Lives of Distinction – Ozanam’s Cofounders of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul
By Ralph Middlecamp (Made available with the kind permission of the author)
The revised International Rule of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul gives renewed emphasis to the roles of all seven of the founders. Moving beyond the debate over competing assertions about whether Emmanuel Bailly or Frederic Ozanam was the true founder of the Society, the Rule now states:
- “The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a worldwide Christian community, founded
- in Paris in 1833, by a group of young Catholic lay people and an older person,
- who joined together to create the first Conference. The Society wishes to
- remember them all with gratitude, as they set an example of dedication to the poor
- and to the Church. From LeTaillandier, who received the first inspiration, to
- Blessed Frederic Ozanam, Paul Lamache, Francois Lallier, Jules Devaux, Felix
- Clave, all of them knew, in their humility, how to seek the wise advice and
- support of the one who would become the first President General of the
- flourishing Society, Emmanuel Bailly.
- The Holy Spirit was undoubtedly present in all of them at the founding of the
- Society, fostering the charisms of each one. Among them, Blessed Frederic
- Ozanam was a radiant source of inspiration.”
- – International Rule of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul
There is no question about the inspiration and leadership provided by Ozanam, but who were his friends without whom the organization could not have been founded, much less have flourished? These founders were friends who had known each other for little more than a year. All seven originally resided outside of Paris. Their non-student mentor, Emmanuel Bailly, had already established himself in the city for several years, however. The young founders had much in common besides their provincial roots. Five of them were studying law. Four of them had fathers who were medical doctors. For the most part they came from families who were part of the professional middle class that arose after the French Revolution. The core group of friends consisted of Ozanam, Lallier, Lamache and LeTaillandier, and to varying degrees they would remain in contact throughout their lives. (Thirty years after Ozanam’s death, Paul Lamache, the last living founder, would report that he still prayed daily for Frederic.)
The founders shared a strong Catholic faith, and the need they felt to defend it among their peers drew them to participate in the Conference of History, presided over by Bailly. This desire to defend their faith in public was evident through most of their lives. Five of them continued on a regular basis to contribute well-reasoned articles to local journals and major newspapers. The core group of four friends would each go on to be well-respected members of the communities in which they settled and continued to serve the poor through the Society they had founded. Although their stories are unknown to most members of that organization today, all the founders led remarkable lives of distinction.
Emmanuel Bailly (1794-1861)
“You have accustomed us to look upon you as the rallying point, the advisor and friend of young Christian youth. Your past favors have given us the right to count on future ones. Those you have done for me encouraged me to hope for the same for my friends.”
- – Frederic Ozanam, written to Emmanuel Bailly, November 3, 1834.
Emmanuel Bailly was born in Bryas, in Pas de Calais – near the northernmost tip of France – on March 9, 1794. The family of his father, Andre Joseph, had a deep devotion to the memory and spirituality of St. Vincent de Paul.
Emmanuel’s father was a loyal friend of the Lazarists, as the French know St. Vincent de Paul’s Congregation of the Mission – from the name of Vincent’s original priory. The Lazarists entrusted the elder Bailly temporarily with a collection of Saint Vincent’s original letters and documents during the Revolution. He treasured those items and returned them after the troubles ceased. Andre’s brother, Nicholas Joseph (1764-1793), was a Lazarist priest who was killed during the Revolution. He was the last superior of the major seminary at Amiens before the Revolution. Fr. Bailly was captured while saying Mass and – while still vested – was thrown into prison. This young priest of 29 died in prison in Amiens on November 16, 1793.
Emmanuel attended seminary in Amiens, as had his older brother, Amable-Ferdinand- Joseph Bailly. Fr. Dominique Hanon was the new superior at the seminary of Amiens; he would later become Superior General of the Lazarists. Hanon took an interest in Ferdinand’s education. This was not surprising as Hanon was the successor of the Bailly brothers’ martyred uncle. Because at the time in France the Congregation did not legally exist – suppressed for the second time, as it was, from September 1809 to February 1816 – Ferdinand was unable to become a Vincentian. He began to teach at the seminary in 1806, at age 21, although he was not ordained a priest until April 6, 1811. During this time, Ferdinand probably had his brother Emmanuel as a student. Ferdinand took vows with the Congregation in Paris on November 16, 1819, in the new Priory of Saint Lazare. He was the first Vincentian to do so after the Revolution. Unfortunately, he took his vows during the period between the nomination and formal approval of the new Superior General by the Holy See. This state of doubt about the validity of the vows, in addition to questionable management of finances, would contribute to Ferdinand Bailly’s eventual removal from the Congregation.
Emmanuel Bailly received a good education in theology at the seminary at Amiens and also studied philosophy with the Jesuits at Acheul. He began a novitiate with the Lazarists but at same time his brother came to Paris to take vows at St Lazare, Emmanuel left the seminary and came to live in Paris. At age 25 he choose a vocation to serve the Church as a lay person.
In November 1819 he rented a house at #7 Rue Cassette, where he took in seven young university students who, like him, were Catholics from the north of France. He was teaching philosophy at a private institution but also had a vision of creating a living environment for university students that was supportive of faith and intellectual inquiry. This was an aspiration in which he was influenced by the methods he had observed being practiced by the Jesuits at Acheul.
The next spring Emmanuel was admitted to the ranks of the Congregation of the Blessed Virgin – frequently referred to simply as the “Congregation.” The Congregation’s members participated in several divisions, including the Society of Good Studies and the Society of Good Works. At its founding in 1801, the Congregation brought together about 100 lay men who sought to combine intellectual studies and spirituality with good works. On April 1, 1820, Bailly was entered on the organization’s rolls as the 776th member.
