Antoine Frederic Ozanam: A Life
- 1 Antoine Frederic Ozanam: A Life
- 2 Ozanam - Building the good Society
- 3 The Social Justice Vision of Ozanam
- 4 References
Antoine Frederic Ozanam: A Life
Family Life and Early Years
Ozanam came from an established Catholic family in Lyon, France, with many generations of doctors and lawyers. The family lineage is traceable to 43 B.C., the year of the death of Jeremiah Hosannam.  In the seventh century, Samuel Hosannam had his Jewish family baptized into the Catholic Church by the local bishop, whom they sheltered from hostile royalty; the family name remained Hosannam until Frederic’s grandfather began using the Ozanam form. 
Despite the anti-Catholicism in the revolutionary French Republic,  his father, Jean-Antoine Ozanam, joined the army in 1793, was wounded five times, and served with distinction until 1798, when he left the army as a captain.  Jean-Antoine married Marie Nantas on April 22, 1800 in Lyon,France; he was twenty-seven, she was nineteen,  and they were both devout Catholics. After prospering in the silk business in Lyon, he went bankrupt and moved to Milan, Italy. Walking nineteen miles every day to medical school in Pavia from Milan, he completed his medical training in two years and became a doctor at the age of thirty-eight. 
Born in Milan at midnight on April 23, 1813, Frederic was his parents’ fifth child.  Of fourteen children, four lived to maturity. Alphonse, his older brother, became a priest; his younger brother, Charles, became a doctor; sister Elisa died at age nineteen, when Frederic was seven.  In October 1816, when he was three, his family moved to Lyon, France from Milan.  In Lyon, his father became the doctor at the municipal hospital. 
Ozanam was a brilliant student at the Royal College of Lyon. It was during this period that Ozanam met Abbe Noirot, who served as his teacher, mentor, and spiritual director, and with whom he maintained a lifelong friendship. At sixteen, he had the typical teenager’s crisis of doubting his faith, but he persevered through this crisis with Noirot’s help and guidance.  Also during this period, Ozanam published some poetry and political essays in The Bee, a review journal of the Royal College of Lyons. 
He graduated at the top of his class in July 1829, and, for two years afterwards, worked in Lyon as a clerk to an attorney. 
Paris, and Professional Education
In 1831, Ozanam arrived in Paris from his home in Lyon, ready to begin his studies at the University of Paris École du Droit (School of Law). At first blush, there was nothing remarkable about him. He was not handsome or elegant. Rather, he was scholarly, introspective, abstract, of average height, and he had long, unkempt hair. He was pale, nearsighted,and thin. He was a shy, homesick provincial, repulsed by the anti-Christian secularism of Paris.
Tumultuous Paris was filled with poverty  and intrigue. It had recently been rocked by the July 1830 Revolution, which sent into exile the Bourbon King Charles X, brother of King Louis XVI who had been executed in 1793. The 1830 Revolution ushered in the “July Monarchy” of Bourbon King Louis-Philippe, who reigned until he fled for exile in London in the Revolution of February 1848.
France never fully recovered from the French Revolution, especially from its madness and bloodlust. The revolutionaries almost literally ate their young; they sent one another to the guillotine (including Robespierre and St. Just) and installed a prostitute on the altar of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in pagan repudiation of the Catholic Church. Catholics—who were associated, fairly or unfairly, with the reactionary and repressive ancien régime—were special targets for extermination by the Revolution, with many put to mass murder.  Deep strains of anti-Catholicism remained overt throughout the social, cultural, and intellectual life of Paris in the 1 830s, much of it the vestiges of infuriated reaction to the deposed Catholic Bourbon King Charles X. Until he was deposed in July 1830, he acted as though the French Revolution of 1789 had never occurred. He subscribed to the theocratic principle of “the union of altar and throne,” and he made sacrilege a crime, imposed heavy censorship, and placed the Church in charge of education.  Anticlericalism was a predictable part of the 1830 insurrection; seminaries were attacked, and a mob demolished the palatial residence of the archbishop of Paris in 1831 •  French Catholic conservative royalists hated the Revolution and denounced it as demonic, immoral, and evil. 
