Ozanam, Antoine Frédéric, Bl.
OZANAM, ANTOINE FRÉDÉRIC, BL.
Married layman, French historian and literary scholar, and founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul; b. Milan, Italy, April 23, 1813; d. Marseilles, France, September 8, 1853.
A tradition of the Ozanam family traced its descent from a seventh-century Jew, Samuel Hosannam, converted by St. desiderius of cahors, whom he sheltered from persecution. Frédéric was brought up and educated in Lyons. In 1829 he underwent a "crisis of doubt," which he overcame with the assistance of his teacher, Abbé Noirot. This experience consolidated the intellectual basis of his faith and imbued him with deep charity in controversy with unbelievers.
In 1831 he published his first work, a refutation of the socialist theories of the Saint-Simonians. In the same year he went to Paris to study law and made the acquaintance of the leaders of the Catholic revival— Chateaubriand, Montalembert, Lacordaire, Ampère, and others. He was concerned to refute the attacks on Catholicism that were widespread in the Sorbonne. It was in May of 1833 that he and a few fellow students formed a "Conference of Charity" to undertake practical work among the poor. This is accepted as the foundation date of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, although its formal title and rules were not adopted until 1835. Ozanam insisted that the Society should not restrict its charity to Catholics and that countries should assist each other; thus, the Paris Society aided Dublin during the Irish famine and Dublin reciprocated during the Revolution of 1848.
Ozanam completed his first degree in law in 1834, and was called to the bar in Lyons. However, his true bent was for literature and history. He returned to Paris, where he took his first degree in literature in 1835, his doctorate
in law in 1836, and his doctorate in literature in 1839. During this period he was active in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, Catholic journalism, and many Catholic causes. He was instrumental in bringing about the first of Lacordaire's famous series of Lenten sermons in Notre Dame.
Ozanam became the first to hold a chair as professor of commercial law at Lyons in 1839, but returned to Paris the following year to teach foreign literature at the Sorbonne. He was elected professor in 1844. His studies of Dante, beginning with his doctoral thesis, revolutionized critical work on the poet. Although Ozanam is a neglected figure in nineteenth-century historiography, his research in the development of Christian Latin, literature, and art showed an acquaintance with the original texts and contemporary critical research in the major European languages that was remarkable in the French scholarship of his day.
Ozanam advocated that Catholics should play their part in the evolution of the democratic state and unsuccessfully stood for election to the National Assembly in 1848. He denounced economic liberalism and any form of socialism. Lecture 24 in his course of commercial law is a brilliant exposition of Catholic social doctrine, fore-shadowing rerum novarum and antedating the Communist Manifesto in its attention to the social question. Ozanam's personal visitations to the poor and his reports of the St. Vincent de Paul Society antedated even Villermé's pioneer social investigation published in 1840.
Ozanam may justly be regarded as an exemplar of the lay apostolate in family, social, and intellectual life. His marriage (June 23, 1841) to Amelie Soulacroix produced one daughter, Marie (b. 1845). Without neglecting family duties he worked for social justice.
At his request, Ozanam was buried in the church crypt of Saint-Joseph-des-Carmes at the Catholic Institute of Paris, among the students to whom he gave the best of himself. His cause for beatification, introduced in 1925, was followed by the declaration of his heroic virtues (July 6, 1993) and the approval of a miracle attributed to his intercession (June 25, 1996). Pope John Paul II beatified Ozanam, August 22, 1997, in Notre Dame Cathedral at Paris during the World Youth Day celebrations.
Feast: Sept. 8.
Bibliography: Works by Frédéric Ozanam: Oeuvres complètes, 11 v. (Paris 1859–65). Dante et la philosophie catholique au 13e siècle (Paris 1839); Études germaniques, 2 v. (Paris 1847–49); Les poètes franciscains en Italie au 13e siècle (Paris 1852). Lettres de Frédéric Ozanam. édition critique, 5 v., ed. d. ozanam (Paris 1961–97). Literature about Frédéric Ozanam: c. a. ozanam, Vie de Frédéric Ozanam (Paris 1879). t. e. auge, Frederic Ozanam and His World (Milwaukee, Wisc. 1966). l. baunard, Ozanam d'après sa correspondance (Paris 1912), a standard work published by the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland as Ozanam in his Correspondence. b. cattanÉo, Frédéric Ozanam le bienheureux (Paris 1997). v. conzemius, Frédéric Ozanam (Freiburg, Switz. 1985). g. forsans, Frédéric Ozanam 1813–53. Un précurseur de notre temps dans la fidélité à l'évangile (Chambray-les-Tours 1991). i. gobry, Frédéric Ozanam ou la foi opérante (Paris 1983). g. goyau, Frédéric Ozanam (Paris 1925); et al., Ozanam: Livre du centenaire, rev. ed. (Paris 1931). h. guillemin, La bataille de Dieu (Geneva 1944). h. l. hughes, Frederick Ozanam (London 1933). j.-a. lamarche, Frédéric Ozanam: fondateur de la Société Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (Montréal 1997). f. mÉjecaze, Fr. Ozanam et l'église catholique (Paris 1932). l. mezzadri, Federico Ozanam: se non ho la carità non sono niente (Cinisello Balsamo (Milano) 2000). k. o'meara, Frederic Ozanam, Professor at the Sorbonne; His Life and Works (Edinburgh 1876). e. renner, The Historical Thought of Frédéric Ozanam (Washington 1960). m. des riviÈres, Ozanam. Un savant chez les pauvres (Montréal 1984). a. p. schimberg, The Great Friend: Frederick Ozanam (Milwaukee, Wisc. 1946). m. vincent, Ozanam. Une jeunesse romantique (Paris 1994).