Chapter XXX: Epilogue — His literary and charitable legacy
Testimony to the deceased — Literary work — Charitable work — Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Ozanam had written in his will: “Do not allow yourselves to be stopped by those who will say to you, ‘He is in Heaven.’ Pray always for him who loves you dearly, for him who has greatly sinned. If I am assured of these prayers I quit this earth with less fear. I hope firmly that we are not being separated, and that I may remain with you until you shall come to me.”
Whatever the deceased may have said, the certainty of his salvation finds expression in all the letters of condolence which were received; through tears, his friends and disciples see him in Heaven.
The Dean of the Faculty of Literature, who did not lean to the side of belief, saluted in him an immortal in the heavens, as he stood by his sarcophagus in a subterranean vault of St. Sulpice: “Our consolation,” he said, “is that we believe we hear him repeating the words of the Italian poet: Weep no more; death is the beginning of Immortality. When I seemed to close my eyes, I was opening them to Eternal Light.’ We could also say that he had been happy in this passing existence . . . . but it was not here, it was on high, that Frederic Ozanam placed all his hopes, and will receive his reward.”
M. de La Villemarque described his consternation, and that of all his household when they saw the announcement of his death. He wrote immediately: “I could only hand the paper to my wife and cry bitterly; we wept together and could not utter a single word. Our grand-children, who were present, looked at us in amazed silence. . . . I loved him as a brother, I admired him as a master, I venerated him as a saint 1 . . . In calling him so soon to Himself, in remaining deaf to the prayers of hundreds of thousands of members of the charitable Society founded by our friend, God hastened to make him taste the joys of Heaven.” (Keransker, 16th of September, 1853)•
I have twenty letters by me of the same date; from his former masters in the Lyons College, the Abbé Noirot and M. Legeav; from his former comrades, Baron Chaurand, Paul de la Perriere, Dufieux, Falconnet; all place him in Heaven: “He gave his life for Truth, for Faith, for Charity; are we at liberty to complain? I doubt it.” Another: “His years were so full, that it can be said of him that he knew how to live two lives in the space of one. His crown should be bright.”
M. Leonce Curnier “As for me, I never think of Frederic without an inclination to invoke his assistance. The aureola of sanctity which surrounded him in my eyes while he lived, has lost nothing of its splendour. 1 seem to see him in Heaven between St. Vincent de Paul and St. Francis de Sales, whose faithful disciple he was. I love to represent to myself the altar at which I kneel set off with his picture; and the devotion which I feel for him for years can only increase with life.”
Distinguished ecclesiastics wrote to Madame Ozanam: “Rest assured, Madame, that, if his death is a mystery of frightful suffering, it is equally a mystery of inexpressible love; if, at the command of such love, you are separated, it is to give him to God, the oblation of a saint, who will be an ornament in Heaven.”
Montalembert also looked to Heaven confidently for the soul of him, of whom he wrote as follows from Roche-en-Breny: “He leaves to us, as to you, Madame, the almost complete certainty of his immediate and eternal happiness. It is not for one like me to speak of God and of Heaven to a soul still flooded with the light which radiated from the death-bed of such a Christian as he.. When you pray for him and with him, when you seek his soul in the serene regions in which it awaits yours, please, Madame, remember me at least once, offer him the pious grief of an old friend, of an old fellow-member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, of an old soldier in the same cause, who will forget neither his instruction nor his example.”
The Abbé Perreyve uttered cries of grief over his grave, which are at the same time cries of enthusiasm and appeal: “God knows, Madame, that I have prayed Him most earnestly to accept the useless days of my life, in exchange for a few days of such a precious existence… Yes, I loved him dearly; death cannot touch that; it cannot break the links uniting an immortal soul with those whom it will love for ever. The impulses of our hearts follow him where he is living by the side of God. We shall consult him there; we shall learn from there the secret of a charity which was invincible and humble; let us go thither for inspiration from that Christian wisdom, which seeks and loves God even to martyrdom. May my prayers be heard I May I cultivate in my life as a priest, some of the virtues of his apostolate.”
The Abbé Perreyve, passing through Marseilles, soon after on his way to Italy, was led to the room in which Ozanam breathed his last. He knelt in prayer there. He cultivated devotion to his holy master.
