Dear Vincentian Friends,
This Sunday we celebrate the 210th birthday of our principal founder, Blessed Frederic Ozanam. We continue to hope and pray that he may be recognized by the Church as a saint. Those of us who know him have no doubt that he is in heaven and worthy of being known as Saint Frederic Ozanam.
What Frederic Ozanam means for me — or what any saint means to those of us still on earth walking what our Rule describes as a “journey into holiness” — is best described by Ozanam himself when he writes about our patron St. Vincent de Paul. Blessed Frederic tells us, “… he is a model one must strive to imitate, as he himself imitated the model of Jesus Christ. He is a life to be carried on, a heart in which one’s own heart is enkindled, an intelligence from which light should be sought; he is a model on earth and a protector in heaven. A twofold devotion is owed him, imitation and invocation.”
If a saint is to be a model on earth, Frederic Ozanam is such a person for laypeople. St. John Paul II wrote in his encyclical “Christifidelis Laici,” “There cannot be two parallel lives in your existence as lay men and women: on the one hand, the so-called spiritual life, … on the other, the so-called secular life.” The integrated life of holiness is the one Ozanam led as a professor, lawyer, husband, father, journalist, and friend of the poor. He himself wrote, “We are not blessed with two separate lives — one for seeking the truth and the other for putting it into practice.”
We are very fortunate to have so many ways to know this man so that we may better follow his example. Many of those resources are available thanks to the dedication of his widow, Amelie, who preserved his letters and worked with early biographers. (I encourage you to read the newly published biography, “Amelie Ozanam: A Heart with Much Love to Give,” which is available from our national office.) We are currently working on a multiyear project to have all of the known letters of Frederic Ozanam translated into English. The first volume, covering his early years, will be released by the end of the year.
Reading Ozanam’s letters and articles shows us a man who struggled with the challenges of a culture that frequently did not value religion or faith. The founding of the Society was one identifiable way that Frederic responded to these challenges. Reading his letters, we see the struggle woven through his life in choices about his career, in decisions regarding his marriage and family, and in the way he responded to his physical suffering.
In his last testimony Frederic leaves us this profound final challenge, “I die in the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church. I have known the difficulties of belief of the present age. … If I set any value on my studies, it is that it gives me the right to entreat all whom I love to remain faithful to the religion in which I found light and peace.”
In his message to the Holy Father on the cause for canonization of Frederic Ozanam, Cardinal Pironio described Frederic as “really the man of the Church in the heart of the world and the man of the world in the heart of the Church.” I hope that through the imitation and invocation of Frederic Ozanam, much the same can be said about all of us members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Serviens in spe,
National Council President