On August 14th, we mark the bicentenary of the birth of Amélie Soulacroix Ozanam, beloved wife of Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam and a central person for getting to know both the details of the life of the main founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and the first steps of our Society.
The 16th General President, member Renato Lima de Oliveira, takes the opportunity to declare August 14th as the INTERNATIONAL SSVP WOMEN’S DAY.
Here is a brief biographical summary:
Marie-Josephine-Amélie Soulacroix was born on August 14, 1820 in Marseille (France). She was the firstborn of the couple formed by the math teacher Jean-Baptiste Soulacroix (1790–1848) and Zélie Magagnos (1798–1882). Besides Amélie, the couple had three other children: Théophile (1823–1847), Charles (1825–1899) and Noemi (1827–1831). Amélie had a happy childhood and received her religious and cultural education within the family, as was the practice in her time for all women. From 1837 she cared for his brother Théophile, who became disabled by an accident (an unfortunate fall) while playing sports.
In the mid-1840s she received two marriage proposals, which she rejected. Shortly afterwards, she met the young Antoine-Frédéric and on November 13, 1840, Ozanam was invited to the Soulacroix house to meet Amélie formally. The wedding engagement was made official on November 24th. On December 13th, Frédéric bid Amélie farewell, leaving for Paris to begin working as a substitute professor in the department of foreign literature at the University of Sorbonne. They lived their courtship in the distance, Amélie in Lyon, and Antoine-Frédéric in Paris, through the long and frequent correspondence they maintained.
On Tuesday, 22 June 1841, they got married before a notary and the wedding finally took place on the morning of Wednesday, June 23th, at 8:45 am at the city town hall and at 10:00 am in the Church of Saint-Nizier in Lyon in front of the two families and a large group of friends. After their honeymoon, they moved into a small apartment in Paris on early January 1842.
After two miscarriages, at the end of 1844 Amélie became pregnant with Marie-Joséphine Ozanam, who was born on July 24, 1845, filling the family home with joy. In mid-June 1846, the Ozanam’s left for Italy, where they lived for a long time in several cities. During this trip Théophile, Amélie’s brother, died (March 9, 1847). It was a tremendous heartbreak for Amélie, who could not attend the funeral, because the distance made it impossible to arrive on time. The family returned to Paris in mid-July 1847. They moved to a larger home and caring for Marie and “the work that takes to make a house a home” kept Amélie active.
Mr. Jean-Baptiste Soulacroix fell ill in April 1848, heartbroken by the death of his son; he died on July 23rd after enduring a severe illness for three months. In mid-August, Amélie’s birthday celebration was a “very sad party, mixed with many tears”; however, Frédéric insisted it be celebrated, to cheer her up.
From early June 1849, the fatal illness of Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam began to manifest itself clearly. A long pilgrimage would take the family to various places to find healing. The disease began to be a regular companion in the home of the Ozanam’s, and not only on Frédéric’s part. However, Amélie and Marie’s ailments were mild and fleeting, compared to Frédéric’s gradually worsening condition.
In early August, the Ozanam’s left, without little Marie, for London, where they visited the 1st World’s Fair. Returning home, Amélie translated for Frédéric some texts of The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi. They also visited Spain for a short period of time, in 1852. They traveled to Italy at the end of the same year. During the time of Frédéric’s illness, Amélie dedicated herself body and soul to her beloved husband.
At the end of July 1853, Antoine-Frédéric’s situation became serious. On September 1st, they returned by boat to France, landing in Marseille, where Ozanam died on September 8th, at the age of forty. After Frédéric’s death, Amélie insisted on burying him in Paris, as was the professor’s wish. Thus, Frederick’s body was buried in Saint Joseph des Carmes in Paris.
Ozanam’s early death left his grieving wife (who was only 32) widowed and in charge of Marie, his daughter, who was orphaned at the age of 8. Amélie did not remarry. From the shadows, she dedicated the rest of her life to the care of her daughter Marie, to charitable works and to preserving the memory and promoting the example of her late husband’s life. Apart from her correspondence, Amélie wrote little more than a few notes and biographical notes about her husband. After living a devoted and pious life, Amélie Ozanam died, after a brief illness, on 26 September 1894, at the age of 74.
May Frédéric and Amélie’s example of love and dedication to the needy be, for us, a motivation to work for a more just and humane society.
In a few weeks we will present a more extensive biography of Amélie.