To say that Frederic Ozanam was a remarkable person would be a gross understatement. What he accomplished in his short 40 years on this earth deserves both respectful recognition and, as we shall see, solemn veneration. Most Vincentians know him only as the holy founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul; but he was also a gifted intellectual who studied, wrote, and taught throughout most of his adult life. His writings have been captured and published in eleven volumes. He earned two bachelor’s degrees, a Doctorate of Laws and a Doctorate in Literature. A loving husband and father, Frederic found time to travel throughout Europe, writing about the origins of European society. Always a man of compassion, his travels exposed him to the plight of the working class and as a journalist, he published many articles in support of workers. He is often credited with laying the groundwork for the Church’s later position on workers’ rights, including the right to unionize.
For all of his intellectual prowess, it was Frederic’s loving heart that led him to open himself to the person of Christ in the poor and establish one of the most profoundly impactful charitable organizations the world has ever seen, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. In tandem with Blessed Sister Rosalie Rendu, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Frederic skillfully structured a prayerful organization to meet the needs of the poor through personal encounters. Reflecting on the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel, he envisioned service to the poor as a path to holiness. Despite finding himself in the midst of a cholera epidemic, yet he walked that path ardently, selflessly and so completely that we believe he stands now in the presence of the God he so loved and served on earth, realizing the definition of a saint.
Why do we deem this to be true? Or, what evidence can we show to substantiate our claim to his sainthood? Well, now Frederic Ozanam is on another, second path to sainthood…what is called the process of canonization, whereby the Church officially recognizes and attests to a life of profound holiness worthy of the title of saint. The word “canon” in this context means a “list,” that is, the list of officially recognized saints in the Catholic Church.
In the 10th century, Pope John XV formalized the process for identifying saints and he didn’t make it easy. It is a three-stage process, two stages of which require proving that miracles have taken place as a result of praying through the intercession of the heavenly candidate. Most commonly, these miracles are immediate medical cures that cannot be explained by any natural cause. A religious community or a diocese initiates the procedure with the claim of “heroic sanctity,” giving the person the title of Servant of God. Now comes the onerous part: having a person or group of people pray exclusively to the saintly deceased for a miraculous cure; then, once a miracle occurs, documented reports, witness testimony, medical and expert evidence must be gathered to substantiate the assertion. This can take months and more often years, even decades. Once submitted and approved by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints—another long, involved phase of investigation–the holy soul is beatified by the Pope and given the title of Blessed, thus worthy of veneration. To be declared a saint with the full and formal recognition of the universal Church, a second miracle must be attributed to the “Blessed” with an entirely new set of evidence documented and submitted to the Congregation, whose experts will review and diligently scrutinize the documentation as before. With their final approval, the Pope makes a formal announcement that the Church has another new saint.
So where is Frederic Ozanam on this, his second path to sainthood? The cause for his canonization was initiated some 95 years ago. Members of the Society began calling him Blessed Frederic Ozanam after his first certified miracle led to his beatification by Pope John Paul II in the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris on August 22, 1997. We Vincentians have been praying for the second miracle ever since. All our meetings end with the prayer: “We humbly ask that you, God, grant this favor (miracle) to glorify Blessed Frederick Ozanam and Blessed Rosalie Rendu which it may serve them to be called Saints by our Holy Mother the church.”
Here’s some exciting good news: In apparent answer to all those years of prayer, a second miracle has allegedly (pardon the legalese) occurred in the Archdiocese of Mariana, Brazil. After conducting a thorough 11-month investigation, the Archdiocesan Curia of Mariana has determined that sufficient evidence of a miracle has been gathered to warrant the canonization of Blessed Frederic. In fact, the 900 pages of documentation were hand-delivered by our 16th International President General, Renato Lima de Oliveira, to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome last October. We continue to pray fervently for the ultimate outcome…Saint Frederic Ozanam!
A final thought: One might ask why God took Frederic in 1853 at the young age of only forty years when he could have done so much more good with his life on earth. I can only imagine God saying, “Come here with Me, Frederic, and watch the seeds of charity We sowed together grow throughout time and space.”