The gloom of France during the years 1848-5o could not obliterate in Ozanam’s mind the memory of Italy in the spring of 1847. The vision above all of Assissi, less dazzling, less bewildering than
TWO UNPUBLISHED LETTERS OF Frederic OZANAM TO HIS MOTHER.1
PARIS, 23rd July, 1836.
” . . . Apart from private visits, we have a general meeting-place for seeing each other, viz., our Conferences of charity. Last Tuesday, the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, we all assembled in the morning at Mass, in the Church of the Lazarist Fathers, and in the evening at M. Bailly’s house to hear the reports on the different Works, to inquire into the state of the various Conferences, etc. The parish priest, Father Demante, Professor in the Law School, M. Binet, Professor of Astronomy at the College of France, and a few other gentlemen, who had been invited for the sake of their offerings, attended the meeting. The reports show that the Society comprises about 200 members visiting 30o poor families, and distributing every year upwards of 4,000 francs in relief to the poor at their homes in the four quarters of Paris. Furthermore, we have an apprenticeship house for the printing trade, where we house, feed, and instruct ten poor boys, mostly orphans. Some charitable persons contribute towards the pension for each of them; nevertheless, the establishment costs us about 250 francs a month. They are taught printing in M. Bailly’s fine workshops, and some of our members give them lessons in writing, arithmetic, Bible history, etc. A priest, a friend of ours, teaches the boys Catechism; there are, indeed, two of them more advanced, to whom he teaches a little Latin, which is necessary nowadays to be engaged as proof reader, and even as a compositor in the best printing establishments in Paris. These boys are looked after and cared for by a good man and his wife, who have no children of their own, and who are delighted with their adopted family. The husband is employed in an office, the wife has no occupation; we give them apartments free and, in addition, a small bonus in money. On the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul we gave an excursion and a treat to these little boys which astonished and delighted them. Nevertheless, when we first founded this work, it seemed to me a great act of madness, for we had only 18o francs. Providence has provided. Now I am strongly convinced that in the case of a charitable Work, we should never be anxious about pecuniary resources, they will always come.
” Some of our colleagues have been appointed by the President of the Civil Tribunal to visit boys on detention, at the request of their parents. Our Brothers do what they can for them; they teach them a few lessons every day, but it is a very hopeless task. Those unfortunate little fellows are corrupted to the very core, the majority of them at least, and the time of detention not exceeding three months, it is impossible to eradicate their bad habits. However, we continue sowing, leaving to God’s care to fructify the seed in His own good time. If we have no consolations in that direction, we have some in other ways. For instance, several dying persons were induced to make their First Communion. Some persons who had been living together a long time, were led to be married in the church and before the civil authority.
” I speak to you freely of all those Works because I know they will interest you, and because I myself have had only a small share in them. Nevertheless, as the Works are those of my friends, they belong to me, too, in the sense that we are associated together. In this business of charity to which they have been pleased to admit me, I put in a little and take out a great deal. It is not so with Chaurand, who, not satisfied with taking a very active part in our works, labours also for others not less worthy.
” The Government and the ecclesiastical authorities have been informed of the existence of our little Society, and have shown marked approval of it. We have among our colleagues one peer of France, noblemen, distinguished artists; one musician who, a month ago, drew the whole of London to his concerts; Government clerks, ex-St. Simonians, engineers, lawyers in abundance, physicians, students, small shopkeepers, and even shop-hands. The only two things that are common to all are youth and rectitude.
” PARIS, Tuesday, nth April, 1838.
” I have again found our last year’s works of charity strong and active, viz., six established Conferences, fourteen boys in the house of apprenticeship, and ever and always M. Bailly, who does so much good while appearing to do so little. Last Sunday, the Feast of the Good Shepherd, was one of the Festivals of the Society. So, in the morning we assisted at a Mass celebrated at the foot of St. Vincent de Paul’s shrine, by His Grace the Archbishop. We joined in prayer with our Brothers of Lyons and of the other provinces who were praying at about the same hour. In the middle of the day a lottery was p1 held in the presence of a brilliant gathering; it brought in 3,600 francs for our adopted children. In the evening a general meeting of all the Conferences was held, at which reports were furnished by the six Presidents; accounts were given of our Conferences in the provinces, and I was the spokesman for Lyons. Matheron was also there. It was a beautiful and a happy day..
