In the person of Father Marduel, Frederic found a saintly confessor. The priest was nearly blind when Ozanum was introduced to him and he was no longer able to say his Office. For hours each day he heard the –confessions of the many priests and students who came to him, and he was never seen without his Rosary in his hands.
Through the influence of this gentle and holy man, Frederic learned the art of mental prayer. He was told to go frequently to the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist. He did so and thus grew closer to Christ and followed His example more and more perfectly.
No one ever claimed that Frederic Ozanam was handsome or graceful. He was neither. Yet his gentleness and manliness attracted the good to him, and before long he had many friends in the Sorbonne where he studied for his law degree.
Many professors in the Sorbonne were anti-Christian and seldom missed an opportunity to sneer at Catholic teachings. This caused Frederick and his new friends much concern. When they had heard many attacks on their faith, they decided to do something to stop them.
They agreed that they would stand up in the lecture hall of any professor who attacked the Catholic Church and object to his errors and false statements. All went well at the beginning of their campaign, but before long the professors refused to pay any attention to the standing figures who asked to be called upon.
The lecture would continue without interruption and the poor objector would be ignored.
“Something has to be done about this!” Frederic snorted when he came out of one of the classes. “Tomorrow, if the teacher attacks the Bible again as he did today, I shall write him a note objecting to his lies. If he refuses to answer it, I shall write another.”
“And what if that fails, too?” one of his friends wanted to know.
“Then, we shall sign a petition requesting him to stop his attacks on religion.”
The attacks continued and the notes were written. They were all ignored, and so the young men wrote out a petition asking the teacher to apologize for his statements against what they believed. Fifteen signatures were attached to it and Frederic hurried to deliver it to the professor.
The teacher was amazed at seeing a Catholic objecting to what he had said in the lecture hall. “My dear young man,” he cried, “do you know that I have been teaching in the Sorbonne for five years and you are the first student to object to my attacks on the Catholic Church? Only materialists have ever objected to what I said. Today it is the Catholics who object. In the future I shall try not to offend their religion or any other religion.”
One of the newspapers that published articles of Frederic Ozanam at this time was the “Catholic Tribune”. Its editor was Mr. Bailly who took a deep interest in this young writer and who helped him begin conferences on different subjects for the benefit of other Catholic students.
“You are free to have your debates and discussions in my offices,” Mr. Bailly told Ozanam. “They aren’t very clean or pretty, but they are large and you are free to use them if you wish.”
Frederic was delighted and decided to begin the meetings at once. His friends were soon informed of his plans, and the debates got under way. Later on they became so noisy that the poor editor was sorry at times he had ever turned over his building to the young men. But even when discussions had become warmest, he refused to stop them or throw the young men out.
News soon spread to the Sorbonne that the best place for a debate or a fight was the office of the “Catholic Tribune”. Freethinkers, pagans and non-Catholics soon flocked there to get in on the fun. Frederic was delighted to see them all and to hear them raise objections to the subjects discussed.
Then one night after much had been said about the wonders which the Church had worked in past ages, one young man rose to his feet and demanded to be heard.
“Where are the good works of the Catholic Church today, Ozanam!” he shouted. “You say that your religion is based on charity. Where are the works of charity today that Catholics are doing? The poor starve in our cities! The families of working men have few clothes to wear and little food to eat. You, who can stand there and speak so well of the Church and her love for the poor, are doing nothing to help the poor! Let’s sec your works! Words are cheap and meaningless without them!”
Frederic got slowly to his feet. He was so stunned by the words of the student that he could hardly answer him. He was deeply impressed by the truth which the man had spoken, and as a result of it, he could say little.
When the noisy meeting broke up and the students set off in different directions toward their lodgings, Ozanam walked along sadly beside his friend, Le Taillandier.
“It is sad to hear the Church so attacked!” he mused as he made his way along. “Our debates must continue and answer the charges made against truth, but something is missing. We need a little society of religious friends who can work as well as talk. If our meetings are to be blessed by God, we must start doing works of charity. The blessing of the poor is the blessing of God.”
