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Blessed Frederic Ozanam (1813 -1853) .

“We are below in order to accomplish the will of Providence.”
Frederic Ozanam was born on the 23rd April, 1813 in Milan from a comfortable family. In 1815, the
Ozanam Family came to live in Lyon, France, where the father, a physician got a post at the Hotel –
Dieu Hospital.

In 1822, Frederic started his high school studies. In 1831, at the age of eighteen, when Ozanam
arrived at the University of Paris to study Law, he was appalled to find an atmosphere of bitter
hostility to Christianity. In the nineteen century in France, there was the Revolution. The Church,
which has suffered not only the loss of property and power but also many martyrs, tended to regard
the Revolution as an unmitigated disaster.
So, Frederic with a number of his fellow students formed a study group to present a positive
intellectual witness to their faith. He and his friends engaged in endless debates and public
controversies on behalf of Christianity. But finally Ozanam was stung by one student’s derisive
challenge: “You Christians are fine at arguing but what do you ever do?” In that instant he was struck
by fundamental insight: That Christianity is not about ideas but about deeds inspired by love.
Ozanam resolved to start a fellowship of Christian LAY PEOPLE who would immerse themselves in
the world of the poor; performing acts of charity as personal sacrifice. This became THE SAINT
VINCENT DE PAUL SOCIETY.
The world of Ozanam in Paris and other cities was inhabited by the poor whom Victor Hugo
immortalized as “The Miserable.” An example: a child of a factory worker will not live more than
nineteen months. In entering this world, Ozanam and his companions were crossing a divide of
bitter class hatred, entering a world as little known to most of the clergy as it was to the bourgeois
intellectuals so enamoured with “liberty, and fraternity.”
Ozanam had no programme of social reform. Indeed there was little that his program of charity
could do to change the fundamental conflicts of the society. But his experience allowed him to see
below the surface, so he wrote:” It is the battle of those who have nothing and those who have too
much, it is the violent collision of opulence and poverty which makes the earth tremble under our
feet.”
Ozanam’s response was Christian charity. His concern was not only the welfare of the poor but the
credibility and integrity of the Gospel. The poor he said are “messengers of God to test our justice
and our charity and to save us by our works.”
In brief, in 1833, Frederic Ozanam, then a twenty-year old student in Paris and some young friends
of his, felt inspired with M. Bailly, their senior, to unite themselves in the service of the poor in the
most direct and humble way and within the frame work of their professional and family lives as
laymen.
At the outset, these young men felt the need to “bear witness” to their Christian faith by actions
rather than words. They regarded the unfortunate as their brothers whoever they were and
whatever the nature of their sufferings. In them they saw the suffering of Christ. They recognized in
them the dignity of men faced with the world and its miseries and also their dignity as those to
whom, first of all, the Kingdom of God is given.
Their method: personal contacts with those who suffer, to live united together in such a spirit that is
the very essence of the original character of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. In the light of the age
in which they lived and as laymen Ozanam and friends showed a prophetic foresight.
Broken in health if not in spirit from fighting, he resigned from teaching and public activities. He died
soon after, on September 8, 1853 at the age of forty. Ozanam’s motto was: “The equality between
men operates with sharing.”
The first conference meeting was held in Paris on the 23rd April, 1833. Frederic Ozanam was
beautified on August 22nd 1997.

Downloadable Ozanam Biography.pdf

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