Bailly participated in the division of the Congregation in which members visited hospitals. After several years he provided leadership as the division’s president. There were also divisions with members who visited prisons and orphanages. The divisions of Good Works and Good Studies combined in 1828 and operated out of Bailly’s building on Place de l’Estrapade. As a Congregation member, Bailly encountered students anxious to combine their academic efforts with religious formation. After the repressions that followed the fall of Charles X, the Congregation ceased to exist. Bailly went on, however, to found a new smaller organization, the Conference of History. This initiative allowed him to become acquainted with some of the most brilliant young people of his day: Lacordaire, Ozanam, Lenormant, Alzon and Baudelaire.
Bailly’s boarding house, or “pension,” attracted a growing number of young men – so much so that in 1821 he needed to add a second house. He contacted an old friend and seminary classmate, George Marino Leveque, about opening the second house at 17 Rue Saint-Dominique d’efer. The two houses operated jointly, with Leveque being responsible for the administration and Bailly the studies and meetings. Both provided “moral supervision” of their respective sites. In addition to the residents, they encouraged other students to participate in the discussions, and they operated a reading room at 4 Rue Saint-Dominique. There, for a fee, students living in the area could come and read the news of the day. Bailly’s boarding houses outgrew their locations after several years, and in 1825 he acquired a large facility at 11 Place de l’Estrapade that had lodging quarters but also a dining facility and meeting rooms. Bailly then lived in the apartment next door, at 13 Place de l’Estrapade.
On July 20, 1830, when Bailly was in this late 30s, he married Marie-Apolline-Sidonie Vyrayet de Surcy. At the request of her father – to help preserve that family name – he added her surname to his. Therefore, he has frequently been referred to as Emmanuel Bailly de Surcy. Bailly was married only days before the July Revolution of 1830, which led to the downfall of Charles X. The regime that followed suppressed organizations such like as the Congregation and the Society of Good Works. The discussions and forums offered at the Pension Bailly were also suspended until 1831. During this period, Emmanuel and his wife found refuge with her parents in Berteaucourt (Somme), nine miles southeast of Amiens in northern France. The Baillys’ first daughter, Marie- Adrienne, was born there on September 4, 1831.
By November 1831 Bailly returned to Paris with his family to begin a new newspaper and to reestablish his Pension Bailly, at which he tried to create a new version of the suppressed Society of Good Studies. He had begun his first effort at newspaper publishing, Le Correspondant, the year before the Revolution. In 1831 he replaced it with Revue Européenne and then launched the La Tribune Catholique on January 15, 1832. He started that paper to offer a moderate alternative to the liberal religious paper L’Avenir, which had been published by Fr. Lammenais until it was discontinued out of deference to a disapproving Vatican.
Several months after Bailly returned to Paris with his wife and daughter, cholera broke out in Paris. The Latin Quarter, where they were living, was especially hard hit. The Baillys’ infant daughter, Marie-Adrienne, was stricken in April, and the family moved back to the home of Madame Bailly’s parents. Marie-Adrienne recovered after several months, but now expecting a second child, the Baillys chose to keep the family in Berteaucourt until after the birth of Andre-Marie Vincent de Paul on December 2, 1832. It is likely that Emmanuel stayed in Paris much of that time because he needed to manage his business interests.
The Baillys eventually had six children. Eldest Marie-Adrienne became a Carmelite nun and died in Poland when she was just 22. The Baillys’ eldest and youngest sons became priests in the newly founded Assumptionist order, but Emmanuel didn’t live long enough to see either of them ordained. Their middle son, Bernard (1835 - 1920), founded a fisherman’s aid society and – following the family’s journalistic tradition – became for many years a contributing editor to Le Cosmos, a magazine reviewing scientific developments of the day. A daughter, Marie (1837 - 1906), became Superior of the Daughters of Chlotilde. The youngest daughter was Sidonie (1840 - 1866).
Emmanuel’s priest sons, Vincent de Paul (1832 - 1912) and Benjamin, who took the name Emmanuel when he was ordained (1842 - 1917), became significant members of the newly founded order of the Augustinians of the Assumption, founded in Nimes by Emmanuel Alzon. It may be expected that his sons would have joined the Congregation of the Mission, but the relationship between that order and the Baillys turned bitter while the sons were young men. Having been a member of the Societe de Bonne Etudes in 1830, Emmanuel Alzon, founder of the Assumptionists, was a friend of Emmanuel Bailly. After a very promising eight-year career with the Bureau of Telegraphy, Emmanuel’s oldest son did not pursue a priestly vocation until later in life. Vincent de Paul Bailly was an active member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul from his youth and was a member of the Society’s Paris Central Council in 1855. The last half of his first career was spent as the private telegrapher to Emperor Napoleon III. He was entrusted with many important missions – private and diplomatic. To improve his international correspondence he began to study law. A promising career certainly seemed to lie ahead, but he developed other ambitions. In October 1860 he entered the Congregation of the Assumption; his younger brother Emmanuel joined him seven months later, shortly after the death of their father.
Fr. Vincent de Paul Bailly was one of the earliest members of the Assumptionist Order. While stationed in Nimes early in his telegraphic career, Vincent de Paul resided with the order’s founder. He was very much influenced by Fr. Alzon, whose views on the place of the Catholic faith in society were closely aligned to his. Like his father, he became a journalist dedicated to defense of the faith. He was founder and publisher of the order’s newspaper, LaCroix, which is still published today. His aggressive stance would embroil him in the Dreyfus Affair in the 1880s. His opinions were stridently anti-Semitic and contributed to the eventual banning of the order from France for several years. His younger brother, Fr. Emmanuel Bailly, became the third Superior General of the Assumptionists. Presiding over the order’s reestablishment in France and expansion through out the world, he traveled to the Orient and North America.