LETTER OF FREDERIC OZANAM TO M. LUCIEN PERRET, ARCHITECT.2
PARIS, 4th April, 1851.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Madame Ozanam and I wish to thank you for your beautiful present and the kind letter which accompanied it. You praise too highly the little we have desired to do, not indeed for you, but for your catacombs. They are ours, too, or, rather, they belong to all Christians, and, as such, it is we who ought to be grateful on seeing our Christian antiquity revived with such distinction by your skilled pencil. When we visited Rome in 1847, we looked around especially for the early centuries of the Church, seeking for them in the mosaics, in the primitive churches, and in the cemeteries of the martyrs; and we experienced there, especially at St. Agnes’, emotions capable of charming away the greatest and most exquisite grief. There we enjoyed moments of infinite sweetness, but such moments were fleeting, and we said to ourselves that they should be seized, for they would return no more.
You, dear friend, have restored and permanently fixed for us those dear and sacred hours! On beholding again, in your delineation, the pictures of the “Good Shepherd,” the “Girl Praying “and the “Virgin,” we have experienced anew that consolation the secret of which is known only to God and to the Saints. The blessing of God on you for the good you have done to us and for what you will do to other souls better than we are.
Your St. Cecilia will remind us of what we owe to your friendship; the beautiful head on whose brow is the martyr’s crown, this patroness of Christian art will teach us that we must place at the service of Jesus Christ everything that could give joy to this earth. Let me tell you that you anticipated my sweetest thoughts in giving me the picture of a soul that I know, a soul full of harmony and love whom God has placed by my side to be the comforter of my life and the inspiration of my studies.
But I am far removed from St. Valerian. How my weakness keeps me behind those brave Christian souls of ancient days, behind you, my dear friend. You pray as well as you draw, so you can add another precious gift to the one you have already given us by granting me a place in your prayers. Yes, ask for me peace, peace for a poor heart that does not belong sufficiently to God, and that will be agitated, variable and restless until it will have found the peace of your subterranean Rome. Adieu, dear friend, I thank you sincerely.
TO HIS BROTHER CHARLES.3
April 2o, 1840.
MY DEAR BROTHER,
After three days’ travelling and a halt of twenty-four hours at Sens with my friend Lanier, I arrived at Paris on Holy Thursday in rather good condition. My room was waiting for me, and it was soon full of old acquaintances, who celebrated my arrival right cordially. I spent the solemn days with this little familiar group, and yesterday, Easter Sunday, I was at the common trysting-place of all those that are dear to me, in the arms of Him before Whom Lyons, Rome, and Paris are all one, embracing in His immense love the living and the dead. I was then intimately united with you, with Alphonsus, with my aunt and all hers, with my poor and well-beloved parents, all united together under the kiss of peace of the Lord ..
Good-bye, my dear brother. Persevere in that wisdom and goodness which form our joy: serious application as regards the intellect; brotherly friendship as regards the heart; and above all, piety, religion, virtue. There you have in few words your own happiness and ours.
March 18, 1850.
Enjoy, my dear friend, these grand sights (Vesuvius, Naples, etc.). How we should wish, Amelie and I, to repeat, in your company, the trip to Vesuvius, and tread under foot the lava, the ashes and the fire, to turn round once again and look on the sparkling sea, the windings of the bay, the islands that give it life. Above all, how we should wish to follow you on the day when you will have the honour of kissing the feet of the Vicar of Jesus Christ. Oh I put us together with yourself at his knees; ask of him his most affectionate blessing for a family in which, you can tell him, he is tenderly loved. If he speaks to you of France, and above all of the youth in the schools, answer with brevity and modesty, as a young man to whom it does not belong to judge. But try, above all, to make it clear that our country is better than its reputation; refer to the Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul, the sermons of Notre Dame, everything that proves that amongst us faith and charity are alive. Be sure to tell the Sovereign Pontiff of the tremor of pious eagerness that shook all that Christian youth last year, when it was believed that the Pope was coming to France, and with what joy they shall see him restored to Rome and taking up again the blessed work of his first years.
It is certain that on Easter Sunday the Pope will give, either at Naples or at Portici, the blessing “Urbi et Orbi.” Do not miss that beautiful ceremony.
April 6, 185o.
