Frederic Ozanam grew to manhood in troubled times. During his three years as a clerk for Mr. Coulet, the people of France were in a constant state of confusion and rebellion.
In July of 1830 one of the clerks in the law office came rushing in after lunch with the news, “A revolution in Paris has driven the king from his throne!”
“Don’t tell me another revolution has overthrown the government?” Frederic asked.
“It certainly has! The king has fled to England, and the people have decided to make Louis Philippe monarch in his place. If the revolution isn’t soon brought under control, I think we will all be called upon to serve in the army.
“That wouldn’t be unusual,” Frederic commented dryly. “My father fought for five years with Napoleon before he was able to take up his studies to become a doctor. If we are inducted into the army, we will have to go; but until that time, I am going to continue my studies and my work here. I see no reason for getting upset about a revolution in the capital.”
While the other clerks chattered noisily about the unsettled political conditions of the country, Frederic went calmly on with his work. His faith in God gave him a peace of soul that nothing could take from him, and he was certain that nothing could happen to men or nations which God did not will or permit. Therefore, in the confused and fearful age in which he lived, he calmly went about his affairs giving little thought or concern to the rebellions and troubles which disturbed so many in his beloved country.
In spite of his lessons in German and art, the young man was able to find the time to write articles on philosophy and history for a paper called “The Bee”. These could hardly be called great works of art, but they were a beginning for him and with practice, his skill gradually improved.
Then, one day, some radicals came rushing into Lyons to preach a new doctrine. They called their doctrine “Saint Simonism” and claimed that they brought a new and better Christianity! Frederic listened to their strange new dogmas and realized at once that these men were determined to destroy the Catholic Church and everything it stood for.
Having learned as much as he could about the teachings of these radicals, he wrote a series of articles against them in which he exposed their lies and warned the people of their dangerous teachings.
His friends were so delighted with the articles that they suggested he rewrite them and publish them as a pamphlet.
“And where will I get the money for such a venture?” he asked them.
“Don’t worry about that, Fred,” they replied. “It will be our pleasure to pay the printer and binder. You do the writing! We will act as your publicity agents! Why, with our help, you can put a copy of your pamphlet into the hands of every thinking man in Lyons and Paris!”
Frederic did more work in rewriting his articles than he had done in composing them. Soon after he was finished, he had the pleasure of seeing his first published work placed in his hands by his friends.
“We hope this is only the beginning of a long and brilliant career for you as a writer,” they told him.
True to their promise, his friends saw to it that the pamphlet was circulated in both Lyons and Paris, and the leading minds of the country were impressed by it. Chateaubriand, the most famous French writer of the period, read the pamphlet and declared that its author was a genius.
Frederic paid little attention to the praise he received for his first published work. He had promised to promote the cause of truth and he did so in order to give glory to God, not to himself. Meanwhile, he continued his study of languages, since he knew that a knowledge of different tongues was necessary for the research he would have to make on his great work. Before him lay the religions of every race which he wished to investigate. Hebrew, Egyptian and
Sanscrit were all necessary if he were to read the histories of these peoples. Before he finished, he had learned twelve different languages well enough to read and understand them fully! ‘”`What’s this I hear about your writing a great work that will tell about every people in history and the religion of each?” his father asked him one night after the evening meal. “Are you completely out of your mind? No one has even dared to attempt such a thing!”
Frederic smiled sheepishly. “I suppose I have bitten off more than I can chew,” he said. “But Father Noirot knows about my plan and has encouraged me in it from the beginning.”
“Then, he must be as crazy as you are!” Doctor Ozanam snorted.
“I’ll tell him that when I next see him!” Fred teased.
“You won’t have to bother! I’ll tell him myself. You are going to kill yourself with overwork if you get into a project like that. Besides, you will never in a thousand years be able to bring it to a finish. Now, why don’t you be sensible? Either give up the work entirely, or limit yourself to the study of just one tribe or nation and its background of religion.”
Frederic was thoughtful for a moment. “Maybe you’re right, Dad,” he mused. “If it were to take a thousand years to finish what I have planned to do, I had better limit myself. I don’t think even you, with all your knowledge of medicine, could keep me alive for so long a time!”
As time passed, young Ozanam realized more clearly the wisdom of his father’s advice and decided to study only the area of northern Europe for his future book. For him, who seemed to sense that his life was to be a short one, time was precious. His days were filled with work and study and thought. Even when he walked from his home to the office of Mr. Coulet, he took a book along with him to read as he walked.
