think of nothing more but providing for my loved ones, like a father of a family threatened with premature disability? Pray for me so that God does not wish me to serve him by working, I resign myself to serving him by suffering…”
This was painful for a man who was so young. There was life with its difficulties for sure, but it also had its joys. Little by little, however, this Christian who was steeped in faith began to grasp what was the will of God: the last phase of his existence would be marked by the ordeal of suffering. From that moment, in 1849, Frederic’s spiritual ascent became more and more pronounced.
The year of 1850 went by without too much difficulty. But the effects of the illness which were to carry him off became more and more frequent and painful. He was suffering from chronic nephritis. Another stay in Brittany brought about a fairly long remission.
But the illness progressed further; a serious attack of pleurisy put his life in danger.
Knowing Frederic’s great affection for Italy and anxious to alleviate the worries about his health, Hippolyte Fortoul, Mister of State Education, who was from Lyon, entrusted Frederic with a mission. This mission was to last until May1st 1853; its purpose was the study of the origins of the Italian villages from the 8th century onward. After travelling through Biarritz, Bayonne and Dax, The Frederic stooped in Marseille before sailing for Genoa and Livorno. The crossing was very difficult and, during their stay in Italy, the weather was atrocious.
Frederic settled on January 10th 1853 in Pisa with Amélie and Marie. He felt his health deteriorating. He went through a phase of discouragement and then resignation, but this did not prevent him from continuing his historical research and contributing to the growth of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in the peninsula.
The Bevilacqua brothers offered him hospitality in their charming home in Antiguano, near Livorno, but the pain worsened and intensified Frederic’s melancholic mood. This did not prevent him from having the courage to exclaim before the end of his stay: “My God! I thank you for the suffering and affliction that you have sent me in this home…”
In August, Frederic’s two brothers, Father Alphonse and Doctor Charles, to whom the sick man had sent calls for help, hurried to his side. This only reinforced the realization that unfortunately there was nothing to be done. It was Frederic’s desire that he die in his homeland.
On September 2nd 1853, after an exhausting crossing, the Ozanam party landed in Marseille. They settled in an apartment on Rue Mazade, no. 9.
Calm and serene, he received the last sacrament on September 5th. To the Priest who assisted him he said: “ Why would I fear Him? I love Him so much.”
On September 8th, the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, around 7:30 at night, Frederic Ozanam committed his soul to God, saying “My Lord, have mercy”. And 20 minutes later he gave his last breath.
In his will, Frederic Ozanam asked the family and friends to pray for his soul. In answering his demand, a religious service was held in Marseille, and another one in Lyon, in the Church of Saint Peter, where he had his first communion, and then in Paris, in the Church of Saint Sulpice, not far away from the location where he had founded his beloved Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.
His wife, Amélie, wanted her husband to be buried at a church. The urn was deposited, provisionally in the crypt of the Church of Saint Joseph of the Carmelite, today frequented by the students of the Catholic Institute of Paris, street of Vaugirard, no. 70.
Supported by the Prior of the Dominicans and by Father Henry Lacordaire, Amélie Ozanam obtained the verbal and official authorization of the Minister of Cults, Mr.Fortoul, a school friend of Frederic’s, to leave the urn permanently there. There a crypt was made and a small chapel built in the style of the catacomb mortuaries.
In 1913, for occasion of the celebrations of the centennial of Frederic’s birth, a new grave was erected. There, he rests, since June 1929, when the canonical exhumation was carried out, as part of the beatification.
In 1853, year of the centennial of his death, the French artist, René Dionnet painted the Good Samaritan fresco, decorating the wall behind the grave, and symbolizing the love for one’s neighbour which encouraged the life of such an authentic testimony to charity that was the life of Frederic Ozanam.
Hymn To the Lord
What more significant conclusion could one give to this panoramic biography of the human and spiritual journey of Frederic Ozanam, than an invitation to the reader to meditate on his marvellous farewell to life on earth? It was a last act of faith, hope and charity, opening up onto the light of eternity.
“As at the beginning of the Canticle of Ezechias: I don’t know if God will permit me to carry it through to the end. I know that today I have reached my fortieth year, more than a half of a life. I know that I have a young and beloved wife and enchanting child, excellent brother, a second mother, many friends, an honourable career; my research has in fact reached the point that it could serve as the basis of a book of which I have dreamed for a long time. Yet here I am struck down by a serious and persistent illness that is all the more dangerous for the fact that it is probably underlain by total exhaustion.
