In this Mindwalk, I would like to explore this alternate definition of the acronym usually associated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

It is the story of a pivotal moment in the life of Frederick Ozanam. He was inspired to move from talk to action.

The intersection of two lives

Frederick Ozanam

Frederic and his companions were deeply committed Catholics in a university environment hostile to Christianity.  (Sound familiar)?

They thought they had all the answers. They debated with their fellow students. But they were stopped cold by the challenge of one student. “Christianity Is a thing of the past. “What has your Church done for the poor?” They had no answer.

Coming from a comfortable background, he had never really “encountered” or “walked with” those who were suffering.  So, he knew nothing about them. His only knowledge was theoretical.

Stung and without an answer, he asked for guidance from one of his professors, Emmanuel Bailly.

Over the years, Bailly had come to know Sr. Rosalie Rendu and her work in the worst slums in Paris. So Bailly wrote to her.  “I am sending you two young men, M. Ozanam and M. Taillandier ….” 

Sr. Rosalie Rendu

Sr. Rosalie can best be described as the “Mother Theresa” of her day. For over 50 years she wore herself out walking streets that others dared not visit.

She took quite literally Jesus’ words, “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.” In her later years, she wrote, I never pray as well as when I am walking the streets of the Mouftard district.”

She carried food and coal to those who needed it. She climbed the steps of the garrets where they lay suffering on their sick beds.

Apparently, when approached by these two students, without fuss, she invited the two to walk with her as she walked with the poor.

That experience of encountering people who were poor opened young Frederic and his companions’ 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.”

Is it any wonder why  Pope Francis, almost two centuries later, would send his seminarians to “get mud on their shoes” and learn “the smell of the sheep? ”

So many lessons…

In my later years of teaching, after I learned their story, I began to look at my students and wonder if one of them might be another Frederic.

I  also wondered to what extent I exemplified N.A.T.O.

As I looked at the students in front of me, I wondered if there might be another Frederic among them. How could I help them ignite the sparks in their lives?

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

  • They respond to 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 an impact even beyond those who turn to them.
  • The story of people like Vincent DePaul and Rosalie Rendu can light their path and set their hearts on fire.

Questions to consider

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