We, The Fortunate Ones

As we move from celebrating the Feast of Sr. Rosalie Rendu, D.C. (February 7th), we turn our attention to the life and example of Saint Josephine Bakhita, F.D.C.C. (February 8th), a Sudanese woman, freed slave, Canossian Daughter of Charity, patron saint of human trafficking survivors, and someone we might consider a member of our extended Vincentian Family.[1]

Born in 1869 to the Dagiu ́people of Darfur in western Sudan, she was raised among a family of cattle and sheep herders until she was kidnapped (several years after her older sister suffered the same fate) by trans-Saharan slave-traders who mockingly named her Bakhita (meaning “fortunate or lucky one”). Over the course of her adolescence and early adulthood, Bakhita was sold to several enslavers, who treated her with varying degrees of cruelty and kindness, until she finally found a community of support among the religious of Italy. They assisted her in securing emancipation and supported her journey of religious formation. Bakhita spent the remainder of her life living in community among the people of Schio, Italy, serving as a cook and a doorkeeper at the convent.

Few of us in the United States know firsthand the horrors and degradation of slavery; however, we know its terrible legacies of structural, systemic racism, dehumanizing poverty, and environmental degradation. Much like Bakhita, we can at times feel powerless in the face of such forces, which seem immense and beyond our individual control. Although Bakhita had limited control over the what of her life, we can look to her as an example of courage, fortitude, and hope in shaping the how of our lives; that is, the infinitely creative ways in which we can respond to the Vincentian question, “What must be done?”

As you move through today, consider how you can respond to the personal, institutional, and societal injustices that we encounter in our daily life, work, and study. How can you, like Saint Josephine Bakhita, respond to the call for social and environmental justice in your life?

We invite you to contribute your brief response by sharing a thought, a quote, an image, or a combination of these to our communal reflection at our Bakhita Mission Monday Jamboard as a sign and symbol of hope and solidarity within our community.


Reflection by: Rubén Álvarez Silva, M.Ed. (He, Him, His), Associate Director for Just DePaul, Division of Mission and Ministry

Photo credit: Marcin Mazur at https://www.flickr.com/photos/catholicism/46346193904. Creative Commons License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

[1] The following sources were used in writing this post: M. Shawn Copeland, “A Woman of Courage, Fortitude and Hope” in Holiness and the Feminine Spirit: The Art of Janet McKenzie, ed. Susan Perry (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009) available at https://www.ncronline.org/books/2021/06/woman-courage-fortitude-and-hope; and “St. Josephine Bakhita,” Catholic Online (website), accessed February 3, 2022, https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=5601.

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: