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The Lay Spirituality of Frederic Ozanam


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Origins of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

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The Lay Spirituality of Frederic Ozanam

  1. 1. Lay Spirituality of Frederic Ozanam
  2. 2. Antoine Frédéric Ozanam is celebrated as the principal founder of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The first conference of charity was started in Paris by Ozanam and six other friends in April of 1833 and was soon copied in other places.
  3. 3. For Frédéric Ozanam the Society was to be run by laymen. But a certain distrust began to be felt by the clergy. The pastors feared that the creation of yet another project in the city would disperse the Church’s energy and exhaust the generosity of the faithful. And it was hard to accept that this association would be directed by a layman and that priests could not be active members.
  4. 4. Providentially, the Bishop Eugène de Mazenod intervened. He did not harbor the same reservations as his fellow clergy. He gave his blessing to the newly formed group of eight men, promising them his “help, assistance, and advice.” He praised the Society and recommended it to all of his clergy. Within two years the Society spread, serving more than two hundred and eighty families. St. Eugene de Mazenod
  5. 5. The lay nature of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul was present from its inception. On Tuesday, 23 April 1833, at eight in the evening, a group of seven men met in the office of the newspaper, Tribune catholique, located at 18 rue du Petit Bourbon-Saint-Sulpice. The paper was run by Joseph Emmanuel Bailly. Bailly not only welcomed the group to use his offices, but also joined them in this endeavor.
  6. 6. Affectionately referred to by the young men as “le Père,” Bailly was necessary to their success. He had experience to share: • He had worked with students like Ozanam before • He had visited the sick in hospitals • He was a former member of both the Société des Bonne Études (Society of Good Studies), and the Société des Bonnes Oeuvres (Society of Good Works) • He knew how to get around the government’s repression of groups like this (out of fear that they could potentially become centers of political opposition)
  7. 7. Bailly established the Conference of History, which attracted talented students like Ozanam and his friends. Unlike the earlier organizations that limited members to “a certain class of young Catholics of a particular shade of political thought,” this new Conference of History was open to anyone with a desire to learn: “to every shade and difference of contemporary thought,” all of which Frédéric Ozanam counted on winning over.
  8. 8. To support passionate students like Frédéric, Monsieur Bailly opened his newspaper office as a gathering place, and provided a wide selection of newspapers for them to read to keep up on current events. Lively discussion dominated his office; Bailly himself often joined in as an active and ardent participant. He had much then to offer this budding group of young charity workers.
  9. 9. The first conference of charity formed in April of 1833 (it would become known as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1835) was very similar to the Société des Bonnes Oeuvres, but it would not be directed by priests. As the historian Gérard Cholvy wrote: “The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul was founded by lay people, was run by them, and did not involve the Church.”
  10. 10. Ozanam may have already been familiar with the idea of visiting those living in poverty in their homes, from a work entitled: Le Visiteur du Pauvre written in 1820 by the baron Joseph-Marie de Gérando, a Lyonnais. The author counseled that those in need must be befriended by our speaking the same language as they do, building trust, and forming a deep friendship. This was very different from the more common practice of those in poverty visiting the homes of the wealthy on fixed days to receive some kind of assistance. ORIGIN OF THE “HOME VISIT”
  11. 11. The newly formed conference of charity discussed this approach and broached the idea with Bailly. He proved to be quite sympathetic. In fact, Bailly’s wife had been visiting homes for the Daughters of Charity, but had confided in her husband that it was work better left to young men. Bailly took her recommendation to heart. On that night of 23 April, the group of seven discussed how they would conduct visits and how they would know who was in need. ORIGIN OF THE “HOME VISIT”
  12. 12. Jules Devaux was sent to get a list of names from Sr. Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity in the Mouffetard District. There is some evidence that Jules had already worked for Sr. Rosalie prior to this. It is no surprise that Bailly would have suggested Sr. Rosalie because his wife had been helping her and because his brother was a Lazarist priest. Bailly’s family also had a deep devotion to St. Vincent de Paul; he was well acquainted with the Vincentian family and its spirituality. The small group was not disappointed. When approached by Jules Devaux, Sr. Rosalie warmly received him. ORIGIN OF THE “HOME VISIT”
  13. 13. Once the members chose the official name “Society of St. Vincent de Paul” in 1835, they prepared a Rule to guide their organization. The practices and procedures that had developed over the course of two years were written down. The writing of the first Rule has generally been attributed to Emmanuel Bailly and François Lallier. But some scholars strongly claim that Frédéric Ozanam helped draft it and had an important influence on its content. Given his close friendship with François Lallier, it is likely that he had significant input. ORIGIN OF THE RULE
  14. 14. The Rule was not written immediately in 1833 because it was “necessary that it [the Society] should be well established—that it should know what Heaven required of it—that it should judge what it can do by what it already has done, before framing its rules and prescribing its duties.” This practice of embodying what was already proven to work is in the best tradition of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac. Growing in holiness, especially in service to those in poverty, was its ultimate and overarching goal. ORIGIN OF THE RULE
  15. 15. What Frédéric and his friends were undertaking as men was a remarkable innovation in the world of nineteenth-century charitable work. In particular, they offered an alternative to the model of men prevalent in the nineteenth century-- one of honor, aggressiveness, and religious indifference . Instead, they offered a model based upon sensitivity and religious practice that was in large part countercultural.
  16. 16. The triad of sanctification (holiness), solidarity (friendship), and service was the foundation of Frédéric Ozanam’s spirituality and the spirituality of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul established on his 20th birthday in 1833. His was a lay spirituality that sought holiness by building solidarity and by seeking the face of Christ in those served. The Society embedded these principles in their Rule, making them a lasting legacy. The primary reason for the Society’s existence was to increase the holiness of its members, by service to those in need and by building deep friendships.
  17. 17. Source: An adaptation of Surrender to Christ for Mission, Liturgical Press. Chapter 8: “Sanctification, Solidarity, and Service: The Lay Spirituality of Antoine Frédéric Ozanam” by Raymond L. Sickinger Im ag es : D ep au l U . Im ag e Arch ive, C h ap itre d u d iocè s e d e Fréju s -Tou lon