The following lines are from a holy Priest in Rome, Fr. Philip de Villefort, of the Society of Jesus: “He was a just man, in the meaning of the Holy Scriptures; he was of the number of those who spent themselves doing good, he had such a long and holy career in such a short time! His whole life, the secret of which he concealed from us, but which the eyes of the Just Judge devined, his precious death in the practice of Faith, Hope and Charity, all combine to give you the only possible consolation. I shall continue to pray for him, though I feel sure that he is in possession of eternal glory.”
M. Adolphe Baudon, President-General, forbade a panegyric of the first founder at a meeting of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Such a eulogium would have been repugnant to the tradition and the spirit of the Society. “Ozanam is no longer with us,” he said, “to remind us of our primitive spirit; he shortened his brief life to radiate that spirit from his scene of suffering. Let not his memory and his example be effaced in our minds; that is the truest homage which we could pay him, being persuaded that from heaven he sets a higher value on such fidelity, than in those rare qualities of genius which were his glory in the eyes of men. That fidelity constitutes his merit and ensures his happiness in the sight of God.”
M. Cornudet, presiding over the General Quarterly Meeting, on the 8th December, 1853, spoke as follows: “Three months ago this very day, my dear Brothers, Ozanam, our well-beloved Brother, gave back his beautiful soul to God; the Church was celebrating that same day a Feast of the Blessed Virgin, to whom he had been greatly devoted; we find consolation and hope in such a coincidence. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul loses in Ozanam its guide and its model, one of the men of the age who have rendered the greatest service to the Catholic cause. He has been snatched away in the flower of his years in the fullness of his genius, of his virtues, of his influence on youth. But do not those very virtues, the loss of which we deplore, throw a light on the Divine Will, which would not have him wait longer for the supreme reward? He is no longer present amongst us, but his sanctified memory remains, and with it the belief, that the all-powerful prayers of that splendid friend of the Society, who knows it needs, will have a more beneficent influence than even his voice and his example.”
Francois Lallier declared that his spirit is henceforth with Ozanam in heaven: “His death and that of my father,” he wrote to La Perriere, “have changed the course of my thoughts. I continue to do the same things as before, but I do not do them with the same spirit.”
Lamache, thirty years later, wrote: “To follow out Ozanam’s testamentary wishes, I have not ceased to pray for the repose of his soul; but I am quite convinced that the prayers which were directed to Purgatory, went straight to Paradise, and descended on him who offered them.”
At a special meeting of the French Academy, M. Guizot, a Protestant, forgetting the many controversies which he had had with Ozanam, stood in respect before him whom he describes as: “The model of the Christian man of Letters, the ardent lover of Science, and the steady champion of Faith, who was patient and meek in long and fatal suffering, who was snatched away from the purest joys of life, but who was already ripe for Heaven as well as for glory.”
When Ozanam’s letters were published in 1866, the same unison, in a more religious key, was heard. Dr. Plantier, Bishop of Nimes, saluted in him “The angel of charity, the athlete of faith. He was a saint.” The Cardinal of Bordeaux stood amazed at “that pure glory of sanctity, in which that star was lost to our mortal sight.”
But before hearing the princes of the Church I should have recorded, with respect, the words of consolation and hope which the Sovereign Pontiff Pius IX. addressed, in memory of his well-beloved son of 1847, to the young widow, his dear daughter in Jesus Christ, in a Brief of the 19th November, 1853: “We felt profound grief on hearing of the premature death of your distinguished husband, and your letter, which reached Us on the zoth of October last, re-opened Our grief. But all the zeal and devotion of your dear husband for Our holy religion, which you justly recall, gives Us a great confidence of his eternal salvation. We shall not cease, nevertheless, to aid him with Our prayers to the God of mercy.”
Distinguished strangers are to be seen from time to time in Paris, bishops, prelates, laymen, who ask to be allowed to visit the burial place of the founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. They come from South America, the United States, Canada, Australia, from countries in Asia and Europe. Some place wreaths at the base of the simple monument, others give an offering for its upkeep. What all retain and carry away from their pilgrimage, is the inscription which they read on the marble slab, the words of the angels to the saints at the Sepulchre of Christ: “Why seek you the living with the dead?”