The political environment stabilized by mid-1832 under the reign of Louis-Philippe, and the cholera subsided. Catholicism was tolerated in the new regime but was not considered favorably – especially in Paris. Dedicated to protecting the reputation of the Catholic Church, Bailly continued to operate his boarding house for Catholic students from the provinces and encouraged gatherings there for discussion. It was also during this time that he confirmed his career change from teacher to publisher.
Bailly made his newspaper office a place where students could gather, and he provided a wide selection of newspapers there for them to read and keep up on current events. This hospitality created an environment that promoted lively discussion, in which Bailly avidly participated. It was, therefore, quite natural that Frederic Ozanam and his five friends should come to Bailly in April of 1833 to submit their plans for undertaking charitablework. Bailly provided them with a meeting place in the editorial offices of his newspaper, La Tribune Catholique. When the Society outgrew that space, he offered his large meeting room at Place de l’Estrapade. He encouraged them to define their ideas and agreed to guide their efforts. He arbitrated differences and provided guidance and continuity for the plans of the young founders. Having a great devotion to St. Vincent de Paul and also being familiar with his writings, Bailly linked the young men’s “Conference of Charity” to the Vincentian spiritual family.
In November 1833, Emmanuel Bailly decided to merge his newspaper, La Tribune Catholique with a new startup paper – L’Univers Religioux. Father Jacques-Paul Migne had written a compelling prospectus for L’Univers in October 1833. He obtained more than 800 subscriptions, while Bailly’s paper printed just over a hundred copies and gave many of them away. Bailly and Migne both wrote for the merged paper, but in 1835 Fr. Migne was publicly accused of plagiarizing his contributions from other newspapers. He was also was convicted of bribing a French postal official. He sold his interest out to Bailly for 5,000 francs in 1836. (Fr. Migne’s interesting career is documented in the book “God’s Plagiarist”). Bailly by this time had moved his offices to 2 Place de la Sorbonne. The manager of the newspaper and printing works was Henri Vrayet de Surcy, Bailly’s brother-in-law. The presses were not at these editorial offices but they were located at 12 Rue du Pot de Fer St. Sulpice. Emmanuel continued as publisher until 1839. The Congregation of the Mission was an investor in the paper – probably through Bailly’s brother Ferdinand. By 1838 the paper was in financial trouble and on the verge of bankruptcy, until Count Montalembert invested in it.
In 1844 L’Univers came to be directed by the talented but strident Louis Veuillot, who became an antagonist to the more liberal Frederic Ozanam and would also turn on Count Montalembert, whose investments had saved the paper.
In 1844 Bailly retired as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s President General. The presidency was placed into the capable hands of Jules Gossin, who also was an older, well-respected member of the Society. Gossin was actually five years older than Bailly. At this point Bailly was 50 years old. He had lost ownership of the newspaper and still had six children at home between the ages of 2 and 13. Emmanuel had also just come out of a well-publicized confrontation with the Congregation of the Mission’s Superior General, who had defamed his reputation, and Bailly’s financial position was precarious. Both of these situations resulted from questionable financial investments made by his brother, Fr. Ferdinand Bailly, in Emmanuel’s businesses and properties with funds from the Congregation.
The case between the Congregation of the Mission and Fr. Ferdinand has many tangled aspects, beginning with a spiteful disposition of the Superior General, Fr. Nozo, toward the elder Bailly. Ferdinand had been a contender for the position of Superior General and held some views opposed to those of Nozo and his supporters. Fr. Bailly was not without fault. There was the disputed legitimacy of his vows, an unwillingness to be accountable to the Congregation for questionable financial expenditures and outright disobedience, all of which led to Fr. Nozo dismissing Bailly in 1838. Humiliated and confused, Ferdinand left his position as Superior of the Seminary at Amiens, where he had worked for more than 30 years. Eventually, to justify his position, he initiated a campaign that would end in a public trial. Fr. Bailly won his lawsuit and an appeal and collected 30 years of unpaid wages and other earnings totaling several hundred thousand francs.
Emmanuel Bailly would be pulled into this convoluted case, as would Sister Rosalie Rendu, a key mentor to the young members of the new Society in the ways of charity. To defend the reputation of his order after losing the law suits, Nozo printed 3,000 pamphlets and distributed them to every French diocese, to magistrates and to many governmental departments, particularly in Paris and in Pas de Calais, where the Bailly family originated. In 1840 Emmanuel decided to sue Nozo for defamation of the Bailly family’s reputation. In his complaint against Nozo’s brief, he objected most strongly to the allegation that he got the money improperly from his brother Ferdinand to purchase a house and a business.
Sister Rosalie became involved in these cases several times. She tried to help the Lazarists by getting Archbishop Affre of Paris to use his influence to mediate the disputes. She asked the Archbishop to persuade Emmanuel Bailly to drop his suit. Although she was a friend of Bailly, she disliked the scandalous publicity and was unsure of the veracity of some of Emmanuel’s claims. Her efforts were too late to be of any use in the defamation suit. She continued to intervene with the Archbishop, however, on matters pertaining to the Congregation of the Mission, and her “meddling” was not appreciated by the leadership of the order.
After losing the defamation case to Emmanuel Bailly, Fr. Nozo paid damages of more than 150,000 francs and was forced to withdraw the brief within five days. He also was required to sign – in the presence of the Archbishop – a document that read, “I declare that I sincerely regret the insertion of the passage in question in the brief of May 1st of this year, and I will henceforth regard the passage as suppressed.”
It may be assumed that Bailly used this settlement money to acquire the property that the newly married Frederic and Marie Ozanam rented from him in 1841 at 41 Rue Madame on the corner of Rue de Fleurus in Paris. This building was a mansion near the Luxemburg Gardens that had been the former residence of the King of Naples, Emperor Napoleon’s brother-in-law. Hoping that revenues it would generate could support him in his retirement, Bailly purchased the mansion and rented out apartments in it. This was one more ill advised business decisions that would ruin him financially. Fortunately, through all of this, the relationship of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul with the Lazarists was not significantly harmed.
