Celebrating the Vincentian Legacy of Frédéric Ozanam

Each year on September 9th, the worldwide Vincentian family celebrates the Feast Day of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam (1813-1853), the nineteenth-century French, lay Catholic leader, widely considered the founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The Society is now an international confederation present in 150 countries with over 800,000 members in 47,000 Conferences and 1.5 million volunteers and collaborators. It serves the needs of over 30 million people all over the world.

Ozanam was a French literary scholar, lawyer, journalist, and equal rights advocate in Paris. He was recognized as a skilled writer, orator, thinker, social activist, and model of faith oriented toward outward action. Following the practices of Saint Vincent de Paul and inspired by his faith, Ozanam served the poor and destitute of Paris. He especially saw the power of bringing students together to study Vincentian principles and engage with those who were marginalized and poor.

While a student of law and literature in Paris, he founded the Society in 1833 with a group of friends who gathered regularly to grow in their faith and visit the poor. With the help of the older Emmanuel Bailly, who brought his own experience of socially engaged Catholicism, they provided vouchers for bread and wood to those in need. Inspired by the gospel message of love, they provided instruction and gave of their time and presence to serve the disadvantaged.

Later, as a professor at the prestigious Sorbonne, Ozanam became a renowned scholar and intellectual. He dedicated his life to understanding what Catholicism offered civilization. Committed to the principles of democracy and social justice, he became a journalist at L’Ère Nouvelle (The New Era), advocating for social reform and a governmental regime of liberty, equality, and fraternity that included the less fortunate. Frédéric was also devoted to his wife, Amélie, and their daughter Marie, whom he loved dearly. His integration of his professional life with his personal and spiritual life, along with his simple yet open style of engagement offers us a model of servant leadership today. Frédéric Ozanam was beatified by Pope John Paul II during World Youth Day in 1997.

 

In the summer of 2020, DePaul University renamed one of its residence halls in his honor.

To learn more about Frédéric’s legacy and his contributions to understanding our shared Vincentian mission, explore some of the following Vincentian Heritage resources:

Blog Reflections:

Podcasts:

Articles featured in the Vincentian Heritage Journal:

 

 

Changing Attitudes and Changing Structures: Walking with Frederic Ozanam

Today, most of us are familiar with the concept of systemic and structural change. In the context of 17th Century France, however, in which Saints Louise and Vincent lived, the idea of systemic change had yet to be developed. Instead, during this period, any efforts to improve the situation of those living in poverty tended to focus on solving the immediate material needs of the person in front of you. Given this context, the contributions of Vincent and Louise were notable and ground-breaking for their time in the way they went beyond addressing the immediate demands posed by poverty, to the level of organizing charitable efforts at a structural level. Not only did their labors lead to more effective and efficient forms of service delivery but they continue to shape the professions of health care and social work centuries later.

If we fast-forward two centuries to 19th Century France, a deeper appreciation of the world as a complex interrelated system was evolving. It was during this time that Frederic Ozanam, a 20-year old student studying at the Sorbonne, was one of the principle founders of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1833.  Ozanam helped recruit students for this lay Catholic organization to serve the poor in the slums of Paris, and at the same time regenerate French society to create a more just world. Indeed, after years of revolution and at the dawn of industrialization, Ozanam’s vision was to create “a community of faith and works erasing little by little the old divisions of political parties and preparing for a not-too-distant future a new generation which would carry into science, the arts, and industry, into administration, the judiciary, the bar, the unanimous resolve to make it a moral country, and to become better themselves in order to make others happier.”[1]

Thus, during this period, even though the terms systemic change and systemic thinking were not yet in common parlance, Ozanam’s ideas were infused with the seeds of such concepts. Indeed, for this Vincentian family member, if solutions for poverty were to be found, both individual lives and societal forces had to be transformed.

Today the Society of St. Vincent de Paul continues on a global scale. It is currently comprised of more than 800,000 members in 153 countries. While the Society has grown and changed over the years, its mission has not: to serve those on the margins, and shape a more just and compassionate world.

In 2006, Reverend Gregory Gay, C.M., then Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, founded a Commission to promote systemic change as a way to end poverty, building upon the strong Vincentian foundation dating back to the time of Vincent and Louise. He called all members of the Vincentian Family to engage in strategies to help end poverty through systemic change as an essential dimension of living out Vincentian virtues and values in today’s context.

In light of this call and reading the signs of the times in our world today, how might you be hearing a similar call in your professional work at DePaul or in your personal life to improve the larger systems that impact the lives of those who are poor or marginalized?  Given the problems that confront our society, what inspiration might the example of Frederic Ozanam offer as we seek to construct a more just world?

Note:   DePaul University’s former Clifton-Fullerton Hall was recently renamed Ozanam Hall.  See the Newsline Article from July 23, 2020 for more information. 