Ozanam, when he quitted this life, left behind him two classes of works, one literary, the other charitable. We propose to devote a few lines to the former, a few pages to the latter, to show the scope of each.
Of his great literary work, the history of civilisation through Christianity, scientifically developed in his lectures, splendidly inaugurated by the publication of his Germanie, then necessarily postponed by the course of his malady, there only remain outlines in his own notes and in the shorthand notes of the course; outlines occasionally brilliant, for Ozanam could sketch as the most skilled would wish to paint. His friends, masters, and disciples did their part—a matter of religious duty for some, of affection for others—to re-construct at least the portico of the monument, of which some finished pieces had been given to the Correspondant.
It was the joint work of a number. M. Ampère took the initiative, assumed the direction, and did the greatest share of it. The Abbé Noirot, the Abbé Maret, M. de Montalembert, M. Lenormant, M. Mignet, M. Egger, M. Heinrich collaborated, each in his own particular sphere of knowledge. That collaboration was carried out with the co-operation, and under the supervision, of Madame Ozanam. No name could better guarantee to the reader the scrupulous exactitude with which the whole work was carried out.
Ozanam’s most recent literary composition, Un Pelerinage au pays du Cid appeared in October, 1853, a month after his death. M. Hippolyte Rigault, a man of refined taste, reviewed it as follows: “Those learned and pious pages are a faithful reflex of the two great passions of the author’s soul, God and Science. Inspired as if written extempore, sad as a farewell, they are a type of that literary career, which had been commenced with such brilliancy and so soon cut short by death. A destiny touching beyond all others! M. Ampère has said with delicacy: In leaving masterpieces unfinished, the beauty of hope and the sadness of regret are mingled.”
The same pen announced the approaching publication of the Complete Works, called for by the city of Lyons, made possible by a public subscription, and carried out by the leading members of the French Academy. The work appeared in 1855, with a Preface by Ampère, in which he established the order of the volumes of the literary history in the times of the Barbarians, following Ozanam’s own plan, from his V’ Siede and his Germanie to Francois d’ Assise and to Dante, in the 13th century, leaving a chasm of ten centuries which remained unbridged. The explorer had fallen at the first stage.
On the 28th of August, 1856, the French Academy awarded to la Civilisation chritienne au V’ siecle thus re-constructed, the prize of 3,000 francs, which had been recently established by M. Bordin with the formal intention of rewarding work of the “highest literary merit.” It was on that ground especially that “the person and the work of Ozanam had gained all their votes.” M. Villemain, the permanent Secretary, proclaimed the distinction in the following terms: “Consisting of twenty lectures and notes, this outstanding work of literary taste is the spontaneous product of a mind elevated by the only great influences in this world, Virtue, Liberty, and Knowledge; and transfigured in advance by the glory from on high, which Christian Faith and Christian Hope promise.”
But as the author was no more, the presentation of the Prize to his wife and child was a new and touching feature. “It was but equitable,” continued the Report, “that the reward which he had deserved, should be conferred after his death, and should be handed over in full to those whom he loved dearer than self. The young widow and child of M. Ozanam will receive as a last gift from his hand, the Prize due to his rare genius, the unfinished monument to that ardent vocation which cost them so dear.”
The complete works were enriched in 1862 by the addition of the translation of the Purgatorio. Of the seven years which Ozanam had devoted to the study and interpretation of the Divina Commedia, four had been given to the study of the Purgatorio. “A special predilection attracted Ozanam to those verses which celebrate the rehabilitation of guilty man, and which are replete with heavenly consolation and hope.” It was in those terms that M. Heinrich introduced that translation to the public, being “homage done to a dear memory, and gratitude rendered to a master whom he had dearly loved.”
I have compared Ozanam’s literary work to an edifice; I shall compare his charitable work to a mighty tree, a comparison that has been drawn many times already. The former, man’s work, remains unfinished when the man disappears; the latter, which bears within itself the germ of life planted in it by God, will not cease to increase when he who planted it shall have disappeared.
