We are about to celebrate the feasts of Blesseds Frederic and his mentor Sr. Rosalie. I started thinking about student organizations and movements.

It was only in my later years of classroom teaching that I woke up to Frederic Ozanam. He was a young collegian who, with some friends, founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I wonder how many student-run organizations today will still be around 175 years from now, with hundreds of thousands of living alumni serving in over 150 countries.

At that time I was also learning about the role of the Daughter of Charity who was a significant mentor for Frederic and his companions. I was just beginning to realize that this “Street nun”, Sr. Rosalie, was the “Mother Theresa” of her day.

All this challenged me in my later years at St. John’s University. As I looked at the students in front of me, I wondered might there be another Frederic among them. How could I recognize and help them ignite the sparks in their lives?

The intersection of two lives

Frederic and his companions were deeply committed Catholics in a university environment hostile to Christianity. They thought they had all the answers. But they were stopped cold by the challenge of another student. “Christianity Is a thing of the past. What has your Church done for the poor” They had no answer.

Stung, he asked one of his professors, Emmanuel Bailly. Over the years he had come to know Sr. Rosalie and her work in the worst slums in Paris. Bailly wrote to her “I am sending you two young men, M. Ozanam and M. Taillandier ….” What a fate-filled assignment!  (Pope Francis almost two centuries later would send his seminarians to “get mud on their shoes” and learn “the smell of the sheep.”)

The assignment opened young Frederic’s eyes to the suffering of the poor.  The rest is history as they say. Lacordaire, one of the most influential people of the time, summed up the efforts of these students. “While innovators wore themselves out with theories for changing the world, these young men set about climbing up to the floors where the misery of the quarter hid.”

Commenting on an earlier version of this post, Manny Leyson reminded Mindwalk readers of a Chinese proverb: “Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand.”

Pope Francis wrote… “Young people have asked us in a thousand ways to walk alongside them — not behind them or ahead of them, but at their side. Not over them or under them, but on their level”

Isn’t that what this humble Daughter of Charity embodied? She calls us today to be mentors by our example as we walk beside our young. Not all of us will be blessed to have a Frederic in our lives. But we are all called to fan into flame the enthusiasm of youth.

So many lessons…

Young people have an idealism that is ripe to be challenged… and guided.

  • They respondto guidance from those they respect
  • Those they respect sometimes do well to connect them with people who can further guide them.
  • Mentors often have no idea of how their guidance has impact beyond those who turn to them.
  • The story of people like Vincent DePaul can light their path and set their hearts on fire.

At the intersections of our lives

  • Do you know an idealistic young person?
  • Can you be a Rosalie who will inspire and guide him or her?
  • Do we know where to send someone for further mentoring?

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

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