In 1833 a 20-year-old law student at the Sorbonne was challenged to show what he was doing personally to help the poor in Paris. The challenge hit home. With several of his peers, Frederic Ozanam founded what later became known as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Today the Society provides direct services to the poor in 148 countries.
Ozanam was born on April 23, 1813 in Milan. Of the 14 children in the family, only three survived past childhood. As a student Frederic experienced grave doubts about the faith. But the challenge to live it out captivated him. He said, “Let us not talk so much about charity! Instead we ought to practice it and really help the poor!”
Frederic knew that he wanted to marry. In his humility he prayed that his future wife would be “a pure soul, quite different from me.” On June 23, 1841 he married Amelie Soulacroix. Before the wedding he wrote to her: “I give you the will of a man, an upright and honest will, the will to be good so as to make you happy.” In remembrance of their wedding, he gave his wife a bouquet of flowers on the 23rd of each month. After two miscarriages, they were blessed with a daughter in 1845.
Ozanam became a professor of literature at the Sorbonne. In 1848 another revolution broke out in France and the government asked Ozanam’s organization to supervise government aid to the poor. Frederic became an outspoken proponent of Christian democracy; he also started a newspaper dedicated to securing justice for the poor and the working classes. Fellow Catholics often took issue with his political stands.
Poor health forced Frederic to resign his professorate. He died on September 8, 1853 in Marseilles at the age of 40. He was beatified in 1997.
Frederic Ozanam lived by the motto “Make love your aim.” From an early age Frederic understood that love must be manifested in deeds. From giving his wife flowers to providing aid to the poor, Frederic’s love of God overflowed into love of neighbor.