The activities of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are boundless. I have not been able to devote sufficient attention to them in the course of this work; it is now fitting to set them forth, a matter of some little time. Pere Monsabre spoke of the matter in the following terms to thousands of members at Notre Dame: “You had outlined for yourselves, gentlemen, at the beginning of your ministry of charity, only the visitation of the poor in their homes; and God alone knows how much the poor owe you for that. But Christian love in contact with want allows itself to be drawn far beyond its first designs. What do I not find in your reports for the last half century? Foundations of crèches and homes, patronages, adoption of orphans, protection of the forsaken, instruction for street arabs, for apprentices, for children of workpeople and for children of prisoners; establishment of clothing depots and linen workrooms; savings banks and rent treasuries, economical public bake-houses, dispensaries, medical and legal aid; recreation centres, libraries, schools, Catechism classes and lectures; the family, the home, Christian marriage, business matters, sickness, death, burial of the poor, to what does not your charity extend? Whenever a public calamity is announced the whole Society is moved. It was in hundreds of thousands of francs that it forwarded contributions for the victims of the inundations of the Rhone and the Loire, of the conflagration at Limoges, of industrial crises, of Syrian massacres and of Algerian famines.”
Notwithstanding all that the preacher had specified he has not nearly exhausted the list. He has not mentioned work for soldiers, for prisoners, for the sick, for travellers, for refugees, for repatriating exiles, christian trade unions, the secretariat of the people, presents for the poor, the shy poor, penitentiaries, Holy Families, etc. There are so many other religious moral, social, civilising societies of which the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been the founder, the inspirer, the co-operator; such as the Catholic Press, Pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Catholic Committees, Catholic circles of workmen. Then there is the League of Instruction, Peter’s Pence, Leagues of Prayer and of religious defence, etc. Can we ever forget that during the terrible Seige of Paris, or on the fields of battle, it carried help and displayed heroism in the service of the wounded, of the starving, of the prisoners? The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, such as Ozanam had conceived, such as it has functioned for three quarters of a century, is not a local society, it is the Society-General of Charity. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is the inexhaustible mother, fruitful in all good works.
Inexhaustible in the nature of its works, in extent it is universal. A delegation of four hundred brothers attended the promulgation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin in Rome in 1854, thirteen months after Ozanam’s death. The President-General was able to state, in a report presented at an Audience by Pope Pius IX., that the Society had established 1,532 Conferences in twenty-two years, that all were animated with the spirit of their glorious patron, and were scattered throughout twenty-nine different States. France and its Colonies counted 889 Conferences, Italy 78, Germany 16o (of which 134 were in the Kingdom of Prussia), Belgium 148, Holland 92, the British Isles 80. Branches were to be found in every country in Europe, except Russia, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. They were beginning to make way in the East. There were Conferences in Turkey and Egypt. In the New World, Nova Scotia, the United States, Mexico, Canada, opened their immense territories to this charity. It was to be found in Australia, having been carried thither by English-speaking Brothers. There were not less than 50,000 families being visited and assisted. Its turnover, which did not reach 2,50o francs in its first year, now exceeded 2,500,000 francs a year.
With its admirable organisation, by the multiplicity and variety of its services, by the fruit of salvation which it carried within it and spread around it, by the spirit animating it and the spiritual exercises which were its driving force, by the moral transformation which followed everywhere in its footsteps, by the reconciliation of all grades of society, high and low, the Society appeared that day to Pius IX. crowned with those works. It was to the foot of the Pontifical Throne that the Society came in a filial and humble spirit to lay that crown.
Pius IX. was much moved when he arose to deliver an allocution, which would confer on these new apostles of the charity of Jesus Christ the same mission that had been given to the twelve: to work miracles of conversion, curing lepers, restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, raising the dead to life. The Abbé Mermillod, who was present at that audience, reproduced the scene as follows in his own picturesque way: “Do you remember, gentlemen, the General Meeting at the Vatican on the 5th of January, 1855, when Pius IX. rose and said: “My sons, my sons, I consecrate you Knights of Jesus Christ. The world does not believe in preaching nor in the priesthood, but it still believes in charity. March on to the conquest of the world through the love of the poor.”