Despite the madness of the Revolution; pervasive modernist change resumed its own revolutionary pace as France continued its cultural transition to a secular and pluralist order, and its concurrent economic and social transition from a rural to an industrial and urban society. 
Academic and intellectual life was especially anti-Catholic.  Ozanam regarded Voltaire as the root of French anti-Catholicism—he wrote, “All irreligion in France. . . still follows Voltaire. . .‘ The Saint-Simoni  Utopian Socialists and the positivist philosophy of Auguste Comte posed as alternative humanistic religions superior to orthodox Catholicism They offered the false promise of new religions ushering in a golden age; Ozanam, eighteen years old, published essays in refutation.  
Close Catholic friendships grounded his spiritual life and facilitated and inspired his work. Fortuitously, as a young law student in Paris in 1831, Ozanam met Andre Ampere, who was regarded as “the Newton of electricity.”  Ozanam also subsequently developed a lifelong friendship with Ampere’ s son, Jean-Jacques.  A dinner invitation soon turned into residency with the elderly Ampere and his family during his studies in Paris. Ampere was a leading scientist, erudite scholar, and, perhaps most important for the eighteen-year-old Ozanam, a “pious Catholic.”  With a letter of introduction, Ozanam met Francois Rene de Chateaubriand on New Year’s Day 1832.  Chateaubriand was the leading Catholic public intellectual and Romantic writer of the period. His book, The Genius of Christianity, published in 1802, “began a religious revival in France.”’  
Ozanam’ s personality blossomed through such friendships, and his contemporaries came to describe him as ardent, kind, and zealous.  He quickly formed friendships with other Catholic students, who banded together in part because the government of King Louis-Philippe, suspecting they plotted the restoration of the deposed Catholic Bourbon King Charles X, spied on them. 
He was soon recognized by his fellow Catholic students as their leader, “primus inter pares” (first among equals).  After a lecture at the College of France, wherein the speaker was mocking the book of Genesis, Ozanam first met Vincentian priest and friend Father Lallier, with whom he subsequently founded the apostolate known as the St. Vincent de Paul Society and with whom he became a lifelong friend.  Ozanam and his Catholic friends formed study groups to defend Catholicism against the host of intellectual assaults.  In 1834, he firmly and audaciously led a letter petition to the conservative archbishop of Paris suggesting particular homilists to preach Lenten sermons at the Cathedral, rather than the insipid and ineffective designees of the archbishop; perhaps even more incredibly, the archbishop, after initial resistance, adopted Ozanam’s suggestions and, in 1835, appointed the homilists Ozanam had recommended.  The Lenten sermons suggested by Ozanam became so successful that they were institutionalized annually thereafter at the Cathedral. They featured Pere Lacordaire, who went onto become the greatest preacher of the era and who reinvigorated the Dominicans—the Order of Preachers—in France. Though a decade older than Ozanam, Lacordaire continued a lifelong friendship with him. 
Founding the St. Vincent de Paul Society
The St. Vincent de Paul Society began in the spring of 1833, when Ozanam and several Catholic student friends began meeting regularly for prayer, debate, and discussion at the home of Emmanuel Joseph Bailly, a forty-year-old Catholic owner of a print shop and publisher of a newspaper.  They initially called their group “The Conference of History and Literature.” They also agreed to contribute to a fund, which they would then personally distribute directly to poor people in Paris. By the following May, the Society had become so popular among the Catholic students at the University of Paris that Bailly’s home could no longer accommodate all of the members at their meetings.
In May 1833, Ozanam and friends reoriented The Conference on History and Literature to focus on charity to the poor. Thus began the St. Vincent de Paul Society, named in honor of St. Vincent de Paul, probably by Bailly, whose brother was a Vincentian priest.A fundamental principle of the Society is its premium upon direct, personal interaction with the poor, and not on bureaucratic and anonymous administration of programs— “it was a basic rule of the Society that the members must personally visit those they were assisting.”
