"I would like to embrace the World in a network of Charity"
It is with this wish that Frederic Ozanam co-founded the society of Saint Vincent de Paul in 1833. French, born in Milan, Ozanam contributed to the renewal of the Christian social doctrine. Resolutely open to humanism and universal, he conceived the SSVP as a global network of charity, inseparable from the ideal of justice.
23rd April 1813, born in Milan. Antoine Frederic Ozanam (commonly called Frederic) born the son of Jean-Antoine François Ozanam, doctor in medicine, and Marie Nantas, daughter of a shopkeeper. Two years later, the Ozanam family moves back back to their home town of Lyon. Frederic is the fifth of 14 children, only four of whom survived. The family, who lives in a warm and harmonious atmosphere, is deeply imbued with Christian fervour.
1831, arrival in Paris. The young Ozanam enrols at the Faculty of Law of Jussieu. His discovery of the capitale makes a strong impression on him. Sensitive soul, he is very affected by the great misery that surrounds him, deplorable sanitary conditions in the inner-city neighbourhoods, the extreme poverty of the working class. In order to deceive his sense of helplessness, he frequents the Latin Quarter and he finds amongst fellow students some companions, devout Catholics, who become his friends and thanks to whom he manages to keep his faith at a time when many are turning their backs to religion.
1832: The epidemic of cholera, which caused nearly 100,000 deaths, makes Frederic decide to put Faith into practice through charity directed to the poor.
Through attending history conferences that bring together numerous students, Frederic becomes inspired to create a group with a few young Catholics and calls them “Conference of Charity”, “composed of brave and pious friends, who join works to their words and thus affirm the truth of their faith through their charitable work”.
The first meeting takes place on the 23rd April 1833 near the Saint-Sulpice Church, chaired by Emmanuel Bailly who becomes the mentor to the group of young people. The Conference is placed under the patronage of Saint Vincent de Paul, Apostle of Charity. The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is born.
Very soon, the group grows and focuses on two areas: visiting people and poor families of Paris, and the spiritual life of its members. A nun, Sister Rosalie Rendu joins them. Her teaching and her practice of charity in the Mouffetard quarter shows them the path towards Vincentian spirituality. Growth is such that the group splits in order to create other Conferences in Paris and in provinces.
In 1841, the Society has nearly 10,000 members, in 133 cities; it has been set up in England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, Italy … Frederic Ozanam carries on with his work but sees his health rapidly deteriorate. Upon returning from a trip to Italy, he passes away on 8th September 1853. At that time, the Society is present in 29 countries and has 900 Conferences in France.
In 2013, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul celebrates the bicentennial of its founder and its 180 years of existence. In almost two centuries, the Society has spread throughout the world. Despite a growing disaffection for Catholicism, the difficulties of practising faith in some countries, SSVP members remain faithful to the spirit inspired by Frederic Ozanam: Go towards the poor, go and meet them in their homes, in respect and brotherhood.