The Society celebrated its Golden Jubilee in May, 1883. After its suppression by the Imperial Government in 1861 it recovered by degrees the ground which it had lost. I shall not, re-state the statistics of Conferences in 1883. Two facts stand out in the Report of M. Paul Decaux: “Our Bulletin, like our charity, knows no frontiers. It is published in seven languages: in French at Paris, in English at Dublin, in German at Cologne, in Italian at Genoa, in Dutch at the Hague, in Flemish at Ghent, in Spanish at Madrid and at Mexico.” The second fact is apparent from the contrast of the following figures: “On the 1st January, 1855, the number of Conferences had been 1537 and the turn-over had gone up to two and a half million francs. On the ist January, 1883, the annual Report for the preceding year showed receipts amounting to close on nine millions.” Charity was over-running the world.
The Golden Jubilee gathering of 1883 brought to Paris from both hemispheres the most representative gathering which had ever been seen in the Society. It would have made Ozanam tremble with joy. Pere Monsabre gave expression to the thought in Notre Dame on the 5th of May: “jubilemus Deo, let us rejoice in God. Such is the cry of our heart, gentlemen, after half a century of noble efforts and divine graces. That cry will bring joy to the thousands of just men, who belonged to our Society, in the graves in which they are sleeping, or rather in heaven, whither they have preceded you. We have surely a Conference in Paradise,’ wrote Frederic Ozanam, ‘ for since we began our work, more than one thousand of our members have gone the way of the better life.’ How many more during fifty years Heaven must be en fête.”
Ozanam was not, of course, present at that meeting; but Lallier and Le Taillandier were there to represent him. Italian Brothers came to greet them.
At the close of that general Congress of Conferences, the Decree was pronounced by Cardinal Guibert by which Leo XIII., at the request of the French episcopacy made St. Vincent de Paul patron of all Societies and Associations of Charity in France, and subsequently throughout the Universal Church.
In the following year a still greater Act, pronounced ex Cathedra, bore witness urbi et orbi to the special confidence which the Church and its Head had in that vast Society of Charity. The Holy Father opposed its beneficent action to the deadly and impious influence of Freemasonry and other secret societies. The pontifical Encyclical Humanurn Genus runs as follows: “In this connection, venerable Brothers, we could not pass over in silence the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which has given such admirable examples, and which has deserved so well of the masses of the people. The efforts of its members are directed solely to the help of the poor and the unhappy through charitable works, which they perform with wonderful wisdom, and not less admirable humility. But the more this Society hides the good which it is doing, the better suited it becomes to practise Christian charity and to assuage the misery of men.”
Let us complete the account of the rise of the Society by stating shortly that in 1911-12, when this work was written, if the statistics of the Society cannot be stated exactly, it can at least be said with certainty that the number of roo,000 active members has been exceeded. The number of Conferences throughout the world is 7,500, and the annual value of the assistance given exceeds fourteen million francs.
God conferred a great grace on the Society founded by Ozanam on the rock of orthodoxy, in keeping it faithful to truth whole and entire, through all the tortuous ways, wherein so many minds have been led astray and lost. On every occasion that Rome has spoken to nations during the last century, the Society answered at once with submission, as Vincent de Paul had done in his own day. On the eve of the definition of the doctrinal Infallibility of the Pope, the President General was the first to pledge his faith: “I long ardently for the decision of the Council,” wrote M. Baudon, “convinced beforehand that it cannot be other than true, I subscribe to it blindly. I only ask that it may be not merely truth, but the whole truth. I cannot admit that submission is not yielded to it. If some men or some countries do not see their way to submit, it is because they are not Catholic.”
He had written similarly on the appearance of the Encyclical Quantd Curd and the Syllabus, condemning some of the tendencies of youth: “They must give them up. When the Pope takes the trouble to warn us solemnly to avoid the doctrines condemned by this great Act, it is our duty to submit, not only in thought but in fact, in the daily practice of our lives. I have done so, and I believe that God has blessed my submission for He has shown me truths of the highest order which I had not hitherto understood.”1 The Church knows then that she can count on such men led by such chiefs. I am not surprised that Pius X., in later times, following the lead given by Leo XIII., declared to the Bishops of the New World, as of the old, “that he had no more ardent desire, than to see the Society of the Brothers of Ozanam and the sons of St. Vincent de Paul spread throughout the universe.”
