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:


Articles featured in the Vincentian Heritage Journal:



Connecting Charity with Justice

Responses to injustice based only on charity may readily be maligned for not addressing the systemic issues that cause suffering to be perpetuated; yet, properly understood, charity should be seen as an essential part of transformative action and as the vital relational and affective dimension of justice. The word charity derives from the Latin, caritas, and can be better understood as a generous and self-giving love. It reflects an understanding of love as a sustained virtue and not as a fickle or thoughtless passion.

Frédéric Ozanam, influential lay leader and founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, understood that acts of charity enabled insight into the plight of the poor and oppressed, and facilitated more substantive and transformative social change. His beliefs resonate with those of Vincent de Paul and others within the Vincentian tradition. Ozanam emphasized personal relationships as fundamental to both affective and effective social action and transformative service. This Vincentian personalism, as we have come to know it, recognizes the unique circumstances of individual people, while concurrently working toward broader, systemic change. Ozanam’s words on the power of experience help us understand this piece of Vincentian wisdom:

The knowledge of social well-being and reform is to be learned, not from books, nor from the public platform, but in climbing the stairs to the poor’s man garret, sitting by his bedside, feeling the same cold that pierces him, sharing the secret of his lonely heart and troubled mind. When the conditions of the poor have been examined, in school, at work, in hospital, in the city, in the country… it is then and then only, that we know the elements of that formidable problem, that we begin to grasp it and may hope to solve it.[1]

As you consider social issues that must be addressed in our time, how do you maintain a personalism consistent with our Vincentian mission? That is, how can you better recognize and respond to the unique personal circumstances of those affected, while also working at the same time for systemic change that addresses the root causes of their suffering?

How might this Vincentian approach apply given the context of your work in higher education? How might DePaul University better reflect such a way of being?

1) Raymond L. Sickinger, “Frédéric Ozanam: Systemic Thinking, and Systemic Change,” Vincentian Heritage 32:1 (2014), 8. Free to download at: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vhj/‌vol32/‌iss1/4/


Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate VP, Division of Mission and Ministry


DePaul’s former Clifton-Fullerton Hall was renamed Ozanam Hall this past summer. See the Newsline Article from July 23, 2020 for more information. 


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/

Newsnote: Saint Vincent de Paul Society Centennial Holy Card (1833-1933)

The Vincentiana collection at the Archives/Special Collections Department of DePaul University’s John Richardson LIbrary has recently acquired this example of a holy card celebrating the centennial (1833-1933) of the foundation of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

The image shows Frederic Ozanam ministering to the poor in whom he finds Christ. His work is blessed and inspired by Saint Vincent de Paul.

Newsnote: New Volume of Ozanam Correspondence

Correspondance Frédéric Ozanam et Amélie Soulacroix Poèmes, prières et notes intimes Léonard de Corbiac (Textes rassemblés par) Magdeleine Houssay (Avec la contribution de) Présentation : Cette édition de la correspondance entre Amélie Soulacroix et Frédéric Ozanam réunit en un seul document les deux voix du couple, les lettres d’Amélie jusque-là inédites et celles de Frédéric, déjà publiées. On connaît Frédéric Ozanam : le principal fondateur de la Société de Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, le serviteur de la Vérité, le défenseur de la question sociale, celui qui s’agenouillait devant les pauvres, « images sacrées de ce Dieu que nous ne voyons pas ». Mais on redécouvre l’homme, l’amoureux, le père, l’universitaire, le poète, un homme plus simple, sans autres fards que ceux de son éloquence. Amélie nous était jusque-là presque inconnue : cette correspondance fait sortir de l’ombre une femme attachante par sa simplicité et son naturel, étonnante par ce qu’elle révèle à la fois d’elle-même mais aussi de Frédéric, véritable compagne qui a fait avec lui ce cheminement vers la sainteté. Par-delà ce regard intime qui éclaire une facette plus secrète d’un homme public, c’est un amour conjugal qui se découvre, sans pour autant être indiscret. Comme l’écrit Xavier Lacroix : « ce qu’expriment Frédéric et Amélie est tellement beau, Vrai surtout, juste, que cela en quelque sorte, par le haut, ne leur appartient plus. Le Vrai est universel. Il exprime une vérité de l’humain qui est en chacun de nous. » Don Léonard de Corbiac est prêtre de la communauté Saint-Martin, vicaire en paroisse à Biarritz. Il a consacré ses travaux universitaires de mémoire à Frédéric et surtout à Amélie Ozanam. Date de parution : 16.08.2018 EAN : 9782220095301 Nombre de pages : 864