The disputes between the Lazarists and the Bailly family were not over, however. Fr. Nozo and his council agreed to legal arbitration on the back-wages lawsuit, as did Fr. Ferdinand Bailly. After winning two judgments, Fr. Bailly lost the arbitration on nearly all points. By this time, the case was widely discussed throughout Paris and had the attention of the Vatican. On September 23, 1840, the arbitrators overturned the previous judgment and determined that Fr. Bailly was not due the sum previously awarded. Consequently, Fr. Bailly had to pay back the Congregation almost 400,000 francs, withdraw his brief and pay the costs of arbitration. He also had to sign various declarations clearing up financial transactions. Undoubtedly out of charity, the Lazarists’ council agreed, however, to pay Fr. Bailly an income for the rest of his life. His business affairs and those of his brother Emmanuel were in trouble. Fr, Bailly’s possessions had to be put up for auction, probably due to bankruptcy, and he wrote that he lived – at least for a time – in humiliation and poverty. Details about his later life are lacking, although it is known that at the end of his life, he was living in the parish of the Parisian suburb of Neuilly – and was nearly blind. He died there on April 15, 1864.
Emmanuel stayed active with the General Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at the insistence of his successors. He kept in contact with Ozanam and several of the other founders and remained a member of the Council almost until the end of his life in 1861. In 1848 he enlisted in the National Guard, which defended Paris and the new Republic against roving rioters. He was serving with Ozanam and Cornudet (a past vice president of the General Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul) when, on June 25, they took the initiative to approach Archbishop Affre to ask him to try to quell the rebellion. He agreed to do so. Ozanam and Bailly accompanied the Archbishop to the office of General Cavaignac, who reluctantly approved the effort. Archbishop Affre would not allow Ozanam and Bailly to accompany him further. When he climbed the barricades to address the crowd, he was accidentally shot and died in the effort.
Bailly lived almost eight years after Frederic Ozanam died. These years were marked by a very public debate about who founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. It began innocently enough with a testimonial to Ozanam after his death by Fr. Lacordaire; in that address the priest attributed the founding to Ozanam. Even with Ozanam in the grave, his antagonist, Louis Veuillot, was not willing to let this stand and wrote multiple articles in L’Univers disputing the claim. The issue resurfaced again in an article written after Sr. Rosalie’s funeral by Leon Aubineau and published in the February 11, 1856 L’Univers This debate was considered very detrimental by the General Council. Two weeks after Sr. Rosalie’s funeral, Bailly was present at the General Council meeting of February 25, 1856, as Council members tried to defuse the issue. He repudiated “in measured terms” all claims to be the founder and agreed that it was necessary to “drop the polemic” but to publish nothing more on the question. Nevertheless, it was decided to publish a note in the Society’s “Bulletin” to affirm the collective founding of the organization.
The effort was not quite successful. After the hardships Emmanuel had experienced, it is not surprising that his sons, especially Vincent de Paul, would adamantly defend their father’s claim to the honor of founder. It is a controversy that continued to haunt the Society – especially in Paris, where both Ozanam and Bailly were well-known – even after the latter’s death. These two friends were noted for their humility, and we could expect that they would have preferred to avoid this controversy. Today, we have come to a better understanding of the roles of both men. There is little argument against the claim that Frederic Ozanam was the principal founder, or animator, of the organization as we know it today, but clearly Emmanuel Bailly presided with wisdom over the Society’s development during its first decade. Emmanuel died in Paris on April 12, 1861.
Auguste Le Taillandier (1811-1886)
“Another hope is not less dear to me: that is, that , as founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, you would want to do in the capital of Normandy what God had you do in Paris and procure for the use of that great town the benefit whose author you were among us.”
- – Frederic Ozanam in a letter to LeTaillandier August 19, 1838
Auguste Le Taillandier was born in Rouen, Normandy, on January 28, 1811. He had only a younger brother, Charles. His father belonged to a family of merchants, who had been living in that region since the 17th century. His mother was of a noble family background. He attended the College de Juilly from 1828 to 1831.
He and his family moved to Paris and there he pursued his legal studies. There he met Ozanam and the two became friends. He and Frederic lived together in an apartment not far from the Church of St.-Etienne-du-Mont after Frederic moved out of the home of the great scientist Ampere. Frederic described him as “a very amiable young man who is well informed and has sound common sense. … The only fault I have to find with him is that he is not from Lyon.”
Le Taillandier joined the Conference of History – a precursor to the Conference of Charity that gave rise to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. He did not seem to have been much interested in the lively discussions that so captivated his friends. In 1833 he told Ozanam that he thought rhetorical arguments were leading nowhere and that it would be better to join together in some charitable work, instead of discussions about history, literature and philosophy. Le Taillandier was actively involved in the first Charity Conference, in addition to other charitable actions, such as giving religious instruction to apprentices and making visits to prisoners and former prisoners. Le Taillandier adamantly opposed the division of the Society into separate conferences and was remembered as having wept during the debate about doing so in December 1835.
Having left Paris in 1837 to go first to Le Mans and then his home city of Rouen, Auguste was the first of the young founders to marry. He wed Marie Baudry on August 7, 1838. They bore four children, three daughters and one son.
In Rouen Le Taillandier became regional director of one of France's oldest and most distinguished insurance companies. He founded a conference in Rouen in 1841 and became its president. He was very popular among his conference brethren. As a mark of gratitude to their president, the members, assembled in Rouen's St. Godard Church, presented him with the gift of a stained-glass window that featured their president's portrait. Le Taillandier's name was found for many years on the board of directors roster for the local hospital. He was highly regarded by his fellow citizens and was awarded many honorary titles. He devoted his final days to his family, his friends, his Conference and his garden. Auguste died in Rouen on March 23, 1886.
Francois Lallier (1814-1886)
“As Secretary General, you are after M. Bailly, the Society’s soul. The unity, and from it the vigor and perseverance, of the different conferences depend on you. Attend particular assemblies frequently; see the presidents from time to time; take part in the meetings of the administrative council; prod sometimes the excessive tranquility of the President General (Bailly).”
- – Frederic Ozanam in a letter to Lallier, October. 5, 1837
Francois Lallier was born in the Burgundy-region town of Joigny, in Yonne, on June 22, 1814. Like many of the other founders’ fathers, Lallier’s father was a medical doctor. In his town, Lallier also had an uncle who was presiding magistrate and another who was a professor. Lallier met Frederic Ozanam at the University of Paris and remained a close friend until Frederic’s death. Of all his friends, it was Lallier whom Ozanam chose to be godfather to his daughter, Marie.
Lallier gave the following account to a friend of how he met Ozanam:
- “As I left the Law School, generally alone, I noticed that a small group of
- students, always composed of the same members, were standing on the footpath
- near Rue Soufflot. In the middle of the group was one who spoke warmly, and
- was listened to. Who is, I asked myself, this young rooster to whom those fellows
- pay so much attention? – I recognized Ozanam. … I drew near the group and
- joined in the conversation. … When the others had dispersed, we resumed our
It was the beginning of a friendship that would last a lifetime and to which others would be added. Ozanam, Lallier and these others would see each other daily, often meeting for lunch at a small restaurant on Rue des Canettes, around the corner from Emmanuel Bally’s office near the church of St. Sulpice.
Lallier was one of the most vigorous participants in the debates of the History Conference. From the beginning, he was always at Ozanam’s side in initiating the formation of the Conference of Charity. He also was instrumental in establishing the Notre Dame Lenten Conferences, which are still presented today. In 1834 Lallier, Ozanam and Lamache approached Archbishop de Quelen with a proposal to offer this lecture series to draw the young Catholics of Paris to the cathedral during Lent.
Years later, Paul Lamache remembered his friends Ozanam and Lallier and wrote, “Ozanam… was easily with us first among friends. Lallier came second; he had a strong character, extreme kindness, sound common sense, more reason than imagination, more solidity than brilliancy. His demeanor was reserved, even cold, but beneath it he had a warm heart, melting in close friendship into extreme tenderness. He was serious as a judge, and this characteristic joined to a simple and affectionate cordiality which gained for him among us the title of Father Lallier.”
An excellent lawyer, Lallier was renowned for his precise use of language, and he applied himself avidly to such work. In 1835 he was entrusted by Bailly with formulating the articles of the St. Vincent de Paul Society Rule. In 1837 he was appointed the Society's Secretary-General, charged with writing the circular letter to collect reports from conferences. During Ozanam’s time away in Lyon, he relied on Lallier to advance his vision of the Society within the Paris Council and to exert influence on Bailly.
In 1839, after stepping down from General Council he married and returned to his home area to live in the town of Sens. Ozanam visited Lallier in Sens after Lallier’s son, Henry, was born. After returning to Lyon, Ozanam sent greetings from early Conference members LaPerriere, Arthaud and Chaurand and related that, “Your son is the cause of great entertainment; he is already pictured clothed in his father’s gravity.” In 1842 Lallier lost a young and beloved daughter, Julie. Ozanam wrote Lallier a long letter of consolation, “wet with tears.” It is one of 80 letters between these friends – correspondence that continued until just before Ozanam’s death.
Lallier founded the first Conference in Sens in January 1844 in a little room near the Notre Dame gate. He reported that the membership of the Conference consisted of two. For a period of three weeks they continued to meet and pray and to conduct readings and the bag collection. “We kept asking each other if would be possible to find a third brother in order to form one of those gatherings which our Lord promises to bless, and in which three form a quorum.” The third member arrived on February 13, 1844. By July 26 they would report to the Archbishop of Sens that they had 18 active members and were helping 16 families.
Suggesting various career opportunities, Ozanam frequently tried to persuade Lallier to move to wherever Frederic was – first to Lyon and later to Paris. Lallier’s son, Henry, went to Paris to study in 1851. Henry was a frequent guest at the Ozanam house and enjoyed playing with little Marie.
Lallier was well-respected as a lawyer in Sens. He began as a deputy judge and became presiding magistrate in 1857. In addition to working with the poor, Lallier had an active interest in archeology. In 1844 he was a founding member of the Archaeological Society of Sens, an ancient city with prehistoric mounds and evidence of Roman occupation. Several times he was the organization’s president. He contributed regularly to its publication, the Bulletin – the most extensive contribution being an 1845 article about the Roman inscriptions on the wall enclosing the city. His interests also included directing and supervising archeological excavations of sites that included the local Roman arena and ancient mounds. He prepared reports on his findings and participated in archeological conventions.
Nominated for the National Assembly in 1848, Lallier wrote a position paper containing many of the progressive positions found in the writings of his friend Ozanam. The many other well-researched and reasoned articles by Lallier include essays on creation of a single taxing system (1850), abolition of slavery (1852) and universal suffrage (1865). Over these years he also published several articles on poverty in France and the relationship between poverty and economic systems.
Pope Pius IX honored Lallier with the title of Knight of St. Gregory the Great and recognized him as a distinguished “magistrate, writer and scientist who carried high and firm the flag of religion.” The Cross of the Legion of Honor was awarded to Lallier in 1873 for his years of civic service.
In 1879, a few years before the celebration of the Society's Golden Jubilee, President General Baudon commissioned Lallier to write an account of the Society's origins. Lallier undertook this work and submitted an initial draft to the other surviving foundermembers:Le Taillandier, Lamache and Devaux. With their collaboration, a brochure was published in 1882 under the title, "Origins of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, according to the Recollections of its First Members."
