“Les Miserables”, political debate and the SVDP

by | May 5, 2011 | Vincentian Family

Here are two scenes that may not seem at all related:

• In the musical “Les Miserables,” which returns to the Overture Center next week, the French revolutionaries try to topple the privileged rulers at the barricades in Paris.

• On any given afternoon, you can find people shopping for secondhand clothes at one of the St. Vincent de Paul stores in Madison or lined up outside the giant St. Vinnie’s food pantry just off Fish Hatchery Road.

So what’s the connection? And what might the connection have to offer the debates now going on about wealth and poverty in the U.S.?

The connection is a name that is almost unknown to the general public, but whose experiences in those barricaded streets of Paris in the tumultuous early 1830s gave birth to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the organization of lay Catholics who are committed to serving the poor. The name is Frederick Ozanam, who before he became a lawyer and then professor of literature organized his fellow college students into a group that paid attention to the poor.

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