Must I then leave all these goods that you yourself have given me, my God? Lord will you not be content with only a part of the sacrifice? Which of my disordered affections must I sacrifice to you? Would you not accept the holocaust of my literary pride, of my academic ambitions, or even of my research plans in which perhaps was contained more pride than zeal for the truth? If I sold part of my books in order to give the proceeds to the poor, and limited myself to carrying out the duties of my state of life, of if I devoted the rest of my life to visiting the poor, and educating trainees and soldiers, would you be satisfied Lord? Would you allow me the pleasure of living through to old age with my wife and completing the education of my child? Perhaps, my God, that is not your will at all. You don’t accept these self-interested offerings; you reject my holocausts and sacrifices!
It is written at the beginning of the book that I must do your will and I have said: here I am, Lord. I am answering your call and I have no reason to complain. You have given me forty years of life. If I put before you the years I have lived with bitterness, I see it is because of the sins with which I ruined them. Yet when I consider the graces with which you have enriched them, I again go over these years in your presence with gratitude, Lord.
When you chain me to my bed for what is left of my life there will not be enough time to thank you for all the time I have lived. Ah! If these pages are the last that I am writing, may they be a hymn to your goodness.”
Pisa, April 23rd 1853 on his 40th birthday
A beatification achieved by popular demand
This brief biography of Frederic Ozanam could not cover all the facets of his astonishing personality. Yet, no doubt, it is sufficient to read and hear once more the warm words of Pope John Paul II during the audience he was gracious enough to give on April 27th 1983 to the Vincentians from all over the world who came to Rome for the celebrating marking a century and a half of activity in the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.
It is exactly 150 years since the first “Conference of Charity” saw the day in Paris on the initiative of young lay Christians grouped around Frederic Ozanam. We must above all than God for the gift he made to the Church in the person of Frederic Ozanam. One marvels al all that this student, teacher and father of a family undertook in his life, which was burnt out too fast, for the Church, for society and for the poor, as a man of ardent faith and resourceful charity. His name remains associated with that of Saint Vincent de Paul who had founded the Daughters of Charity two centuries earlier without the equivalent Order having yet been instituted for men. How can one prevent oneself wishing that the Church also place Ozanam in the ranks of the Blessed and the Saints?
The Holy Father’s whish, which echoed our own, has at last been granted after 72 years of patient and fervent waiting.
After having been proclaimed Frederic “Venerable”, on July 6th 1993, John Paul II invited all Vincentians to Paris for Frederic Ozanam’s beatification on August 22nd 1997.
The Ozanam Miracle
Since the introduction of the cause of the beatification of Frederic Ozanam, March 15th 1925, the feat of St. Louise de Marillac, members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul have been imploring the Lord for evidence of the sanctity of their principal founder. A special prayer they recited included the words, “to manifest by heavenly favours”, fitting words for their supplication!
Generations of Vincentians have recited the prayers for Ozanam’s beatification at their Conference meetings and assemblies in order to obtain the graces and, especially, the necessary miracles which would result in the process of the beatification.
The first miracle was not long in coming: February 2nd 1926, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary. A little Brazilian of eighteen months, Fernando Luis Benedito Ottoni, whose family lived in Nova Friburgo, State of Rio de Janeiro, was the beneficiary of Ozanam’s intervention.
Suffering from incurable diphtheria, this child was failing fast, his parents felt completely helpless, all medicine proved ineffective.
Fernando’s grandfather, a member of the Conference of Saint Vincent de Paul of the Holy Spirit, at Rio de Janeiro, asked his friends to pray for the cure of his dying grandson. They implored the intercession of Frederic Ozanam.
The very next morning, the child’s illness began to subside. The family was overcome with joy as their boy’s health started to improve so rapidly.
A detailed dossier, which included doctors’ reports, as well as meticulous accounts of eyewitnesses, was carefully compiled and then submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. After a long period of waiting, a new impetus in the beginning of 1980 spurred on the procedure of the beatification.
The presentation of the “Desquisitio” and “Positio”, elaborated at great length, successfully passed the necessary steps of the Roman Commissions of Historians, Theologians and Cardinals. On July 6th 1993, Pope John Paul II, proclaimed Frederic Ozanam “Venerable” and on June 25th 1996, he signed the degree recognizing the miracle obtained in favour of Fernando Ottoni, thus opening the process of beatification.