Ozanam and his friends began bringing wood and coal to the poor for fuel. In a letter to a cousin, he explained his hopes:
[W]e are too young to intervene in the social strife. Shall we remain inactive in the midst of a world which suffers so grievously? No, there is another way open to us. . . we can endeavor to do good to some individuals. Before regenerating France we can help at least a few of her poor. Thus I hope that all young people with similar desire will unite for charitable purposes and form a vast generous association for the comfort of the masses.
Ozanam’ s vision of a worldwide “network of charity” quickly became a reality. By 1855, there were 2,814 local conferences of the Society located throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Asia, Africa, and much of Europe. Today, there are more than a million members of the Society working on every continent. It continues to be lay-led. It continues to offer the opportunity to actually do something tangible and real in the alleviation of poverty and suffering, and to directly practice the corporal works of mercy.
Christian charity was thus very different from philanthropy for Ozanam. He wrote, [Philanthropy is a pride for which good actions are a kind of finery and which loves to look at itself in the mirror. Charity is a tender mother who keeps her eyes fixed upon the child that she carries in her arms, who no longer thinks about herself and who forgets her beauty in her love.
- “It is a truism of Christianity that the real beneficiary of charity is he who gives rather than he who receives: of this Ozanam was deeply aware, writing movingly and beautifully of it. He never sought to eradicate poverty.  It was embedded and intractable; and, as a spiritual matter, a world without poverty would make the virtue of charity largely moot. He sought, however, to ameliorate and relieve poverty and suffering individually whenever and wherever possible.
Ultimately, charity is a powerful manifestation of love. Ozanam summarized, Our faith is weak because we cannot see God. But we can see the poor, and we can put our finger in their wounds, and see the marks of the crown of thorns. . . .They [the poor] suffer that which we cannot suffer, they are among us as messengers of God to test our justice and our charity, and to save us by our works.
Professional and Academic Life
In 1836, after receiving in August, his doctorate in law with honors, Ozanam returned to his parents’ home in Lyon. He had resolved as a teenager to devote his intellectual life—in whatever form of vocation and career path it may ultimately take—to further Catholicism and the work of the Church, and to demonstrate the truth of Christianity by and through history.  The next four years in Lyon were not nearly as exhilarating or as interesting as his student years in Paris (183 1—1835), which he called his “golden years.” His father died in 1837, and his mother in 1839. Dissatisfied with the single life, he struggled to find his vocation, and seriously considered joining the priesthood.
Ozanam became a lawyer to please his father, and in this profession he achieved early success and recognition. His heart, however, was not in the practice of law; even as a student, he had written to his mother,
[I]f some recreation is to be allowed me, let me work in literary matters, which will adorn dry jurisprudence. . . . I shall not at all neglect my legal studies for that. . . . Thanks be to God, I am not to be a solicitor, but a barrister, and so far a pleader. Therefore, I must cultivate literature, the mother of eloquence.
In his first year of law practice in 1837, he made twelve court appearances, three of them in civil matters, and he won all of his cases. He found collecting his fees another matter, however: “Fees come with difficulty and the relations with business people are so unpleasant, so humiliating, and so unjust, that I cannot bring myself to develop them…This profession upsets me too much.” He had such difficulty collecting fees that he also tutored three students to supplement his income. He was decidedly unenthusiastic about the grim, difficult, fee-collecting business dimensions of a tedious law practice.
In the spring of 1837, while practicing law in Lyon, he also began commuting to Paris to begin working on his dissertation on Dante for his doctorate in literature. He received the doctorate in 1839. 
At the age of only twenty-six, he was a brilliant scholar, with doctorates in both law and literature, and was fluent in several modem and classical languages. He coupled his intellectual gifts with a prodigious work ethic. The college at Lyon created a chaired professorship in commercial law for him in 1839. Beginning on December 16, 1839, the twenty-six- year-old professor gave forty-seven lectures through the balance of the next academic year.