Frederic and his friend decided to do something about carrying words into actions at once. That very night after they returned to their lodging, they decided to give away the wood they had piled up for the rest of the winter.
“There is a family down the street that has no wood at all,” Frederic said. “Let’s carry ours to them tonight, so they will have a pleasant surprise in the morning.”
The two men did just that. Their first act of charity was to be followed by many others. The idea for the future St. Vincent de Paul Society was rapidly taking shape!
On an evening in May of 1833, the first meeting of the Society took place. There in pale lamp light eight young men, none of them older than twenty, met with Mr. Bailly and joined together to do acts of charity for the poor of Paris and later of the world. It was agreed that no one was to use the Society for his own gain. At each meeting a collection was to be taken up for the purpose of buying food and clothing for needy families. The spiritual as well as the material problems of the poor were to be cared for, and all were to be helped regardless of what their religion was.
Mr. Bailly was elected first president of the Society and the members decided to go to the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in order to get a list of needy people in the neighborhood. Sister Rosalie obtained the list for them and gave them much help and advice in their first charitable acts.
Frederic was sent to a poor family that was in great need of aid. He found the address and knocked on the door. It opened and before him stood a frail woman with uncombed hair who looked very tired.
He was invited into the small, dingy apartment. Five young children rushed past him as he entered and they stood shyly on the other side of the room. Their clothes were ragged and dirty. All of them were thin.
“I have come to ask if I may be of service to you and your family,” Frederic began.
The woman was surprised, and her eyes brightened. No one had ever offered to help her before. She quickly told her guest of her many sorrows. She had to work hard in order to pay the rent and buy food for the children.
Her husband refused to work and spent much of the money she earned on liquor.
“When he comes home,” she explained, “he is drunk, and he takes it upon himself to beat each of us until we are black and blue!”
“How long have you been married?” Frederick asked.
“We were married seven years ago by a judge.”
“Were both of you Catholics when you were married by the judge?” he asked.
“Yes,” the woman answered nodding her head.
“Then, in the eyes of God, there was no marriage at all! There is no need for you to go on living with this man who has been so cruel to you.”
“It’s too good to be true!” said the woman. “But what would happen to my children if I left him?”
Frederic looked across the room. “Your two oldest look strong and old enough to work.
Perhaps I can find jobs for them. You could take the others to live with you. If you have been able to provide for five of them, and a drunken husband besides, you certainly will be able to look after only three.”
When Frederic prepared to leave, he promised to bring the family food and clothing. Meanwhile, the mother was to make preparations for her return to her family in Brittany.
Mr. Bailly was happy to give work to the two oldest children, and after some time the
lady made her way with her other three children to her home in the provinces where she was no longer troubled by her “husband”.
Late in 1833, after Jean Ampere returned from Germany, Frederic moved from Mr. Ampere’s home to a large boarding house where he found a room on the sixth floor.
Before the end of the year, the Society of Charity had increased in size from eight to twenty-five members. At first, the charter members did not wish to admit any more into their ranks, but Ozanam demanded that as many who wished to join them should be allowed to enter. He had at that time a plan for spreading the Society all over France to serve as a network of charity for every parish and city. _
With more members the Society could do more good works and so the young men went to the parish priests and offered their services. They found more than ample opportunity for works of kindness. Each parish had many poor families, and in one of them, the young men found a prison for youngsters which needed attention. For two years, Frederic and his friends went to visit the inmates, bringing them presents and books, and helping them to become better people by their cheerful and kind words.
When the school year ended, Frederic left Paris for Lyons by stage coach. His year had been a busy and fruitful one, and now he looked forward to a plesant vacation with his family.
“Guess where your father is taking us this summer!” his mother said after she had greeted him with a warm kiss.
“I give up!”he smiled.
“To Italy! I am going to visit my sister in Florence, while you and Alphonse go with your father to Rome and other cities of interest. Charles will stay here with relatives.”
“That is wonderful news!” Frederic said. “Will we go to Milan?”
“Why not? We might as well make the grand tour while we are at it.”
Frederic’s older brother, Alphonse, was now a priest. Each day of their delightful trip into the land of poets and saints, Frederic was able to serve Mass for him and go frequently to Holy Communion.
