Blessed Frederic Ozanam founded St Vincent de Paul Society to serve the poor in his community.
Frederic Ozanam was born in Milan, Italy in 1813. As a young student in Paris, Frederic had to walk through the poorer areas of the city on his way to university lectures. He became deeply moved at the hopeless state of families who had been left without income and support after the cholera epidemic in 1832.
Frederic, a devout Catholic, was taunted about his faith and service by an anti-religious debating society opponent: ‘You are right Ozanam when you speak of the past! In former times Christianity worked wonders, but what is it doing for mankind now? And you, who pride yourself on your Catholicity, what are you doing now for the poor? Show us your works.’
This spurred Frederic into action. On 23 April 1833 he gathered friends to decide what they could do to help the poor. After the meeting, Frederic and his flat mate took the rest of their winter wood supply and gave it to a widow.
They were asked: ‘What can seven young men hope to achieve in alleviating the suffering in Paris?’. Frederic ignored the comments, determined to do what he could to bear witness to his Christian upbringing by helping those less fortunate in the community.
The group adopted the name the Society of St Vincent de Paul, after the Patron Saint of Christian charity. They were introduced to people they could assist and met weekly to strengthen their friendship and respond to the needs of those they served.
As others noticed the charitable works of the students, the Society grew in membership and expanded across the city and eventually throughout Europe and the world.
Frederic died in 1853 and was beatified in 1997.