“As Secretary General, you are after M. Bailly, the Society’s soul. The unity, and from it the vigor and perseverance, of the different conferences depend on you. Attend particular assemblies frequently; see the presidents from time to time; take part in the meetings of the administrative council; prod sometimes the excessive tranquility of the President General (Bailly).”
– Frederic Ozanam in a letter to Lallier, October. 5, 1837
Francois Lallier was born in the Burgundy-region town of Joigny, in Yonne, on June 22, 1814. Like many of the other founders’ fathers, Lallier’s father was a medical doctor. In his town, Lallier also had an uncle who was presiding magistrate and another who was a professor. Lallier met Frederic Ozanam at the University of Paris and remained a close friend until Frederic’s death. Of all his friends, it was Lallier whom Ozanam chose to be godfather to his daughter, Marie.
Lallier gave the following account to a friend of how he met Ozanam:
“As I left the Law School, generally alone, I noticed that a small group of students, always composed of the same members, were standing on the footpath near Rue Soufflot. In the middle of the group was one who spoke warmly, and was listened to. Who is, I asked myself, this young rooster to whom those fellows pay so much attention? – I recognized Ozanam. … I drew near the group and joined in the conversation. … When the others had dispersed, we resumed our conversation.”
It was the beginning of a friendship that would last a lifetime and to which others would be added. Ozanam, Lallier and these others would see each other daily, often meeting for lunch at a small restaurant on Rue des Canettes, around the corner from Emmanuel Bally’s office near the church of St. Sulpice.
Lallier was one of the most vigorous participants in the debates of the History Conference. From the beginning, he was always at Ozanam’s side in initiating the formation of the Conference of Charity. He also was instrumental in establishing the Notre Dame Lenten Conferences, which are still presented today. In 1834 Lallier, Ozanam and Lamache approached Archbishop de Quelen with a proposal to offer this lecture series to draw the young Catholics of Paris to the cathedral during Lent.
Years later, Paul Lamache remembered his friends Ozanam and Lallier and wrote, “Ozanam… was easily with us first among friends. Lallier came second; he had a strong character, extreme kindness, sound common sense, more reason than imagination, more solidity than brilliancy. His demeanor was reserved, even cold, but beneath it he had a warm heart, melting in close friendship into extreme tenderness. He was serious as a judge, and this characteristic joined to a simple and affectionate cordiality which gained for him among us the title of Father Lallier.”
An excellent lawyer, Lallier was renowned for his precise use of language, and he applied himself avidly to such work. In 1835 he was entrusted by Bailly with formulating the articles of the St. Vincent de Paul Society Rule. In 1837 he was appointed the Society’s Secretary-General, charged with writing the circular letter to collect reports from conferences. During Ozanam’s time away in Lyon, he relied on Lallier to advance his vision of the Society within the Paris Council and to exert influence on Bailly.
In 1839, after stepping down from General Council he married and returned to his home area to live in the town of Sens. Ozanam visited Lallier in Sens after Lallier’s son, Henry, was born. After returning to Lyon, Ozanam sent greetings from early Conference members LaPerriere, Arthaud and Chaurand and related that, “Your son is the cause of great entertainment; he is already pictured clothed in his father’s gravity.” In 1842 Lallier lost a young and beloved daughter, Julie. Ozanam wrote Lallier a long letter of consolation, “wet with tears.” It is one of 80 letters between these friends – correspondence that continued until just before Ozanam’s death.
Lallier founded the first Conference in Sens in January 1844 in a little room near the Notre Dame gate. He reported that the membership of the Conference consisted of two. For a period of three weeks they continued to meet and pray and to conduct readings and the bag collection. “We kept asking each other if would be possible to find a third brother in order to form one of those gatherings which our Lord promises to bless, and in which three form a quorum.” The third member arrived on February 13, 1844. By July 26 they would report to the Archbishop of Sens that they had 18 active members and were helping 16 families.
Suggesting various career opportunities, Ozanam frequently tried to persuade Lallier to move to wherever Frederic was – first to Lyon and later to Paris. Lallier’s son, Henry, went to Paris to study in 1851. Henry was a frequent guest at the Ozanam house and enjoyed playing with little Marie.
Lallier was well-respected as a lawyer in Sens. He began as a deputy judge and became presiding magistrate in 1857. In addition to working with the poor, Lallier had an active interest in archeology. In 1844 he was a founding member of the Archaeological Society of Sens, an ancient city with prehistoric mounds and evidence of Roman occupation. Several times he was the organization’s president. He contributed regularly to its publication, the Bulletin – the most extensive contribution being an 1845 article about the Roman inscriptions on the wall enclosing the city. His interests also included directing and supervising archeological excavations of sites that included the local Roman arena and ancient mounds. He prepared reports on his findings and participated in archeological conventions.
Nominated for the National Assembly in 1848, Lallier wrote a position paper containing many of the progressive positions found in the writings of his friend Ozanam. The many other well-researched and reasoned articles by Lallier include essays on creation of a single taxing system (1850), abolition of slavery (1852) and universal suffrage (1865). Over these years he also published several articles on poverty in France and the relationship between poverty and economic systems.
Pope Pius IX honored Lallier with the title of Knight of St. Gregory the Great and recognized him as a distinguished “magistrate, writer and scientist who carried high and firm the flag of religion.” The Cross of the Legion of Honor was awarded to Lallier in 1873 for his years of civic service.
In 1879, a few years before the celebration of the Society’s Golden Jubilee, President General Baudon commissioned Lallier to write an account of the Society’s origins. Lallier undertook this work and submitted an initial draft to the other surviving foundermembers:Le Taillandier, Lamache and Devaux. With their collaboration, a brochure was published in 1882 under the title, “Origins of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, according to the Recollections of its First Members.”
Francois Lallier died on Décembre. 23, 1886, in Sens.