Antoine-Frederic Ozanam was an ordinary guy with extraordinary talent who lived an ordinary life but loved in extraordinary ways. St. Vincent de Paul was Frederic’s inspiration, exemplar, patron and star.
Frederic was born in Milan, Italy, on April 23, 1813, but he was thoroughly French. He grew up in Lyon, France, was homeschooled until nine, and then attended the Royal Academy of Lyon. There Frederic started to write prose and poetry on a wide range of subjects.
Frederic suffered a crisis of faith between 15 and 16 years old. The doubts disappeared when he dedicated his life to the service of truth – a promise he kept until death.
At the request of his father, Frederic enrolled in the School of Law at the Sorbonne in Paris. There he became an apologist as he defended his faith relentlessly in the university lecture hall and through his writing. He joined a study-discussion group on Saturdays, called the Conference of History. He found that this intellectual activity resulted in a lot of talking, but no real action.
On his twentieth birthday, in 1833, Frederic and five other college students and friends met in the Catholic newspaper offices of owner and editor Mr. Emmanuel Bailly. They were tired of all of the talk when they saw the poor begging and living on the streets of Paris.
Frederic said, “Let’s do what Jesus did… let’s go to the poor.” They agreed and organized a Conference of Charity, which later became the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Bailly was chosen as its first president.
Frederic received a Doctorate of Law, followed by a Doctorate of Letters, and worked as a professor of foreign literature at the Sorbonne in Paris where he had studied.
On June 23, 1841, Frederic married the love of his life, Amelie Soulacroix, in Lyon. On July 24, 1845, Amelie gave birth to their daughter, Marie, the joy of her father. Their marriage was incredible. He remembered his wife on the twenty-third of every month with a gift of flowers and often a poem expressing his love for her.
Frederic continued his academic work and ministering to the poor. As a confrere of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, he made home visits to the poorest of the poor. Although an intellectual genius, he was devoted to the poor and illiterate, with whom he spent countless hours. The Society kept expanding in France and throughout the world, now with active communities in 152 countries.
As his health deteriorated, he resigned from the university. After many attempts for a cure, Frederic died from Bright’s disease in Marseille, France, on September 8, 1853, the Feast of the Birthday of Mary. He was 40 years old.