Francois Lallier died on Décembre. 23, 1886, in Sens.
Jules Deveaux (1811-1880)
Like Lamache and Le Taillandier, Jules Devaux hailed from the Normandy region. He was born on July 18, 1811, in the town of Colombieres, Calvados. His father, Marie Adrien Devaux was a country doctor, probably of peasant stock. After attending the College Royal in Caen, Jules came to Paris to study medicine, probably in 1830. It was there that he met Ozanam and his friends. He took part in the Conference of History but did not seem to have been very active in the debates, perhaps because he was studying medicine and not law.
He was one of the seven founders and attended the early meetings of the Society. He took up the collection of funds at the first meeting by walking around with his hat held behind his back. He then became the first treasurer of the Conference and later the first treasurer of the General Council. Jules may have worked with Sr. Rosalie Rendu before the formation of the Society. Regardless, it was he who, at the urging of Emmanuel Bailly, was delegated to approach her so that the newly formed Conference of Charity would be well-mentored in the work of charity.
Leaving Paris in 1839 after submitting his medical thesis, Devaux settled in Trivieres, Normandy. After his mother's death, he temporarily abandoned medical practice to travel, especially in Germany. He tried to found the first Conference there but did not succeed. He married Louise Alice Pasquet in Paris on April 30, 1848, and they had at least one son, who recorded some of his father’s memories. The remainder of his life is not well-known. He died in Paris on October 27, 1880.
Paul Lamache (1810-1892)
“I have a circle of friends who gather every day in worthwhile enterprises and whom I love as brothers.… Lamache with the soul of an artist; and practically a knight.… What delightful hours we have spent together speaking of country, family, religion, science, literature, legislation, everything beautiful, everything great, everything which ought to be treasured in the heart.”
- – Frederic Ozanam to his mother, March 19, 1833
Paul Lamache was the oldest of the six students who came together to form the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. He was also the last living member of the group. Born at Saint- Pierre Eglise in Normandy on July 18, 1810, he belonged to an ancient family of landowners and administrators. On the fringe of Norman nobility, the Lamache family had experienced major hardship during the Revolution.
Although less well-known today than his friend Frederic Ozanam, Lamache was a truly remarkable man who was recognized and respected in his day. Many aspects of his life have striking parallels to that of Ozanam.
Like three of the other founders, Lamache had a doctor for a father. The elder Lamache was a surgeon in Napoleon’s navy. He had returned to his home village in 1816 and became its mayor. Paul was the youngest of three sons. Like Frederic, Paul followed his father’s wishes and became a lawyer – with the intention of becoming a magistrate. The Frederic parallel continues with Paul’s older brother, Jerome, being a priest and his other brother, Charles, being a doctor. There were two sisters in the Lamache family – Virginia and Justine. Virginia became a nun in the Augustinian Order of St. Thomas of Villanova.
Paul’s brothers were sent to study with the Jesuits at St. Acheul. Paul, however, won a scholarship and attended the secular College of Rouen. He was known to be a bright student and leader of his classmates. In this secular environment his faith was frequently tested, but he was fortunate to have found a mentor in the headmaster, a Monsieur Faucon, and several good priests as advisors. After graduating, Lamache considered studying mathematics at the Polytechnique de Rouen but ended up going to Paris to study law.
Lamache arrived in Paris in 1830 just after Charles X abdicated, ending the revolution of 1830. In 1832 he met Frederic Ozanam and Francois Lallier. A devout Catholic from the provinces, Lamache was delighted to find like-minded students; he had experienced the same alienation and isolation as they had. During these college years, Lamache enjoyed the support and friendship of his younger sister, Justine, who moved to Paris to study at the Convent of the Ladies of Thomas-de-Villeneuve, as did older sister, Virginia. Although Justine never entered the order, she also never married and lived a life devoted to service of the needy.
Joining the History Conference, Lamache took an active part in its debates. He then joined the Charity Conference and took part with Ozanam and Lallier in organizing the Notre Dame Lenten Conferences and met at least once with Archbishop Quelen for this purpose. While always being in the core group of friends, Lamache never took on a role of leadership or held office. Yet he remained an active Vincentian in multiple cities for almost 60 years.
Paul had a keen interest in history and while attending law school published several papers. After receiving his law degree, he went on to complete a doctoral degree in law in 1838. He did his internship as an attorney in Paris and then tried to follow the career path his father desired. Despite very good recommendations, when he applied to become a substitute magistrate, he was unable to secure a position. Instead, he was offered an appointment as a judge in the colonies. This presented him with a moral dilemma. He was strongly against slavery, as was Ozanam. Certainly, it would have been a topic of debate and conversation among these intellectual students. The magistrates in the colonies were not under the structure of the French judicial system but rather that of the French Navy, which was closely aligned with the interests of the wealthy landowning slaveholders.
A missionary priest on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, Fr. Jerome Lamache had shared much with his brother about the evils of slavery. Jerome was a priest dedicated to ministering to the black slaves, and he set up institutions to evangelize them and improve their lives. He also wrote and distributed a brochure outlining anti-slavery principles, including those promulgated in the 1839 encyclical by Pope Gregory XVI against slavery. The final chapters of Fr. Lamache’s brochure included many moving personal stories he had collected from people subjected to slavery. When the brochure was distributed, Fr. Jerome was held for 24 hours, while the military patrolled the streets to prepare for a slave uprising. Fr. Jerome was expelled from the colonies, but the pamphlet went into a second printing and was distributed in France.