The Virtuous Personality of Blessed Frederick Ozanam


Frederic Ozanam’s life is examined to illustrate his many virtues. Among these were “sensitive charity, practical wisdom, care for the truth, [and] love of family.” This study divides his life into three phases: his education and formation, his legal career, and his definitive vocation. The section on Ozanam’s education and formation gives information on his early family life and how he came to be influenced by Vincent de Paul, which has not appeared in as much detail in previous Vincentian Heritage articles on him.

“The Virtuous Personality of Blessed Frederick Ozanam” in Vincentian Heritage, vol. 17, issue 1 of 3, and may be found at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol17/iss1/3

Additional writings about Blessed Frederick Ozanam may be found in a special edition of Vincentian Heritage, vol. 30, issue 1 at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol30/iss1


Newsnote: Sickinger biography of Ozanam to be published in 2017 by University of Notre Dame Press


Raymond Sickinger’s biography of Antoine Frédéric Ozanam is more than a chronological account of Ozanam’s relatively brief but extraordinary life. It is also a comprehensive study of a man who touched many lives as a teacher, writer, and principal founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Ozanam’s life encompassed a particularly turbulent time in French history, and he was a witness to two major political upheavals—the overthrow of the Bourbon dynasty that brought Louis Philippe to power in 1830, and the end of Louis Philippe’s “Bourgeois Monarchy” as a result of the 1848 Revolutions. This book examines Ozanam’s life in a variety of ways. First, it explores the various roles he played throughout his life—son, sibling, student, member of and an inspiration for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, spouse and father, scholar, and spokesperson for the common people. Second, it examines the lessons he learned in his life, including the importance of friendship, the meaning of solidarity, and the role and purpose of suffering, among many others that he shares with those who study his thought and work. It concludes with an account of Ozanam’s enduring legacy.

Antoine Frédéric Ozanam feared that he would not have a fruitful career, but his legacy remains a powerful testimony to his greatness. This book will interest scholars wishing to know more about Ozanam and the period in which he lived, as well as a wider audience including those who are aware or are members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

“This is likely to become the definitive biographical work on Ozanam for the foreseeable future.” — David L. Gregory, St. John’s University

ISBN: 978-0-268-10142-8
460 pages

Frédéric Ozanam’s Tactical Wisdom For Today’s Consumer Society


From Thomas McKenna’s perspective, consumerism reduces everything, including religious tradition and altruism, to commodities that are removed from their original contexts and lacking in meaning. Elements of consumerism are identified; their combined effect leads individuals to only value short-term engagements with what appeals to them, makes them feel noble, or makes a statement about their identity. McKenna examines how Frederic Ozanam’s life and work can be used to counteract this. According to Ozanam, Christians should mediate between the rich and the poor to alleviate class conflict and ensure justice for poor persons. His mandate for direct service means that neither suffering nor altruism can be reduced to commodities, and that personal contact is the basis for practical solutions to social problems. It was Ozanam’s insight that service should be done in community and be directly tied to religion, or what would today be termed theological reflection. This strengthens those who serve, encourages further action, and, in McKenna’s view, preserves religion’s imperative force, meaning, and context.

“Frederic Ozanam’s Tactical Wisdom For Today’s Consumer Society” is an article published in 2010 in the Vincentian Heritage Journal, Volume 30, Issue 1, Article 1 available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol30/iss1/1

Newsnote: “Frederic Ozanam: A Life in Letters” now ditigized

Via Sapientiae the institutional repository for DePaul University’s John T. Richardson Library has completed the digitzation of Joseph Dirvin’s Frederick Ozanam: A Life in Letters.  This volume, originally published in 1986,  was digitized at the request of the National Council of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society in the U.S. which is the copyright holder.   Watch for other digitized titles to be announced.

Click here to access: