Frederic Ozanam

2021 Vincentian Pilgrimage: In the Footsteps of Our Founders and Patrons

2021 Vincentian Pilgrimage: In the Footsteps of Our Founders and Patrons 2560 1920 SVDP USA

Speaking of pilgrimages, Pope Benedict XVI once said:

“To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.”

For members of the Society, it is especially in Paris that God’s “grace has shown with particular splendor” on our patrons and founders. Twenty-three Vincentian Pilgrims recently returned from Paris, where together, they walked in the footsteps of those holy people. National Director of Formation Tim Williams generously shared these photos and captions with us, so that we can all share a part of the pilgrims’ journey.

History and Artifacts

The offices of the Council General International (CGI) of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul include a museum that is home to important historical artifacts, many of them donated by the family of Blessed Frédéric. Seen here are Ozanam’s academic robes, which he would have worn while teaching at the Sorbonne, and a portrait painted by Frédéric’s brother-in-law, Charles Soulacroix. This portrait was the basis for the Ozanam Mosaic installed at the National Basilica in 2020.

The CGI staff was very warm and welcoming. Pictured is Gonzague de Raulin, special advisor to the President General, showing us the museum.

Bust of Frederic Ozanam

 

 

 

 

 

During his short 40 years on this earth, Frédéric managed to travel quite extensively; including trips to Italy, Spain, Germany, England, and all around France, often visiting existing Conferences, and working to begin new ones, as he continued to do in Italy right up until weeks before his death. It was in this trunk that he packed for all of those journeys.

In the former motherhouse of the Congregation of the Mission, the pilgrims celebrated Mass in the Chapelle Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, in the presence of Vincent’s body. Also in this building is a small museum containing is a number of artifacts from Saints Vincent, Louise, and Catherine Labouré. Our guide in the museum was Father Andrés Motto, CM, who serves as spiritual advisor to the Council General International (CGI,) and pilgrim Bob Loew acted as his translator for us.

Churches and Chapels

At the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, St. Catherine Labouré had her visions of Mary and the Miraculous Medal in 1830. When St. Vincent’s remains were translated to Paris in April 1830, St. Catherine reported having a vision of his heart on three successive nights in the convent chapel, which she took to mean that the Vincentian communities would prosper. His heart is in the Miraculous Medal Chapel today. The pilgrims celebrated Mass here and had time for individual prayer and meditation in the chapel. Outside the chapel, Sr. Paule Freeburg, DC, shares stories of the motherhouse, St. Louise, and St Catherine.

The inside of Saint-Joseph-des-Carmes Church. It is beneath this church where Bl. Frédéric is buried, and the pilgrims celebrated Mass in the crypt.

In the courtyard outside, National President Ralph Middlecamp shares some of the history.

In the middle of the 17th century, the Saint-Laurent was the parish of St. Vincent and of St. Louise. Years later, during the sack of Saint-Lazare (home of the Congregation of the Mission) in the French Revolution, several revolutionaries who had found a reliquary of St. Vincent de Paul there brought it reverently to Saint-Laurent for safekeeping — then returned to their looting and pillaging. 

 

Famous for its stained glass, Sainte-Chappelle was originally built as a chapel for Louis IX and was consecrated in 1248.

The famous Sacré-Coeur Basilica sits on the highest point in Paris, Montmartre. It was built in no small part due to the work of the leaders of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, who promoted the “national vow” to build this church in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War.

First built in 1758, the Panthéon is and was a very distinctive landmark in Paris. Through France’s many revolutions, it has served alternately a Catholic Church or a civic monument, which it is today. 

 

Across from the Panthéon stands the Church of St. Étienne du Mont. While attending the nearby Sorbonne School of Law, this was Blessed Frédéric’s parish, and it was also home to the first Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Interior of the Church of St Étienne du Mont.

In nearly every church, there is at least one painting or statue of St. Vincent de Paul, who is beloved throughout France. Here, pilgrim Silvia Vargas lights a candle in the Church of Saint-Sulpice, which was the Ozanam family parish. Frédéric’s funeral was here, and his daughter Maire would later marry in this church.

All Around Paris

Rue Mouffetard remains the same narrow street that it was in Frédéric and Rosalie’s day. Once a place of great poverty, it is today lined with shops and cafes, and filled with locals and tourists. The pilgrims walked with Blessed Rosalie’s words in our hearts: “Never have a I prayed so well as in the streets.”

Fifty thousand Parisians followed Blessed Rosalie Rendu’s funeral procession from St. Médard Church to this cemetery in 1856. To this day, fresh flowers are always placed upon her grave, and our pilgrims added a bouquet and prayed together on their visit. Known as “The Good Mother of All,” the inscription on her monument reads: “To Sister Rosalie from her friends, both rich and poor.”

The garden at the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity.

The French government installed a small marker on the side of the building where the first Conference meeting took place on April 23, 1833. 

Currently a fire station, this building was the Motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity when Blessed Rosalie arrived in Paris.

This sign on the wall in the crypt reads (in Latin): “A.F. Ozanam, unselfish herald of truth and love. He lived 40 years, 4 months, and 16 days. Dedicated by Amélie to her husband with whom she lived for twelve years and by Marie to her father. Live in God and pray for our salvation.”

Parisian Views

A view of Paris from the steps of Sacré-Coeur.

Contemplation: From That Time on, How Could I Not Love Them?

Contemplation: From That Time on, How Could I Not Love Them? 940 788 SVDP USA

Vincentians are called to serve the hungry, the homeless, the poor — all those who are suffering or deprived. Doing this work can sometimes lead us to discouragement, because we see so many problems we cannot solve, and we know that today’s groceries won’t satisfy next month’s hunger.

And after all, who are we to try to ease the suffering of others when we are weighed down by burdens of our own?

Writing to his lifelong friend Ernest Falconnet, Bl. Frédéric once confided that many times he felt burdened by his own problems and worries, but then he went “into the dwelling of a poor person confided to my care. There, because so many unfortunates have more to complain about than I, I scolded myself for being discouraged.” [15 Days of Prayer, p.81]

The poor will always be with us, as surely as our own hunger will return each day. This is why our Rule reminds us, we “should never forget that giving love, talents, and time is more important than giving money.” [Rule, Pt. I, 3.14]

Our primary purpose is not the feeding, but the sharing, and in the end, whatever loaves and fishes we have to offer will be enough for God’s plan, if we share them for love alone. And as we comfort, we will in turn be comforted, just as the five loaves and two fish, shared by Christ’s disciples, returned to them as twelve baskets filled with food.

To invert the old saying, “there because of the grace of God go I.” There to the poor; there to the hungry; there to deprivation and to sadness; there to Him who beckons us; there to Him who comforts and redeems us, even as we, “weak Samaritans,” seek to offer comfort.

As Bl. Frédéric taught, the poor are “the messenger of God to us, sent to prove our justice and charity…” [O’Meara, p. 177]

How can we ever tire, or be discouraged, when what we offer is to Christ Himself? As Frédéric realized when those impoverished families lifted his spirit:

“From that time on, how could I not love them?”

Contemplate

In giving, do I keep my heart open to receiving?

Recommended Reading

Apostle in a Top Hat   More a novel than a biography, this is an inspirational story of Frédéric’s life.

A Medallion in the Mosiac

A Medallion in the Mosiac 200 258 SVDP USA

On a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland to the United States in the fall of 1845, a Vincentian priest, John Timon, carried with him a copy of the Rule of the Society of St Vincent de Paul. Having met members of this young Catholic lay organization during his travels, he was so impressed with their works and zeal that he wished to share this book with friends back home in St. Louis.

Within weeks of his return, a group of some of the most prominent men in the frontier city of St Louis gathered at the church now known as the Old Cathedral, and held the first meeting of the Society of St Vincent de Paul in the United States on November 20, 1845.

In celebration of the 175th Anniversary of this event, the National Council has published a book, and commissioned a commemorative coin.

Meticulously researched by Raymond Sickinger, Professor Emeritus of History at Providence College, this book includes stories of key people, places, and events in the growth and development of the Society in the United States.

Sickinger, also a biographer of Frédéric Ozanam, tells us about Thomas Mulry, who was instrumental in drawing together the seven Superior Councils into a single National Council, and was elected its first president. His life was a model of Christian charity, and of lay Catholic devotion to inspire us.

From Thomas Mulry through Ralph Middlecamp, the book shares insights about all of our National Council Presidents, their priorities, and the accomplishments of the National Council under their leadership.

The book’s title is taken from another anniversary of the Society, its 100th, when our leadership assessed our history to that point, finding the Society to be ”a medallion in the mosaic of Vincentian works.”

Take some time to be inspired by reading these stories, and add the book and coin to your shelf in celebration of these remarkable 175 years, and in dedication to building the next 175!

Contemplation – The Secret Work of God

Contemplation – The Secret Work of God 940 788 SVDP USA

When we think about our Vincentian virtue of humility, it seems sometimes that it may act against the interest of the poor if it results in fewer people donating to the Society. But this confuses humility with secrecy, a point Bl. Frédéric often discussed!

Indeed, while celebrating the rapid expansion of the Society across France in its early years, he noted that “we love obscurity without cultivating secrecy” [Letter 310, 1841]

He emphasized that “humility obliges associations as much as individuals.” [Letter 160, 1837] We must maintain the humble spirit of our founding, just as Vincent once admonished a priest of the mission for referring to it as “our holy company.” Vincentians, like all Christians, seek holiness, we do not proclaim it for ourselves!

Secrecy does not serve the work, or the poor. We work in obscurity, not as servants of an unworthy or illicit cause, but as what Bl. Frédéric called “weak Samaritans,” and what St. Vincent called “unprofitable servants.” Our work is worthwhile because it is truly the work of God!

What robs the poor is when we take personal credit for the God’s work; when we see ourselves as the cause. Our humility as a Society, Frédéric explained, “must exclude that collective pride which so often disguises itself under the name of esprit de corps…”[Letter 160, 1837]

We seek to do God’s will, and we should not be silent about the good that results, but any success we achieve is His alone.

Why wouldn’t we tell that story? Why wouldn’t we want to share this great gift we receive with everybody we know? It is a great story exactly because it is not about us.

There is much pleasure in telling of the humble origin of great things. It is so wonderful thus to reveal the secret work of God.” [Letter 460, 1842]

Contemplate: How can I share our story?

Recommended Reading: ‘Tis a Gift to be Simple by Fr. Robert Maloney

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