On June 23, 1841, he married Marie-Josephine Amelie Soulacroix, the twenty-one-year-old daughter of the rector of the academy at Lyon. They were married in the Church of St. Nizier in Lyon by Ozanam’s brother, Alphonse, the priest. During their honeymoon in Rome, they met with Pope Gregory XVI; Ozanam gave the pope a copy of his doctoral dissertation on Dante. The Ozanams had a happy marriage; on the twenty-third of each month, in honor of the date of their wedding anniversary, he gave his wife flowers. They had one daughter, Marie, born in 1845.
His greatest academic love was for history and literature, not law, and he gained a position as a lecturer teaching those subjects at the University of Paris in 1840. In 1844, he was appointed the chaired professor of foreign literature at the University of Paris. Ironically, for this leading Catholic intellectual, his professional education and his professional life and work were at France’s leading secular—and often overtly anti-Catholic— university.
He was not disengaged from the people; indeed, the contrary was true. In 1846, with his health declining and after a full schedule of lectures as a chaired professor at the University of Paris, he gave free evening lectures to workers in the crypt of the Church of St. Sulpice. A biographer concluded:
It is not surprising that Ozanam should have been a popular speaker with the working-men. He counted himself one of them, and his eloquence had in it a note of real personal pride when it dwelt upon the dignity and power of labor, of human toil in every field. He was a fearless, engaging speaker and an excellent, conscientious teacher.
The balance of his short life, until his death in 1853 at the age of forty, was spent teaching and writing, with particular emphasis on the literature of the Middle Ages. His view, set forth comprehensively in his book, Civilization in the Fifth Century (1852), was that of the Catholic Romantic, regarding Christianity historically and empirically as most beneficial to improving the human condition, and, therefore, as the truest, most useful, and most reasonable of all of the world’s religions. Refuting Edward Gibbon’ s condemnation of Christianity as the purported cause of the collapse of Roman civilization and, hence, the Dark Ages, Ozanam posited that Christianity instead set the stage for the flourishing of culture and civilization during the early Middle Ages, and, thus, was the cause of the best features of civilized modernity. “Liberty is, according to Ozanam, not alien to Catholicism, but a product of the historical influence of that religion.”
His most significant scholarship was on Dante, who was the subject of his doctorate in literature, and his letters and essays, which total about ten volumes. Ozanam died before completing his survey of medieval literature. He lamented the unfinished state of much of his scholarship shortly before his death. Because of his early death, his hopes for election to the Académie francaise, the most intellectually elite circle in France, were not realized. He sought public office only once: reluctantly, at the urging of friends, and only four days before the election in the spring of 1848, he became a candidate to represent Lyon in the National Constituent Assembly. He lost.
His greatest academic contributions to social justice lie in his published lectures and essays. Perhaps his greatest talent as a lecturer was his “great natural eloquence.” Ampere said that Ozanam “prepared his lectures like [they were] a benediction and delivered [them] like an orator.”
Early Death and Partially Unfulfilled Promise
After the Revolution of 1848, he sadly realized that his life’s work of urging liberal Catholic action to alleviate the plight of workers and the poor would find no traction in reactionary France. No political or social program with any liberal tint apparently had any viable future. He did not witness, however, the continued and dramatic growth of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, his most enduring legacy.
He did not despair. Ozanam continued to proselytize (via his newspaper and journalistic essays) the idea, which was then decidedly out-of-fashion and dangerous, that the masses of the people—the “barbarians”— remained the best future hope for social liberty and democracy, and he continued to urge the Church to ally with the poor and the workers. He “did not trim his sails to fit the times,” and, consequently, many powerful interests considered him suspect. His Catholicism was impugned as heretically weak, warped, and unapologetically liberal by reactionary Catholic elites in the wake of the Revolution of 1848; they accused him of deserting the Church)
Always a tireless and prodigious worker, he was physically exhausted in 1846. He spent the next year traveling and resting with his family in Italy. His health did not fully rebound, and the kidney disease that killed him in 1853 had probably begun by this time. He nearly died of pleurisy and fever during the Easter season of 1852. His younger brother, Charles, a medical doctor, thought Ozanam might also have contracted tuberculosis.