At the age of nineteen, Frederic finished his work as a clerk in Lyons and was sent to Paris by his father to finish his studies for his degree in law. He had never been away from his home before in his life, and his first weeks in the great city were full of loneliness. On all sides he met people who had lost their faith and whose behavior shocked him. The boarding house in which he lived was filled with young people who were noisy and vulgar. On fast days, Frederic was the only one at the long table who bothered to observe the fast.
“Well, well!” one of the boarders sneered, raising his eyebrows, “we have a Christian in our midst! Look at that jackass, Ozanam! He is not eating food because the Church says he must not! I thought such old-fashioned people were all resting peacefully in their tombs!”
The others at the table laughed long and loudly, while Frederic turned a deep shade of crimson. He refused to break the laws of the Church simply because everyone else broke them or because he was mocked for doing so.
Before leaving Lyons, his father had told him to pay a visit to an old friend of his in Paris. The old friend was none other than the most famous scientist of his time, Andre Ampere, whose discoveries in the field of electricity had startled Europe.
One afternoon, Frederic decided to visit the famous man. He found him alone in his study quietly reading. He was very kind and warm and humble.
“How do you like Paris?” Ampere asked after the young man had introduced himself.
Frederic was silent for a moment and bit his lip. “It’s all right.”
“You are unhappy here, Frederic,” said the scientist gently. “Where do you live?”
Frederic gave the address and described the house and his fellow boarders in some detail.
Suddenly, Andre Ampere rose from his chair and walked briskly across the room. He threw open the door leading to the next room and motioned for Frederic to follow him.
“This is my son’s room,” he explained, “but he is now studying in Germany. Until he returns, why don’t you live here? You can pay me the same amount of rent that you now must pay your landlady. When my son, Jean, returns, you can study German with him. Meanwhile, his entire library and room are at your disposal. You can eat with us. My sister does the cooking and my daughter dines with us. What do you think of the idea?”
Frederic was overcome with surprise. He had never dreamed that the great man would ever offer him a room in his house in which to live. He accepted the kind offer at once and hurried away to begin moving his belongings and books into his new home.
Nor did the charity of Andre Ampere stop with that. Soon after young Ozanam came to live with him, he took him to the Mazarin library where he introduced him to all the important people. He obtained permission for him to use the library at any time he wished for his research. He also introduced him to the Academy of Science where he met many of the most famous scientists of the country.
What impressed Frederic even more than the genius of Ampere was his deep faith in God. Often in their conversations together, Ampere would be overcome with wonder at the marvels God had created and allowed science to discover. He would hold his head in his hands and cry out at such times, “How great is God, Ozanam! How mighty He is!”
Frederic was one day overcome by sadness and loneliness while on his way home from his classes. He decided to pay a visit to the church of St. Etienne. No sooner had he entered the dark interior of the building, than he saw an old man kneeling in a dark corner. His eyes were closed and his lips moved in prayer.
When Frederic came closer to him, he recognized the man to be Mr. Ampere. The young man never forgot the sight of the great scientist on his knees before God in the Eucharist, pouring out his heart like a small child to its father. Frederic left the church after his visit to the Blessed Sacrament consoled and very deeply moved.
A terrible cholera epidemic swept through Paris shortly after Ozanam went to live at the Ampere home. People died by the thousands, and once stricken by the dread disease, there was little that could be done to save them. Panic spread through the city, and many citizens fled to the country until the contagion passed.
Frederic calmly continued his studies, and each day made his way through the deserted streets to the lecture halls or library. In his free time he nursed those of his friends who had lingered after the first attack and who were eventually cured. One of these was a priest who liked to read. Each day, Frederic appeared at his bedside smiling and cheerful with some new book under his arm.
“And what have you brought for me this time?” the priest would ask.
“Another book about a famous plague!” Ozanam would say with a twinkle in his eye.
“If people survived the plague years and years ago, then there is no reason for your not surviving it. Be consoled!”
Almost all of the houses across the street from Mr. Ampere’s home were visited by the plague, but no one on his side of the street was affected! Each night before going to bed, however, Mr. Ampere told Frederic, “If the cholera strikes me tonight, I shall knock on the floor with my cane. Do not come upstairs to my room. Just run for my confessor and then get the doctor.”
The great scientist wanted to receive the last Sacraments of the Church before receiving the care of a doctor. At last, the plague passed leaving behind it great sorrow and many orphans. Its deadly fingers had not touched Ampere or any in his house. No doubt God had excellent reason for sparing the lives of those within it. Their work for Him was not yet finished!