[1] Dirvin, Joseph I., CM.  Frédéric Ozanam: A Life in Letters. Society of St. Vincent DePaul, Council of the United States. 1986.  “Letter to Henri Pessoneaux,” 13 March 1840. p. 178

 

Reflection by:  Siobhan O’Donoghue, Director of Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry

 

Episode 2: New Opportunity to Oppose Proposed Regulations Precluding Asylum Eligibility

 

This episode is an interview with Rev. Craig B. Mousin founder and former Executive Director of the Midwest Immigrant Rights Center and an Adjunct Faculty member at DePaul University’s College of Law and The Grace School of Applied Diplomacy. He talks about responding to the federal government’s proposed regulations that would make asylum seekers ineligible for asylum and related remedies based on purported public health considerations.   We encourage you to file your own comments opposing part or all of the proposed procedures and asking the government to withdraw the entire proposed rule.  To assist you in obtaining a link to the proposed procedures or in filing your comment, you may incorporate your remarks into one of the templates provided by the following:

The National Immigrant Justice Center’s template.

If you are concerned about unaccompanied minors or children refugee issues, you can use the Young Center’s template.

Both websites provide additional information on how the proposed regulations restrict access to the courts and prevent bona fide applicants from presenting their cases for asylum.  To be accepted by the government, please make sure your comments are filed on or before 11:59 p.m. EDT, Monday, August 10 2020.

For additional information on the pretext of the public health need for these proposals, see:  https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/new-asylum-ban-recycled-pretext-proposed-rule-would-illegally-unjustly-bar-many-asylum

 

Please share this podcast and links with members of your community or faith organizations, family members and friends.  Encourage them to file comments to help ensure that our nation continues to offer shelter for refugees in need.  Thank you for your consideration of this request.

 

The Life and Legacy of John Lewis

Photo: AP Photo/Linda Schaeffer. Sept. 3, 1986, John Lewis, front left, and his wife, Lillian, holding hands, lead a march of supporters from his campaign headquarters to an Atlanta hotel for a victory party after he defeated Julian Bond in a runoff election for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District seat in Atlanta.

When John Lewis was diagnosed with fourth stage pancreatic cancer back in December, I was shaken. My unsettled spirit at this news was, in part, caused from a flood of memories around the same news my family had received about my father years earlier. Another cause of my unrest came in recognizing that another good man was entering into the battle of his life knowing full well that this battle could not be won. And, I was distraught because our country needed John Lewis, the “conscience of Congress.” News of Representative Lewis’ illness deeply affected me just as the news of his death now haunts me.

And so, I find myself pondering a great man whose life and legacy are gifts to our world that simply cannot be forgotten. John Lewis is known as a hero, a Civil Rights champion, an activist, a man of God, a recipient of the Medal of Freedom. These titles (and so many others) and the tireless work that inspires such titles help paint the picture of a talented and dedicated man who spent six decades in service to humanity. But, there is another title that Mr. Lewis most likely never knew but one that most certainly suits him well. John Lewis was a Vincentian.

The work of Vincentian leaders is always grounded in something far beyond themselves. For Vincent, his work was a matter of answering a call from Divine Providence. As St. Vincent entered into that call and followed, he was able to find the strength and confidence to tackle the daunting ministry before him.[1] This same confidence and strength that John Lewis found in his work came from his deep and abiding faith. In a 2004 interview about his work in the Civil Rights Movement, Mr. Lewis spoke boldly of the importance faith played as the Movement unfolded: The [Civil Rights] movement was built on deep-seated religious convictions, and the movement grew out of a sense of faith — faith in God and faith in one’s fellow human beings… Without our faith, without the spirit and spiritual bearings and underpinning, we would not have been so successful. Without prayer, without faith in the Almighty, the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.”[2] It was a deep seated faith that carried John Lewis through dozens and dozens of physical beatings and even more political struggles. It was an unfaltering faith in God’s goodness that surely gave Mr. Lewis the courage and will to continue speaking out and working for justice up until his dying days.

“God allows us to give rise to the practice of two beautiful virtues:  perseverance, which leads us to attain the goal, and constancy, which helps us to overcome difficulties.”[3]  — St. Vincent de Paul

Photo: Credit Unknown. In this photograph from 1962, Lewis, then a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), had traveled to Cairo to organize demonstrations to protest the segregation of public spaces. Here, he and his colleagues hold a Prayer Demonstration at a segregated swimming pool.

Like John Lewis, St. Louise de Marillac encountered and overcame many challenges while always practicing and encouraging great kindness and goodness: “Our vocation of servants of the poor calls us to practice the gentleness, humility and forbearance that we owe to others. We must respect and honor everyone.”[4] Louise de Marillac and John Lewis humbly reached out to people of all walks of life, listening to their stories and opinions, and acting in ways that honored them. In Mr. Lewis’ case, he even asked blessings upon those who brutally beat him. His commitment to honoring the dignity of others can be seen in a statement he made following President Obama’s decision to endorse same-sex marriage: “Once people begin to see the similarities between themselves and others, instead of focusing on differences, they come to recognize that equality is essentially a matter of human rights and human dignity.” Representative Lewis began his work as a young man fighting for rights of the Black community but his lifetime work was dedicated to fighting for the rights of all people. He did so in all humility and kindness, loving his neighbors, and never giving up in his fight for justice.