In early 1853, living near Florence, Italy, kidney disease manifested itself in his swollen legs. He was no longer able to teach and write, although his book, Civilization in the Fifth Century, was published in 1852. He spent time whenever he was able in libraries, and three months before he died, he published his book, A Pilgrimage to the Land of the Cid, based upon notes taken during his trip to Spain in 1852. He was understandably frustrated by his inability to pursue his teaching and writing. He wrote to a friend, “I see everything black when I dream of my lost career, of a sad existence as an invalid and my family abandoned to all the danger of a somber future.He died in Marseilles, France, on September 8, 1853, unable to complete a return journey to Paris  He was beatified and declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II on August 22, 1997, at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris 
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- Albert Paul Schimberg, The Great Friend: Frederic Ozanam 21 (The Bruce Publg. Co. 1946).
- Id. at 5 n. 5 (Jean, Ozanam’s father, was particularly repulsed by Napoleon taking Pope Pius VII into captivity.).
- Id. at 3.
- Id. at 4.
- Id. at 5—6.
- Id. at7.
- Id. at 10.
- Id. at 7.
- Id. at 8.
- Id. at 22—29; Thomas E. Auge, Frederic Ozonam and His World 9 (The Bruce Pubig. Co. 1966).
- Auge, supra n. 19, at 2; Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 29.
- Sister Emmanuel Renner, The Historical Thought of Frederic Ozanam 3 (The Catholic U. of Am. Press 1959).
- Id. at 6.
- Apparently, Ozanam’s adulthood reflected that little had changed. Philosophy Professor Elme-Marie Caro at the French Academy described the adult Professor Ozanam at the Sorbonne in the mid-1840s as “neither handsome, elegant, nor graceful. His appearance was commonplace, his manner awkward and embarrassed. Extreme near-sightedness and a tangled mass of hair completed a rather strange ensemble.” Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 155—56.
- Auge, supra n. 19, at 1.
- Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 38.
- Auge, supra n. 19, at 1—2, 8. He wrote to a cousin, Ernest Falconnet, a month after arriving in Paris: “Paris displeases me because there is no life, no faith, no love; it is like a corpse to which I, young and alive, am attached...” Id. at 8.
- With a population of 27,500,000, estimates of those in poverty ranged from four to ten million. Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 204.
- See e.g. Honore de Balzac, The Human Comedy (Little, Brown & Co. 1902) (Honore de Balzac (1799—1850) captured the ambiance and ethos of Paris in the 1 830s in his more than ninety novels); see also Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (Charles E. Wilbur trans., Random House 1992).
- Auge, supra n. 19, at 6, 98.
- Some of the frenzy has been powerfully captured in art and culture. See e.g. Francis Poulenc, The Dialogue of the Carmelites (J. Machlis trans., Ricodi 1986) (an opera exploring the journeys of faith of Catholic Carmelite nuns sent to the guillotine for the crime of being Catholic).
- Auge, supra n. 19, at 7.
- Id. It is worth noting, however, that there was restored respect in workers’ quarters for the Church and for parish priests during the February Revolution in 1848. Id. at 40.
- Id. at 84—85.
- Id. at 6.
- Id. at 66.
- The Comte Claude de Simon (1760—1825) was a leading French socialist who fought with France in the American Revolution. Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 29—30.
- Auge, supra n. 19, at 8—9.
- Renner, supra n. 21, at 5.
- Auge, supra n. 19, at 2.
- Id. at 3.
- Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 42.
- Auge, supra n. 19, at 4—5.
- Id. at 4.
- Id. at 9. Ozanam wrote to his mother in 1834 of the anti-Catholic environment in Paris. “We are surrounded by political parties who, because we are coming of age, want to draw us in their armies. . . . There is no literary meeting at which spies of the government. . . might not be present.” Id. at 10.
- Id. at 11.
- Id. at 12—13.
- Id. at 13—14.
- Id. at 16—17.
- Id. at 17.
- Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 66.
- Id. at 56—61.
- Auge, supra n. 19, at 20.
