Frederic Ozaman was born into a large family in 1813 in Milan, Italy.
His parents, originally from France, were temporarily living in Italy
for safety reasons. Liberty and democracy existed in France but so did
violence, oppression, and great gaps between the rich and the poor. Despite
this turmoil the Ozaman family returned to France in 1815.
Early on, Frederic’s gifted intelligence was obvious. He went on
to study law in Paris. Soon after passing the bar, he decided to pursue
a teaching career in history and literature. In 1840, he became the youngest
faculty member at the Sorbonne and in 1844 he was named the university’s
youngest full professor.
During these years, Frederic was determined to show that one’s spiritual
life and work life are really one reality. For Frederic faith was something
that was put into action by serving the poor. His own words best describe
his vision of faith in action: “I would like to embrace the whole
world in a network of charity.”
During his university years, Ozaman was active in various Catholic action
organizations. In 1833, he was the principal founder of the St. Vincent
de Paul Society, a lay organization that carries out spiritual and charitable
work among the poor. The Society is now based in 131 countries and offers
social services such as thrift shops, home visits, food centers, and shelters.
In 1841 Ozaman married, and in 1845 the young married couple welcomed
their first and only child into the world. Frederic’s towering achievements
as a husband and father, as an academic leader, and as an involved layperson,
give vivid testimony to the relevancy of the gospel in the modern world.
The last five years of his short but multi-faceted life were devoted to
serving the poor and guiding the expansion of the St. Vincent de Paul
Society. In 1853, Frederic died of exhaustion and tuberculosis.
In 1993, on the 150th anniversary of the St. Vincent de Paul Society,
Pope John Paul II gave special thanks to God for the inspiring example
of Frederic Ozaman, a man of burning faith coupled with a genius for serving
the poor. During this same celebration, the Pope wistfully asked, “How
could we not wish that the Church would place Frederic Ozaman among its
blessed and its saints?” Just four years later, in conjunction with
the 1997 World Youth Day in Paris, Pope John Paul II fulfilled that wish
by beatifying Frederic Ozaman.