“The question which is agitating the world today is a social one. It is a struggle between those who have nothing and those who have too much. It is a violent clash of opulence and poverty which is shaking the ground under our feet. Our duty…is to throw ourselves between these two camps in order to accomplish by love, what justice alone cannot do.”[5]  Frederic Ozanam

DePaul University describes its distinguishing marks as, “Motivated by the example of Saint Vincent, who instilled a love of God by leading his contemporaries in serving urgent human needs, … characterized by ennobling the God-given dignity of each person…. manifested by… a sensitivity to and care for the needs of each other and of those served, with a special concern for the deprived members of society.”[6] These distinguised marks of our DePaul community could easily be a summation of the life and legacy of John Lewis. He was a man of God who dedicated his life to serving urgent human needs, ennobling the dignity of all, and with a deep concern for the marginalized and deprived members of our society. John Lewis truly was a man who exemplified the hallmarks of our Vincentian community. Claiming John Lewis as a Vincentian in spirit, word, and deed seems very fitting, indeed.

As with all our Vincentian models in life, we are left with a gift and a call from Representative Lewis who was never satisfied with simply accepting the status quo. His life and now his legacy become a call to each of us to continue the hard work in which he engaged and encouraged in us. As Vincentians we do not sit on our laurels but we continue to push forward, always recognizing that there is much to be done in our woeful world. The spirits of St. Vincent, St. Louise, Elizabeth Seaton, Frederic Ozanam, and John Lewis inspire us today to continue the important work of seeking justice and pouring love into the world. We honor John Lewis and all our Vincentian ancestors when we follow the example and heed the words of Representative Lewis:

“So you have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, to speak up, speak out and get in good trouble… You can do it. You must do it. Not just for yourselves but for generations yet unborn.”[7]John Lewis

As we honor a great man who fought many battles through life, we know what must be done: let’s go make some good trouble!

 

Rev. Dr. Diane R. S. Dardón, ELCA
Religious Diversity & Pastoral Care, Director


[1]“Providence must call us and we must follow it, if we are to go forward confidently.”Vincent de Paul (Volume: 3 | Page#: 538) To Rene Almeras, Superior, In Rome, 4 February, 1650.

[2]Lewis, John. “John Lewis Extended Interview.” Interview by Kim Lawton. Religious and Ethics News Weekly, 16, January 2004, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2004/01/16/january-16-2004-john-lewis-extended-interview/2897/.

[3]Vincent de Paul (Volume: 4 | Page#: 36-37) To Guillaume Comaire, June 15, 1650.

[4]Louise de Marillac (Volume:  Page#: 468).

[5]Quote attributed to Frederic Ozanam. The Vincentian Formation Network, accessed June 20, 2020, http://vincentians.com/en/quotes-collection/frederic-ozanam-quotes/.

[6]“DePaul University’s Mission.” Division of Mission and Ministry, accessed June 20, 2020,

https://offices.depaul.edu/mission-ministry/about/Pages/mission.aspx.

[7]Lewis, John. “Graduation Address.” 14, June 2015, Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin. Speech.

The Long and Winding Road

 

“Let us go in simplicity where merciful Providence leads us, content to see the stone on which we should step without wanting to discover all at once and completely the windings of the road.”

Frédéric Ozanam (Dirvin, Letters, p. 93)

Portrait de FrŽdŽric OZANAM, par L. Janmot, mars 1852

In a letter to a friend, Frédéric Ozanam, founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, identified within himself something that many of us also experience: we restlessly focus upon the future, only to miss out on the peace and purpose to be found in the present. For Ozanam, faith meant an embrace of the present moment and a willingness to be led by God one-step at a time even at the risk of not knowing where the journey will take you.

Are you willing to let go of certainty and take life one step at a time?  If you pause and reflect, what needs tending to in your life, both in and outside of DePaul, right now?

Inspired by the lives of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, and influenced by Rosalie Rendu, D.C., Frédéric Ozanam co-founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1833 to tend to the spiritual and material needs of the poor in Paris. Today, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul numbers nearly one million members worldwide.

Joseph I. Dirvin, C.M., trans and ed., Frédéric Ozanam: A Life in Letters (St. Louis: Society of St. Vincent de Paul, 1986).

Frédéric Ozanam: https://famvin.org/wiki/Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric_Ozanam

Society of St. Vincent de Paul USA: https://www.svdpusa.org/

Rosalie Rendu: https://www.vinnies.org.au/page/About/History/Bl_Rosalie_Rendu/

To the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Emulating Vincent

 

Fr. Jack Melito, C.M., offers a reflection on the appropriate choice by Blessed Frederic Ozanam of Vincent de Paul as the patron of his fledgling society in the 19th Century.  For Frederic, Vincent served as a model who established a contact with the life and works of Jesus first of all.  Secondly, Vincent’s life and works provided an example that must be carried on by continuing those same works.  Finally, Vincent’s heart, that burned so vigorously in the service of the poor, was a heart that would enkindle the hearts and zeal of those who would carry on that work in Frederic’s day.

“To the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Emulating Vincent” is a chapter in the book Saint Vincent de Paul: His Mind and His Manner, published in 2010 by the Vincentian Studies Institute at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois.  Unfortunately, the book is currently out of print.