The Character of Vincentian Leaders • A Weekly Reflection with Ozanam

by | Feb 12, 2018 | Formation, Reflections

In a Society that grows, and whose main purpose is to work for the renewal of faith and charity among men, in which all variety of ages, customs and human opinions must meet, the presidency needs many qualities, a special merit, and a man difficult to find if God does not point him out. He must have a great piety to serve as an example, and perhaps an even greater condescension, so as not to frighten by virtues that are too rigid; he must have the habit of self-denial, the spirit of brotherhood, experience of good works; be one that unites to the zeal that creates, the prudence that keeps; one that knows how to keep the Society in the ways of simplicity and wise freedom for which God has led it to this point; one that does not discourage, nevertheless, well-inspired efforts that may arise. It is necessary, in short, that by his nature he attracts trust and respect, at the same time that by his sweet familiarity he knows how to make friends with the youngest members of this large family of which he is the bond of union.


Frederic Ozanam, to the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, June 11, 1841.



  1. Mr. Emmanuel Bailly, first president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, resigned from his position in mid-1841. Frederic, who was one of the vice-presidents of the Society at that time, sent a letter to all the members to notify it, thanking Mr. Bailly for his great services; likewise, the appointment of Mr. Gossin as his successor elected by the General Council was communicated.
  2. Before communicating the name of the new president, Frederic makes an interesting reflection on the qualities that it was desirable that this person had, qualities that are rooted in the Vicentian tradition (simplicity, humility, charity, zeal, mortification); by extension, Frederic’s text is not only valid for the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, but for any other branch of the great Vincentian Family; and not only for the high leaders, but also for anyone who exercises some position of responsibility in it, however small and humble it may seem.
  3. It is interesting to point out that Ozanam showed the ends of the Society in a brief, rather than substantial, sentence: “to work for the renewal of faith and charity among men.” Thus, evangelization and charity are at the heart of the SSVP, as they are in all branches of the Vincentian Family, because they are consubstantial to our charism.
  4. It should also be noted that — both in the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and, by extension, in any other branch of our Family — “all variety of ages, customs and human opinions must meet.” The branches of the Vincentian Family are composed of diverse people, broad communities in which all kinds of people have their place, provided that they desire to live this community spirit of fraternity in the service of the impoverished and the proclamation of the Gospel.
  5. Let us briefly list the qualities indicated by Frederic, necessary for the new President:
    • A great piety: The leader in the Vincentian Family is an example where we can look at ourselves. It is interesting to note that the word “piety” has two meanings that are marvelously united in the Vincentian tradition: on the one hand, religious devotion; on the other, compassion towards the disadvantaged.
    • A great self-denial: a person capable of giving herself fully to his mission in the position of service that she has, forgetting herself and giving herself to others.
    • Spirit of brotherhood / That knows how to befriend: Positions, in the Vincentian Family, are not positions of power, but of service; for the same reason, they are not distinctions of dignity; leaders must be close to everyone and promote the fraternal spirit among all the followers of St. Vincent de Paul.
    • Experience of good works: All Vincentians are persons of works. We must know, treat well and be close to the needy. Our leaders, therefore, will also have these same qualities.
    • Zeal: A person passionate for the Gospel and for social transformation, actively promoting the construction of the Kingdom of and justice in our world.
    • Simplicity: Saint Vincent de Paul said: “God has given me such a great esteem of simplicity that I call it ‘my gospel.'” (CCD IX, 476.)
    • That attracts trust and respect.

Questions for dialogue:

  1. Do I agree with Ozanam? Are these qualities mandatory for the leaders of the Vincentian Family?
  2. Would you add any more?
  3. If I exercise a position of responsibility in the Vincentian Family: do I actively work to improve and grow, as a person and as a Christian, living these qualities listed by Frederic?

Javier F. Chento
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