… On the other hand, to all those who will speak to you of France, say that the country is not lost; and that in this city in which the late elections caused such consternation, Easter was celebrated with extraordinary calm and a wonderful increase of faith and piety ..
July 21, 1850.
…This letter seems to have been interrupted and delayed purposely in order to convey to you a sad piece of news. Monsieur Falconnet, Sen., has just died at Bourg at the age of 66 years. Thus our family is disappearing, and those who knew and loved our children. What a warning not to attach ourselves to things here below and to have our eyes fixed on the last meeting-place! But still, this detachment from the world must not be turned into discouragement about our duties. In that consists the whole secret and the whole difficulty of the Christian life. We must think as if we were to quit the earth to-morrow, and we must work as if we were never to leave it. We must respect the earth as the workshop of Providence, and our particular employment as the task which has been assigned to us. This is the means for bearing with its inequalities, with the moments of trial, and for avoiding a certain kind of depression which sometimes is concealed under the guise of piety itself.
May 20, 1853.
. . . . This does not mean that Providence is forsaking me or that I have reason for complaining of the Italians. On the contrary, if I had not left my country so long ago, if I had the certainty of seeing it soon again, it would be impossible for me to find a place of residence more agreeable and more hospitable. We have not the ocean as at Biarritz, but we have an admirable sea which changes several times a day; the sky, which has long maltreated us, gives us at present perfectly beautiful days, an excellent sun, tempered with fresh breezes; a landscape green and flowery, in which the orange tree and the laurel grow naturally, whilst enormous tufts of aloes rear their threatening stems. There, I have no need of a carriage for taking an excursion; I walk about two hours in the day, at three intervals, without counting the halts and the moments I spend seated on the rocks looking at the waves coming in. When, by times, we decide to trust ourselves to the luxury of a carriage, it brings us in a few moments to some charming spot, always beside the sea, where there are paths sheltered from the wind by great bushes all adorned with roses. This place is rightly called Ardenza, and every inhabitant of Leghorn, who is properly reared, considers himself bound to take a drive there every evening. Further away oh the mountain is the pilgrimage of Montenero: we went there only once. I could not think of climbing on foot this steep way; carriages for getting up there cost very dear. Still we could not remain behind the good Christians of the country, who all go to make a visit there in the month of May. It is the Fourviere of Leghorn, but a Fourviere all shining with marble, gilding, silver lamps, magnificent votive offerings. Nevertheless, beside the gifts offered by the gratitude of the rich, we see with emotion the offerings of the poor: a number of pictures representing fishermen in distress, a lot of old clothes, crutches and sticks. Oh! how glad I would have been to hang my stick also in this sanctuary, and come down on foot; but I have not the lively faith which obtains miracles. The whole family, including Marie, took part in the excursion, and came back with their hands full of pictures and medals, thanks to the kindness of the Father Abbot, who in his desire to give a good welcome to the Signor Professor, and to make us admire his marbles and his lamps, left us scarcely time to say our rosary.
We have no longer our friends of Pisa, and I regret it; still the librarian, Monsieur Ferrucci, has already come to see us twice. But, above all, we have found at Leghorn excellent persons, a Conference of St. Vincent de Paul with all the daring of beginners, and amongst the members of this Conference, two brothers, Messrs. Bevilacqua, whose name will remain in our hearts as that of two accomplished Christians worthy of the first centuries. One can have no idea of such charity. They are young men, learned, distinguished, one of them employed as an architect, the other in the Customs house, both of them very active visitors of the poor. Together with all this, they have found time to seek out lodgings for us. At present they come to see us every night, only for three-quarters of an hour, in order not to tire me. They take charge of our letters and our messages for the town; they have obtained for us a goat which serves as my nurse; two or three times a week they send to Amelie enormous bunches of flowers; they give Marie pictures and little books; they come with their sister to take her out to visit little friends. In a word, they overwhelm me with their kindness, and when I say it is too much, they answer: “Oh 1 sir, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has done so much good, that we could never do enough for one of its founders.” There was no use in my protesting that the first founders never thought of Leghorn, and that we were the useless instruments of Providence. They will not lessen their attentions to us. It is a family tenderness which extends to everything around me, and if Marie were nine years older, I should not be sure of bringing her back with me. I have always thought humbly of our Society of St. Vincent de Paul, but really I am on the point of changing my views about it, and conceiving a great idea of it since I have seen at Bayonne, and here, what wonders of Christian brotherhood it is capable of inspiring. Besides, we are making great progress in Tuscany. There are here more than three hundred members, active or honorary, in five Conferences. On Sunday last the Conference of Florence celebrated its aggregation by a General Communion; it counts among its members men of great distinction, whilst at Pontedera another Conference, exclusively composed of shopkeepers, does unlimited good by maintaining a night-school.
