A few days ago, we ended the 4th CIF Meeting for the Vincentian Family. As it took place in Paris, we also made various pilgrimages. On the third of these, we visited Taizé, Chatillón, Lyon, Valfleury and Annecy. In Lyon, we were introduced to the house where Frédéric Ozanam spent his childhood, at 5, rue Pizay.
It is good to remember some details about Frédéric’s father, Jean-Antoine François Ozanam, in order to understand more about this story. He was studious man, forced to take up arms in 1793. Six years later, he rejected the rank of captain and abandoned the army, to try to set up in business in Lyon. He had little success. And unusually for his time, aged over thirty, he then turned to the study of medicine. In truth, he was a good doctor. When typhoid ravaged Milan in 1813, he moved to the military hospital. Two doctors had just died, and they needed some brave doctors to go there. This city was where Frédéric was born. But very soon, Milan came under Austrian rule. For the Ozanam family, this was an uncomfortable situation, and in 1816, they decided to return to Lyon.
At this period, the city had only 140,000 inhabitants. The family moved to the third floor of the building at 5 rue Pizay. The Ozanams spent the remainder of their lives in this apartment. The neighbourhood was not a peaceful one. As a child, Frédéric reported that they frequently listened to the hammering of an anvil, a blacksmith at work. He mentioned this in one of his earliest letters.
Frédéric loved this city, crossed by the Rhône and Saône, with its steep, narrow streets, its harbours, hills, panoramic views, and more. He wrote: “If Paris is the head of the kingdom, Lyon is its heart”. This sentence summarises well how he felt about the city where he grew up. He returned to Lyon for a short period later, and acted as lawyer to the Royal Court. He was then a professor in the Faculty of Law, teaching Commercial Law.
The Ozanams lived on the third floor of an apartment block. As we said, 5 rue Pizay en Lyon. It is today a modest street, and the building could be better cared-for. But looking around us to be sure we were in the right place, we saw a commemorative plaque on the upper part of the main door. A panel on which time had left its mark. But we could still read: “Frédéric Ozanam, 1813-1853, historian and writer. Founder of the Conferences of Saint Vincent de Paul, lived in this house”. We all contemplated this house happily, but the members of the SSVP who attended the meeting experienced very intense emotions.
On returning from this visit, I was inspired with these few, brief thoughts. 1) The importance of having one’s own home. As we know, still today sadly, there are multitudes who do not have adequate housing. 2) Holiness starts with “health”. A sad saint is a sorry saint. Ozanam was a normal, sociable young man. 3) Frédéric tells us about the moderate love for one’s own place, one’s family and home. A love which seeks the good of all, because it includes everyone.
Andrès Motto, C.M
8 september 2019