- Id. at 23.
- Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 64—65.
- In addition to Ozanam and Bailly, there were four law students and a medical student meeting in May, 1833 to found the Society. Other than the forty year old Bailly, they were nineteen to twenty-two years of age. Id. at 66—68. None were wealthy; they were all middle class. Id. at 234.
- Auge, supra n. 19, at 41. As a practical matter, Ozanam and his colleagues had entre for contacts into the slums of Paris by Sister Rosalie Rendu of the Daughters of Charity, a Vincentian religious who lived and worked in the Mouffetard quarter working class slums of Paris since entering the order in 1801 at the age of fifteen and who, at her death in 1860, was known as the Mother of the Poor of Paris.
- Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 62. “This wood and coal an orator has called the ‘symbolic fuel which would start throughout the world a huge conflagration of charity.” Id. at 75.
- Renner, supra n. 21, at 9.
- Auge, supra n. 19, at 25.
- Id. at 25, For more on the phenomenal and rapid international growth of the Society during Ozanam’s life, see Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 106.
- Id. at 41.
- Id. at 125.
- Id. at 42.
- Id. at 60—6 1, 65—66.
- Id. at 58.
- Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 121, 127.
- Auge, supra n. 19, at 50—51, 57; see also Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 123.
- Kathleen O’Meara, Frederic Ozanam, Professor at the Sorbonne: His Lkfe and Works 132 (3d Am. ed., The Catholic Publication Socy. Co. 1883).
- Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 87.
- Id. at 120.
- Id. at 123.
- Id. at 120. His Latin doctoral thesis was Di frequenti apud veteres poetas heroum ad inferos descensu; his French doëtoral thesis was De Ia Divine Comedie et de Ia philosophic de Dante. Renner, supra n. 21, at 12.
- Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 125—27.
- On April 13, 1836, he submitted two theses, one on Roman law (De Interdictis) and one on French law (De Ia Prescription a I’effet d’acquerir), and received his doctorate in law with honor. Id. 113—14.
- Auge, supra n. 19, at 62—63.
- Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 127.
- id. at 130.
- Heinrich Auer, Fri edrich Ozanam, der Gründer des Vinzenzvereins: Em Leben der Liebe 55 (Freiburg i. Br: Caritasverlag 1913); see also Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 144-45 and Renner, supra ii. 21, at 14.
- CMGlobal, Frederic Ozanam: His Piety and Devotion, http://www.famvin.org/cmlcuria/ vincentiana/1997/97-3-rainson.html (accessed Nov. 18, 2005).
- Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 145—46.
- Frederic Ozanam: His Piety and Devotion, supra n. 83, at http://www.famvin.org/cml curia/vincentiana/1997/97-3-ramson.html.
- Auer, supra n. 82, at 55. See also Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 154—55.
- Auer, supra n. 82, at 55.
- Id. at 74—75. In 1844, Lenormant, a Catholic professor colleague, was publicly harassed throughout his lectures and resigned his position despite Ozanam’s support.
- O’Meara, supra n. 71, at 188.
- Id. at 189.
- Renner, supra n. 21, at 31.
- Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 156—57. He brought students to the Church, receiving one letter from a student: “What a great number of sermons failed to do for me, you have done: you have made me a Christian! . . . Accept this expression of my joy and gratitude.” Id. at 157.
- Auer, supra n. 82, at 55, 137—38.
- Id. at 65.
- Id. at 67—68.
- Id. at 88.
- Id. at 55. The title of his dissertation was Dante and Catholic Philosophy in the 13th Century. Schimberg, supra n. 9, at 340.
- Auer, supra n. 82, at 59.
- Id. at 107.
- Id. at 78.
- Id. at 130.
- Id. at 130—32.
- Id. at 139.
- Id. at 140.
- Id. at 144—45.
- Id. at 140—41.
- Id. at 145.
- CMGlobal: The Congregation of the Mission, Congregation of the Mission: General Curia, http://www.famvin.org/cm/curia/vincentiana/1997/97-6-sheldon.html (accessed Nov. 20, 2005).