A pleasant house was found in Paris and the lectures of the brilliant young professor soon began. His first one was probably the most painful. Always shy and clumsy, Ozanam feared going into the lecture hall. After he had done so, the first part of his talk was dry and dull. Suddenly, he turned away from his notes that had been so carefully prepared during the hours of the night before and spoke of his convictions. The students sat as if spellbound, and when the lecture was over, they broke into loud applause. Never had they heard such an interesting man speak to them. Never before had their Catholic faith been so clearly pointed out to them as the basis for the good things in literature and life.
From that time on, not only students from the university crowded into the lecture hall to hear Frederic speak, but even his fellow professors came. Unfortunately, however, in spite of all the good he was doing for minds and souls, he was making very little money. He decided that it would be necessary to obtain more work for himself in order to increase his income.
Several classes of youngsters from St. Stanislaus College were sent to him for lessons in literature. They were noisy on the first day of class and burst out laughing when Frederic entered the room. He put his books on the desk and turned to the noisy students.
“I have no intention of using corporal punishment on you,” he explained. “You are still quite young, but I shall treat you as men.”
From that time on the noisy students were quiet, and they came to love their teacher and the subject he explained so well.
Scholars preparing themselves for their examinations in law and literature came to his home for help. They were never turned away, and because of his aid and advice, many of them passed their tests brilliantly.
Frederic soon found himself appointed to the Board of Examiners for the university. That meant all the more work for him, because he had to sit for hours in a small, stuffy room listening to the answers of the students who Wished to receive their degrees.
It took great patience on his part to sit before the students and their parents day after day listening to the wrong answers! His questions were never easy, especially those given to the men who were about to receive the Doctor’s degree. He was hard on priests and seminarians, too, because he felt they should be well prepared for their great task of re-Christianizing France.
Sometimes, after he had asked a question, he could hear the relatives of the frowning student whispering the answer to him in loud hisses. Instead of being angered and asking the relatives to leave the room, the professor would take a deep breath and wait for the student to give an answer so far from correct that the usual seriousness of Frederic would vanish in a burst of laughter.
Meanwhile, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul continued to flourish not only in Paris, but also in other cities. A Rule for its members had been drawn up by Frederic’s good friends, Mr. Bailly and Mr. Lallier; and with the passing of the years, hundreds of new members came forward to carry on the good works the Rule had outlined.
After each Holy Communion, Frederic made it a practice to visit some of the poor families in his neighborhood. “But why do you do such a thing when you are already so busy with your lectures, your writing and your research?” a friend once asked.
“If God is so good that He comes to visit me, should I not share His visit with others who do not know Him and who are dear to Him because they are poor and suffering?”
Once Frederic attended Mass in the church of St. Vincent de Paul, the shrine of the great saint, himself. In the congregation were members from twenty-five different Conferences of the Society. Afterward at a meeting of these members, Frederic spoke of the work they had done in the past. Now, he told them, floods were being caused by the overflowing Rhone River. Thousands had been driven from their homes. Something had to be done to help the victims of the disaster.
The members decided to collect money and send it to the unfortunate people. In the next few months, they collected and distributed more than six hundred thousand francs!
On a hot day in August, 1845, Amelia Ozanam gave birth to her first and only child, a daughter. “I have received probably the greatest favor a man can have on earth,” Frederic wrote to a friend. “I am a father. What a moment that was when I first heard the cry of my child! She is the image of my Creator, and He could not have used a better means of teaching me and placing me on the road to heaven.”
Frederic continued to write much, a which he always found difficult but necessary. Shortly after the birth of his daughter, he was stricken with another attack of tuberculosis. He recovered and was able to make another trip to Italy, this time with his wife and child.
In Rome where he was received in private audience by Pope Pius IX, Frederic spoke about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
“Yes, my son,” the pope said, “I know the Society and the good it has done for the poor and the sick. All Our hope for the future lies in young men like you!”
When civil war broke out in Paris in June of 1848, Frederic sent his wife and daughter out of the city to safety, and then took up his duties as a member of the National Guard. Hoping that peace would be restored by a visit of the archbishop to the rebels, Ozanam and a few friends went to the palace of the prelate. He agreed with their plan, but refused to allow them to come with him to the rebel area.
The evening while trying to make peace with the warring factions, the archbishop was shot down in the street by the rebels to whom he had gone. “May my blood be the last to be shed,” were his dying words.
The civil war did not last long after that, and the rest of Ozanam’s short life was lived in peace. His lectures continued at the Sorbonne and the number of his students increased. Articles and books continued to flow from his pen. He had frequent meetings with workers, scholars and professors in an effort to win all men to the true Faith and to a better life.
In the fall of 1852, Frederic’s health broke completely. The strain of overwork had been too much. Ordered by his doctor to remain in bed, the sick man refused to do– so after hearing that his students accused him of neglecting his duties. He pulled on his clothes painfully and dragged himself to the Sorbonne. There he gave his last lecture.
Hoping the climate of Italy would improve his health, he moved to Pisa for the winter. The following year he returned to France to die. On Our Lady’s birthday, September 8, 1853, after receiving the last Sacraments from the hands of his brother, Alphonse, Frederic Ozanam quietly died. He had lived little more than forty years, yet in that short span of time, he had taught thousands by his words and holy life, brought the truth to thousands more by his books and articles, and done countless acts of kindness for his beloved poor.
Today, his Cause for beatification goes on rapidly in Rome, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society which he founded flourishes in nearly every country of the world.
May the example of this great Catholic layman inspire each of us to become what he became: a close follower of Christ!
Frederic Ozanam was beatified by Pope
John Paul II on August 22, 1997. He is now
Blessed Frederic Ozanam and very close
to final glorification: canonization as a saint.