Background

Saint Vincent de Paul
Saint Vincent de Paul

Saint Vincent de Paul ( 1581-1660 )

Saint Vincent de Paul: A brilliant mind
Vincent de Paul was born in 1581 in Pouy, a village in the Landes that today is called Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. He was the third child of a family of six. His father recognised his bright mind, and thought he would do well to become a priest. At the time, it must be remembered that becoming a priest was a way of gaining social status and that clerics had an income that meant they had no fear of want. So Vincent began his studies with the Cordeliers in Dax, and continued at the University of Toulouse. He was a brilliant student and was ordained in 1600, before he had reached 20 years old! In 1610, after various ups and downs, he became a chaplain at the court of Queen Margot , Henri IV’s first wife. There he met Pierre de Bérulle , who would become his mentor. After that be became the parish priest of Clichy in 1612, and, in 1613, tutor of the children of Philippe Emmanuel de Gondi , Lieutenant General of the Galleys, whose eldest son, Paul de Gondi, would become the Cardinal of Retz.
1617, the turning point
How did Vincent de Paul become this man of immense, universally recognised charity to children, the poor, and the mentally handicapped held in such contempt in his time? This was not the result of long meditation, but was triggered by two events that took place in 1617. One night, Vincent de Paul was called to the bedside of a dying man of honourable reputation. The man confessed sins to him that he had never dared recount before. Vincent de Paul saw him as a “poor” man, who had never experienced the understanding of a priest and the tenderness of God in his entire life. A short time later, he learned that a whole family living in a completely isolated house in indescribable poverty, had fallen ill. Thanks to his intervention, the entire village came to the aid of the family. This encounter with moral and material poverty would be decisive. That same year, Vincent de Paul founded the first Brothers of Charity in Châtillon, for which he subsequently wrote a Rule that shows his great respect for the poor and suffering. In 1618, he met François de Sales, who was to become his friend and have a major spiritual influence on him.
All our work is action
Vincent de Paul liked to put action before words. “It takes affectionate love to go on to an effective life”. A man of the field and of action, Vincent de Paul never stopped helping in all circumstances where poverty was rife, particularly due to the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Movements he founded include the Congregation of the Mission (Lazarists) in 1625; the Company of the Daughters of Charity in 1633, with valuable help of Louise de Marillac; oeuvre des Enfants trouvés (an institute for foundling children); the Algiers Mission, etc. Without forgetting his efforts on behalf of ordinands and seminaries (1628) and the Tuesday Conferences (1633), whose objective was to give proper training to priests, in order to combat mediocrity of the rural clergy. He died in Paris on 27 September 1660 and was canonised in 1737. His exemplary charity is recognised universally. Voltaire himself liked to say: “the saint for me is Vincent de Paul.” Today his remains can be seen in the Lazarist Chapel in Paris.
Frederic Ozanam portrait
Portrait de Frédéric Ozanam

Dès 1845, âgé à peine de 32 ans, Frédéric Ozanam commence à avoir des problèmes de santé qui s’aggraveront d’année en année. Ce portrait nous montre un homme encore jeune mais dont le visage doux et grave est déjà marqué par la souffrance.
[ Tableau du peintre lyonnais Clément Lacuria ]

Frédéric Ozanam ( 1813-1853 )

His childhood in Lyon
Frédéric Ozanam was born on 23 April 1813 in Milan. His parents, Jean-Antoine Ozanam, a doctor, and Marie Mantas, were both from Lyon (the town of the “canuts”) where the entire family returned to live in 1815. “Fred”, as his father called him, was the 5th child in a family of 14 of which only 4 would survive. He was raised in a warm home where austerity was softened by enormous affection.
In 1822, he went to school at the Collège Royal in Lyon, where the liberal, freethinking atmosphere troubled his adolescent mind. But at the same time, this is where he met Professor Legeay and Abbey Noirot, who would reassure him in his faith and have an important influence on him. In 1831, encouraged by his father, he joined the Faculty of Law in Paris but continued to study letters at the same time. Well-educated, brilliant and very sensitive, this “child of his times” would passionately support everything beautiful, just and true.
A romantic young man, concerned with social justice
In 1831, Paris was both a brilliant intellectual capital where the romantic movement reigned, and an enormous cesspool of poverty with nearly 300,000 indigents. In poor districts, the narrow streets, with no sewers or pavement, were clogged with manure and lined with unsanitary houses. In 1832, a cholera epidemic would claim more than 20,000 victims! In addition, uprisings of workers were stifled in blood, as Frédéric Ozanam witnessed three years in a row. He would be profoundly affected. Particularly since this young fervently Catholic student, had trouble accepting the indifference that the clergy and the faithful showed for the needy. On 23 April 1833, his twentieth birthday, Frédéric Ozanam founded the Saint-Vincent de Paul Society with Emmanuel Bailly and five other friends and fellow students. The help of Sister Rosalie, Daughter of Charity, would be determinant in the development of the infant society.
In 1833 also, Frédéric Ozanam entered into a profound friendship with Abbot Lacordaire, who preached social, humane Catholicism, closer to the scriptures with dazzling eloquence.
“I would like to embrace the whole world in a network of charity”
For Frédéric Ozanam, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity are the modern version of the Evangelist spirit. With lucidity and courage, he went far beyond the words of Karl Marx, declaring: “There is exploitation when the master considers the worker … as an instrument from whom as much service as possible is to be taken, at the lowest cost. But exploitation of man by man is slavery …” Or again: “There are many men who have too much and want still more; and many more who do not have enough … Between these two groups of men, a struggle is in the offing …” He was convinced that only democracy and social Catholicism could lead to a change in society and defense of the poor.
In 1841, he married Amélie Soulacroix with whom he would have a daughter, Marie. In 1846, he reached the peak of his career with a professorship at the Sorbonne. But he was beginning to suffer from the illness that proved fatal for him. In 1853 he was brought back from Pisa a dying man, and he passed away in Marseille on 8 September. Today he lies in the Saint-Joseph des Carmes church in Paris.