We have at San-Jacopo a parish priest who is very amiable and very literary, knowing French, but too humble to consent to speak it, so that these ladies are obliged to carry the burdens of their consciences to Leghorn. They found there Dominican Fathers who no longer speak French, though one of them, Pere Vincenzo, made his novitiate at La Quercia with Pere Lacordaire, Pere Aussat, and Pere Tandel. Fortunately, there are Vincentians, whose Superior, the Abbé Mazzucco, is sufficiently at home in our language to understand the crimes of Madame Soulacroix, of Madame Ozanam, and even of little Marie. As for myself, I make use of either language as may be desired. I had the audacity to speak in Italian to all the Conferences, and at Florence my address, edited by a brother full of talent, so pleased the readers, that it was considered I wrote Tuscan almost like Dante. In consequence, with the help of my Franciscan Poets, I was named a member of the De La Crusca Academy. Though I should be quite dead to the world, this distinction gave me great pleasure, for it is not bestowed on many. I was nominated together with the Count Cesare Balbo, one of the most esteemed and most learned men in Piedmont, and one of the heads of the Liberal Catholic School. I was very flattered at finding myself in such good company, and what completes my satisfaction, I succeed as a Frenchman to M. Fauriel, who also was very highly complimented at belonging to the same Academy, to which he had been raised through his friendship with Manzoni. If God allows me to return to literary life, that title, the most honourable that can be had in Italy, will not be without use for me for the Institute.
These are sufficient vanities for a man who thought himself dead a month ago, and who is not yet convalescent . . . .
ON THE NUMBER OF MEMBERS IN THE FIRST CONFERENCE.4
Names of the First Members:
Frederic Ozanam, Paul Lamache, Jules Devaux, Francois Lallier, Auguste Le TOlandier, Felix Clave and Monsieur Bailly.
In the absence of written documents (for at that time they did not keep or preserve minutes or official statements) opinions have long differed as to the exact number of members present at the first two or three meetings. Ozanam, in particular, owing to his familiarity with the scholastic philosophers, protested modestly and playfully when later on members spoke before him of the seven founders of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul: “Oh! my good friend,” said he to Devaux, who, on meeting Ozanam in Rome, recalled very dear memories, “let us not stop at the number seven, because there are people who would see mystic significance in that too! Is not seven the number of the Sacraments?”
Such little attention was paid to the details of the opening meeting, that in the Diary of a member of the first Conference, written down daily from March, 1834 for several months, the date of the foundation of the Conference was placed in “June or July, 1833 (instead of May), and the Diarist stated that he “believed there were eight or ten members at that time “(instead of seven).
The Abbé Gellon, in a work, “Three Precursors of the Catholic Revival, Lacordaire, the Abbé Perreyve, Frederic Ozanam,” led astray by a statement, which was customary with Ozanam himself, believed and recorded that our first members were eight in number.
Finally, Monsignor Baunard, the author of the Magnum opus, is not sure in his work of the exact number, and wavers between seven and eight.
According to every account, if we include Al. Bailly, the first members of the first Conference were seven in number. Their names were—Frederic Ozaman, Paul Lamache, Jules Devaux, Francois Lallier,
Auguste Le Taillandier, Felix Clave and Monsieur Bailly, [de Lanzac de Laborie, Secretary-General of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul].
It is hoped that this considered statement of Lanzac de Laborie,
who as Secretary-General of the Society, had special opportunities of reference, and who took special pains to verify them, will now definitely prevail, and that every member of the Society will know that the first founders of original Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul were seven in number, and that their names were as above stated.
- Taken from the Bulletin of the Society.
- This letter is an unpublished one. We are indebted for its publication to the kindness of M. Laurent Laporte, Frederic Ozanam’s son-in-law. (From the Bulletin of the Society).
- Extracts taken from the Bulletin of the Society and published with the kind permission of Ozanam’s family.
- Notes taken from the Bulletin of the Society.