Paul Lamache worked to end slavery in the French colonies with such notables as Victor Schoelcher and the Duke of Broglie. In 1843 Lamache published a major L’Correspondant article titled, “Slavery in the French Colonies.” He wrote of slavery as a religious issue – and a serious disgrace to Catholics because the practice had been abolished earlier in England and other Protestant countries. Abolition in French territory was finally achieved by the Republican Assembly in 1851.
In addition to his scholarly publications, Lamache wrote a short classic on the life of St. Chlotilde. He completed it in the style of a very popular work by his friend Count Montalembert on the life of St. Elisabeth of Hungary. A short, pious work from the heart, the book was read with great interest by a young woman from St. Dizier – Mademoiselle Le Bon d'Humbersin – the daughter of a lieutenant colonel in the infantry and granddaughter of a famous inventor. She let in be known that she wanted to meet the book’s author, and they married in 1844. After Lamache died, she told a young lawyer that they never had a moment of discord in their long married life.
With the reorganization of civic institutions during the Second Republic, Lamache was appointed Rector of the Departmental Academy in the Cotes du-Nord, Brittany. The structure of the education system was very controversial, and by all accounts he was able to win the respect of those he administered. With the fall of the Second Republic and the rise of Napoleon III, structures were reorganized again and his position eliminated. He was, however, recognized by the Emperor for his service. The Cross of the Legion of Honor was awarded to him, as it also was to Sister Rosalie Rendu, Francois Lallier and Frederic Ozanam.
Next, Lamache went to the University of Strasbourg, where he received an appointment as professor of law, teaching both Roman law and administrative law. These were happy times for Lamache. He enjoyed teaching, the practice of his faith, watching his family grow and participating in works of charity. He was an excellent teacher, but he did not hide his commitment to Catholicism. This may have damaged his prospects for advancement in the political environment of the time. He welcomed students into his home for discussions and hospitality and undoubtedly remembered how important these opportunities had been to him and his friends in Paris.
This was a particularly difficult period for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Fearing any movement that was organized nationally and could threaten the government, the national authorities disbanded the Councils of the Society, although individual conferences were allowed to operate. Lamache’s own conference in Strasbourg remained active, and his letters describe several incidents in which the conference worked cooperatively with the municipal government.
Lamache enjoyed hiking with his family and with his young students. His hikes would take him deep into the mountains of the Alsace region, where he would visit the residents and get to know them and their legends. He also observed the damage that, in his opinion, Luther and Protestantism had done to the faith of the population.
With the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian wars, the city of Strasbourg was ceded to Prussia in the Frankfort Treaty of 1871. During the siege of Strasbourg, Lamache’s two sons were in the military and were captured and held as prisoners of war. Lamache chose to leave the city and took a position teaching the civil code at Bordeaux. When civil unrest began in that area, however, he took a position in the law school at Grenoble. In his subsequent writings he would vehemently protest against any new legislation or acts that threatened the fundamentals of law. He became equally involved in the campaigns of Montalembert in support of the freedom of education by Catholic institutions.
In 1886, because of age, he was forced to retire from his chair as professor of law in Grenoble. At this point he was 76 years old but was still healthy and active. His colleagues tried in vain to obtain an exception for him from the mandatory retirement. They honored him by presenting him with an artistic cup recognizing his life of service to education.
Being with his family and friends, spending time in prayer, reading, and performing works of charity occupied most of Mr. Lamache’s time during his last years. He was also committed to physical exercise, and so by walking, swimming and gardening he was able to maintain his good health into old age.
Works of charity were especially important to Lamache. At the end of his life, he was increasingly active in works of charity through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. As he had been in Paris and in Strasbourg, Lamache was faithful in Grenoble to the meeting of the conference and to visiting the poor. A biographer noted, “that it was a beautiful spectacle to see this old man of more than eighty years still going up into the attics visiting the poor. He liked to be accompanied by one by his grandchildren; the gracious child, schooled in charity, sometimes added to it a bouquet gathered in the garden of her grandfather.”
Regardless of how much the Society of St Vincent de Paul meant to him, he did not believe that he needed go to Paris for the anniversary of its founding in 1888. The President General tried in vain to have the last living founder attend the celebration. In his humility Lamache covered up his role as a founder, especially among his fellow Grenoble Council members. The Council General sent him two copies the poster of the founders they had prepared for the occasion. One copy was for him, and one was to be given to the District Council office. He never delivered the one to the Council office, and other District Council members saw it only after he had died. Lamache had written in 1888, “I would be too ashamed to be shown in that group. My fellow members of Grenoble see me in flesh and bone and in spite of their lenient benevolence, I would need to be embellished and my defects brushed up in their eyes. …”
Lamache died four years later on July 28, 1892, in Grenoble.
FELIX CLAVE (1811-1853)
“Even Algiers is answering our call, an association, of which Clave and several of our old friends form the nucleus, is being formed under the auspices of its saintly bishop.”
- – letter from Ozanam to Pessoneaux, March 13, 1840
Felix Clave is said to be the least known of our Society's founders. That is only partially true, however. He was born in southern France on July 8, 1811, probably in the Province of Haute-Pyrenees. Often he is described as being from Toulouse, but – if that is the case – he was there only a short time. His father, Guillaume Clave, may have been from a noble family, but if so, the Claves had experienced setbacks. The elder Clave made his living operating a series of boarding schools. Before Felix’s birth his father was teaching in Bordeaux. Because of Guillaume’s loyalty to the monarchy, however, he lost this position and returned to the Pyrenees. His loyalty was rewarded with a position as Principal of the College of Dax, where he stayed for one year before opening his own boarding school in Bordeaux in 1821. Felix was undoubtedly one of his first students.