As a matter of fact this Society never appeared more necessary than in the present unhappy time, for none answers better to our needs, and to our numberless ills. In a time of struggle between the classes and the masses, between the rich and the poor, it reconciles them in justice and in charity. In a time of division it creates unity, in a time of hatred it generates love. You may say, this is a time of the triumph of democracy; well, that Society does more for the good of the people than you, it knows and understands the people better than you, loves them better, honours them more, touches them more nearly than you. You may say this is the reign of Liberty and you wish the Society to be lay; it is so. This is the reign of Equality: you speak the word, it does the thing, bending low before the poor in humility, to raise them up to God by charity. This is the reign of Fraternity; the Society is a family; the members call one another brother, and those whom they assist are their brothers. Do you not then see, that this Society is in sympathy with every noble ideal, just as it responds to every need of the present time?
It ministers to material needs, moral needs, social needs, but above all to urgent religious needs which dominate all others. Religion pure and undefiled in the sight of God consists in this, says St. James:” To visit the poor, orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself unspotted from the uncleanness of the time.” “To love God with all one’s soul, that is the first commandment,” said the Lord; “to love one’s neighbour as oneself, that is the second, which is like unto the first. Behold the law and the prophets.” Now, is not all that the Rule, the work, and the end of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul?
Finally, it does more than unite men to one another, it unites them to God. As well as being a Society of Charity, it is a society of Faith and Piety, and a school of Truth. In it men believe and pray and give. I salute it alternately by the three names of home, sanctuary, and school for teaching great ideals.
But you may say, it is old? No, it is not old, if you mean by that term superannuated, withered; but it is old, meaning thereby experienced, powerful; old and ever new; as with all things immortal and divine. It is, I admit, not modern, in the sense that a thing is the fashion for a particular time, or in a particular country. But it is, and continues to be, young with eternal youth, with the youth of Charity that knows not decay: Caritas non excidit. On its divine side it dates from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the Poor “; on its human side from Mount St. Genevieve, on which eighty years ago a few young men of twenty years of age said to themselves, “Let us do as Jesus Christ did, Let us go to the Poor.”
You then who long for Associations of youth, why do you not aim at rejuvenating it with young recruits? It was thought out and constituted originally by young men for young men. You, our leaders and pastors, who are calling everywhere for the formation of a chosen band, where will you find elsewhere a more reliable body of men of faith, of good men, and of men of God? That chosen band is not waiting to he created, nor to be born. It exists. It possesses its constitution, its organisation, officers and councils, its machinery for development and expansion. It has proved itself, it has adapted itself to every good work during the last sixty years; it has filled the world with good works. It possesses a history, composed of great benefits conferred and sublime examples given. It has been planted beside the living waters, it has its roots embedded in the rock. It has St. Vincent de Paul for a patron, and Ozanam for a model, the Pope for father, the Church for Queen. It is unity, it would be strength; it is peace, it is love. Living everywhere it would be Salvation. Let us belong to it, let us go to it, for it goes to the people, it goes to God, because it does Good, because it wills Happiness, because it leads on to Heaven.
Gruson, Villa Jeanne d’Arc,
Feast of Mary Immaculate,
1911; 3rd Edition,
23rd April, 1913,
Centenary of the birth of Frederic OZANAM.
- Life of Adolph Baudon by the Abbé Schall, p. 389. Ozanam, himself so loyally and nobly orthodox, must have approved from on high of his friend Lallier on the following occasion. Notwithstanding ministerial prohibition, the Encyclical was officially promulgated by Dr. Jolly, Archbishop of Sens, in his own Cathedral on the 22nd of February, 1865. Lathier, President of the regional State Court, himself opened a subscription list to present to the courageous pastor a bust of Pius IX. in Carrara marble. He came himself at the head of the Catholics of Sens to make the presentation amid the clergy assembled in the great Seminary. Lallier read an address which is at once a declaration of principle, a legally framed protest, and a most explicit and strongly-worded profession of Catholic belief. He had it printed and circulated. Sens, impr. Duchemin, gr. in-8°, 22 p., 1865.