In addition to being the feast day of Blessed Frederic Ozanam, September 9 is the birthdate of Frederic’s mentor in serving the poor, Blessed Sr. Rosalie Rendu.
Category Archives: Rosalie Rendu
September 9 marks the feast day of Blessed Frederic Ozanam: lawyer, scholar, teacher, and founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Frederic Ozanam was born on April 23, 1813 in Milan, Italy, the fifth of fourteen children. His father had served with distinction as an officer under Napoleon, retiring early to become a tutor and later to practice medicine. When the city of Milan fell to the Austrians in 1815, the Ozanams returned to their native city of Lyons in France where Frederic spent his early years. In the Fall of 1831 Frederic entered the University of Paris to study law. As a student, he helped to found a student organization known as the Conference of History of Literature. It was a kind of debating club formed to discuss historical and literary topics. Many times the discussions focused on the social teachings of the Gospel.
At one meeting during a heated debate in which Ozanam and his friends were trying to prove from historical evidence alone the truth of the Catholic Church as the one founded by Christ, their adversaries declared that, though at one time the Church was a source of good, it no longer was. One voice issued the challenge, “What is your church doing now? What is she doing for the poor of Paris? Show us your works and we will believe you!” In response, one of Ozanam’s companions suggested some effort in favor of the poor. “Yes,” Ozanam agreed, “let us go to the poor!” Frederic decided that another conference was needed, not for debate but the direct service to the poor.
On April 23, 1833 Frederic and five other students began the Conference of Charity. In February 1834 the Conference became known as the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul. For Frederic, as for Vincent, it was not enough to bring the poor something to eat, but also to bring them God’s love. Frederic said,
“Yes, one thing is wanting that our apostolate may be blessed by God – works of charity. The blessing of the poor is the blessing of God. What are we going to do to translate our faith into deeds? Let us go to the poor”
Sr. Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity who served for many years in one of the poorest districts of Paris, became teacher and mentor to Frederic and the early members of the Conference. With Sr. Rosalie’s help the members of the Society began making home visits to poor families.
In the meantime, Frederic continued his law studies. In 1834 he passed the bar examination, then began studying for a doctorate in law. After completing his doctorate he practiced law in Lyons. He was not happy as a lawyer; however after his father’s death in 1837 he was the sole support for his mother, which kept him in the field of law to make a living. His academic interests turned toward literature, and in 1839 he finished a doctorate in literature at the Sorbonne. In the same year he was given a chair of Commercial Law at Lyons where his lectures received wide acclaim and where, after an offer to assume a chair of Philosophy at Orleans, he was asked to lecture also on Foreign Literature at Lyons which enabled him to support his mother. After her death he was unsettled about his future. He considered becoming a priest, but decided against it, devoting himself to teaching and to the constantly expanding work of the Conference of Charity which was multiplying around France. By 1843 Ozanam was a full professor at the Sorbonne.
The Society of Vincent de Paul grew by leaps and bounds. When students graduated and returned home they started the Society there to help the poor and care for the needy. During his lifetime the Society spread throughout Europe, as well as Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The Society of Vincent de Paul’s presence in the U.S. began in St. Louis in 1845.
Frederic Ozanam died in 1853. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1997.
Today, February 7, we celebrate the feast day of a Daughter of Charity. Blessed Sister Rosalie Rendu.
Jeanne Marie Rendu (Sister Rosalie) was born 9 September 1786 and died on February 9, 1856. Sister Rosalie was at the center of a movement of charity that characterized Paris and France in the first half of the 19th century where public assistance did not exist. On May 25, 1802 Sister Rosalie entered the Seminary (novitiate) at the Motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul in Paris.
On leaving the Seminary Sister Rosalie was sent to the Mouffetard neighborhood, one of the most miserable of Paris, where she served the poor for 53 years. There she was a nurse, a justice of the peace, a catechist for the street children, and at the same time, at the risk of her life, she came between the revolutionaries who intended to kill a military person saying: “Here there is no killing!” Sister Rosalie was the “good mother of all” without distinction of religion, political persuasion, or social status. With one hand, she received from the rich, with the other she gave to the poor.
Father Robert Maloney, C.M., former superior general of the Congregation of the Mission and Daughters of Charity, said of Sister Rosalie: “Like St. Vincent, Rosalie knew how to be friend to both [rich and poor]. The poor loved her deeply, because they sensed that she lived out precisely what she asked of the sisters who accompanied her … But the rich too were attracted to Rosalie. She was the real thing. They found her appeals irresistible. Rosalie knew how to engage their energies and their resources in the service of the poor.”
To the rich Sister Rosalie gave the joy of doing good works. Often one could see her in the parlor of the house with Bishops, priests, and men of the State and Culture like Donoso Cortes, Ambassador of Spain all the way to the Emperor Napoléon III with his wife. Students of Law and Medicine at the great schools came seeking information or recommendations. Before doing a good work they would demand at which door they should be knocking. Among them, the Blessed Frederic Ozanam, cofounder of the “Saint Vincent de Paul Society”, and the venerable Jean Léon Le Prévost, future founder of the Religious of Saint Vincent de Paul, who looked for counsel on the work of their projects.
At her tomb at Montparnasse Cemetery there are always flowers from people who are grateful to her and at the tombstone is written, “to Sister Rosalie from your friends the poor and the rich”. An immense crowd, estimated at 40-50 thousand people, from all strata of society flocked to her funeral. Sister Rosalie Rendu was beatified in 2003.