In Milan the house in which Frederic was born was visited, and then the family went to visit the church of Our Lady in which he had been baptized. Kneeling near the baptismal font, Frederic renewed his vows of Baptism, and thanked God for the wonderful privilege of being a Catholic.
In Loreto, Father Alphonse celebrated Mass in the Holy House, the home in which Mary and St. Joseph had lived for thirty years with the Son of God made man. At Assisi Frederic was so impressed with the beauty of the area and the Franciscans who inhabited it, that he decided to write a book later on the subject of Franciscan poets.
Pope Gregory XVI granted the travelers a private audience while they were in Rome, and they were given a great banquet by Cardinal Fesch, uncle of Napoleon, who had deep respect for Doctor Ozanam and for his book, “The History of Epidemics,” which he had written some years before.
“Do you still care for the poor when they are brought to the hospital of Lyons?” the Cardinal asked the doctor at the banquet.
“Yes, I do, Your Eminence,” Doctor Ozanam replied. “It is but a small service for them, I can assure you.”
“Nonsense!” said the Cardinal shaking his head. “Your reward will be great in heaven for having done such Christ-like acts of kindness for so many years. I want you to have a little gift. The money in this pouch will help you finance medicine and new equipment for that hospital of yours. Take it for the poor.”
As he spoke, the prelate handed a large bag of money across the table to his guest. The doctor thanked him for his kindness and assured him that the poor would bless him for his gift. The banquet ended with music and conversation. It was an event that Frederic was never to forget.
In Florence, Frederic found many traces of the great poet, Dante, who more than any other writer was to inspire him in his literary work. The “Divine Comedy” was later to be read again and again by the young scholar and was to serve as a basis for much that he would write.
The vacation over, Frederic returned with his family to Lyons. Before long it was necessary to pack his books and belongings and start back to Paris for another year of study to become a lawyer.
It was to pass quickly and happily for the young man. Not only did he continue his studies and research, but six magazines and papers constantly asked him to write articles for their pages. Each club wanted him for a member, and whenever he went to the meetings he was called upon to preside.
During the Lent of 1834, a brilliant young priest gave sermons in St. Stanislaus College which drew hundreds of students to his pulpit. Among the students was Frederic Ozanam, who was so deeply impressed by what he heard, that he immediately introduced himself to the young priest—Father Lacordaire.
“What would you say if I suggested that you preach in Notre Dame cathedral where all of the students who wish to hear you could be seated comfortably?”
“I would like it very much,” said the priest. “But such a thing cannot happen unless the archbishop approves of it.”
“Then, I shall go to the archbishop,” said Ozanam without hesitating, “and I shall take some of my friends with me.”
Frederic lost little time in approaching Archbishop de Quelen. He begged the prelate to allow Father Lacordaire to preach Catholic truths to the students from the pulpit of Notre Dame.
The archbishop seemed to like the idea, but refused to allow Lacordaire to preach. “I shall give you seven of my best preachers,” he said.
Frederic left the prelate’s palace unhappy. He knew that the only man to whom the students would listen was Lacordaire. “The cathedral will be empty when the seven priests give their sermons,” he complained to his friends. He was right.
The following Lent, however, after going again to the archbishop, Frederic had his way. Father Lacordaire was allowed to preach in the great cathedral, and before his series of sermons was finished, the church was not big enough to hold the crowds that flocked to them. Thus began a series of sermons which go on to this day! Now, they are broadcast to the entire country of France by radio.
I( During the summer vacation of 1835, Frederick wrote his first book of importance: Two Chancellors of England: St. Thomas a Becket and Bacon. The following year he passed his final exams for his degree of Doctor of Laws brilliantly and returned to Lyons to take up his profession as a lawyer. In his spare time, he continued his studies, and was soon able to take the tests for his Degree of Doctor of Literature.
But great sorrow was in store for the young lawyer and scholar. One day while his father was climbing a steep staircase to bring aid to a poor patient, he tripped, lost his balance and fell down the entire flight of stairs. His death came several hours later as a result of his injuries.