This school became a well-regarded and successful institution, but after some unknown difficulties Guillaume chose to settle in Paris in May 1830. He experienced some obstacles in setting up his school in Paris because the education officials required him to have a Bachelor of Science degree in addition to his arts degree. He was admitted to the university and was allowed to open a school while he pursued his degree, which he received in 1838. His school, called the “Clave Institution,” was located close to the Church of St. Philippe du Roule, and Guillaume taught the children of prosperous tradesman. About half of the students were boarders. The student body is largely young Spaniards and Mexicans. This may be explained by the likelihood that Guillaume spoke fluent Spanish and that the second of his daughters, Petronille Mary-Louise Celina, married a prosperous Mexican, Don Manuel Zulayeta, in Paris in February 1833.
As a university student, Felix was an adherent of the utopian-socialist St. Simonian teachings, but he was won over by the arguments of Ozanam and the other Catholics who took part in the Conference of History. What course of study Clave pursued is unclear; many sources say it was law. Clave associated himself with Ozanam's friends and was a present at the first meeting of the Conference of Charity. Clave remained an active member while he lived in Paris. When a new pastor, Fr. Faudet, came to St.-Etienne-du- Mont within a year of the founding of the Conference, Mr. Bailly gave an indication of his regard for Felix by choosing him to meet with and explain to the priest the nature and workings of the Conference of Charity that existed within his parish bounds. Fr. Faudet was a little uncertain about the novel group but accepted an invitation to attend a conference meeting. He left the meeting a dedicated supporter of the new Society.
After the initial 1835 split of the first conference into two groups – one at St.-Etienne-du- Mont and one at St. Sulpice – Clave formed the third conference at St. Philippe du Roule with the help of the pastor, Fr. Maret. This parish was a distance from St. Sulpice and was close to where Clave and a number of other early members lived. This third conference was a significant step in the organization’s development because it was more than just a division of the original group. It demonstrated that the structure could actually be duplicated in new parishes. Assistance in organizing this new conference was provided by a team of visitors consisting of Frederic Ozanam and Francois Lallier.
Clave’s career seemed uncertain after university. Some of his writings were published, and he may have assisted his father by teaching at the boarding school. He regularly attended daily Mass at St. Philippe, and it was there around Easter of 1838 that he met an attractive woman, Marie de Nicolai, a woman above his social class. Their mutual attraction would come to an unhappy end when she discovered that he was the son of a mere schoolteacher and without wealth or position. It was this woman’s close companion, Marie Capelle (after marriage to be known as Marie Lafarge), who would later destroy Felix’s reputation and cause his name to be associated with the 19th century’s most sensational criminal case.
- After a set of flirtatious encounters and poetic letters, Marie Nicolai wished to know :the identity of this handsome stranger. In her memoirs Marie Lafarge recalled,
- “I learned that his name was Felix Clave; I learned that he was a Spaniard, and a
- literary man. These details were a shock to Mlle. de Nicolai. ‘My God!’ she
- cried, ‘have you not observed, a few paces from St. Philippe, a large white house
- with a great black sign, on which are several immense yellow letters? … Well,
- that great sign and those large letters are without doubt the arms and blazon of our
- noble unknown. It is the Institution Clave… My God! I love him still – I shall
- love him always; but I could never become Madame Clave, the wife of a man
- who gets his money by writing! My mother, my father, would never consent.
- What part shall I do?’
- ‘Tell him you will courageously sacrifice him to a prejudice, and will see him no
- more, in order that he may forget you as speedily as you will forget him!’”
These details are without dispute, but within two years the story became extremely convoluted. Marie Capelle encouraged this relationship and acted as an intermediary who befriended Clave along the way. Marie Nicolai, however, put a definite end to the relationship in the fall of 1838 and pursued the courtship of another, the Marquis Leautaud.
In October 1838 Felix Clave decided it was best to leave Paris and work in Algeria. Frederic Ozanam related in a letter of July 9, 1839, “Even Algiers is answering our call, an association, of which Clave and several of our old friends form the nucleus, is being formed under the auspices of its saintly bishop.” Clave’s presence there was known by Bishop Dupuch of Algeria, with whom Ozanam met in March 1840. The Bishop gave news of Clave, “for whom he had boundless love,” Ozanam wrote. These expressions of affirmation are of interest because they came just at the time when Felix Clave was dragged into a scandal and criminal trial of international interest. His old friends were undoubtedly dumbfounded.
During Clave’s absence from France, Marie Cappelle was duped – to obtain comfort and status – into a loveless marriage with an older man who purportedly was a prosperous iron manufacturer. Discovering that the facts of his situation were incorrect, she allegedly poisoned him with arsenic. She was not very clever or cautious in committing the crime, however, and was immediately suspected by the family and police. She was soon arrested. Her arrest renewed suspicions of the Marquis Leautaud, – now the husband of her old friend Marie Nicolai – regarding a jewel theft that occurred when Lafarge had visited them the previous summer. The police were informed and found the diamonds in the Lafarge house. In order to justify this theft, Madame Lafarge invented a story in which Felix Clave was threatening to tell terrible tales about his romance with Marie Nicolai unless he would be paid off.
The trial of the attractive Marie Lafarge, who declared she was innocent of the charges of both murder and theft, became one of the first truly international media spectacles. It was covered throughout Europe and was a source of conversation, as one source described it, “from cottage to court.” Marie Lafarge received thousands of letters and responded to them all. The scandal did great damage to Clave’s reputation. A Paris newspaper carried this statement of Lafarge as part of a front-page article: “M. Felix Clave, you are a coward. I have cried to you from the depth of my prison, I have demanded from everybody, from the world, from the Press, from your own remorse, to carry my voice to the interior of the desert where you hide yourself. Why do you delay to avenge your honor and that of her whom you ruin? You have crossed the seas to remake your fortune. Could not you cross them to remake your reputation?”
Clave never returned to testify, but around the time of the trial he traveled to Mexico and worked for several years for his sister’s husband, Don Manuel Zulayeta. Back in France, people came from all over to attend the trial. According to witnesses on his behalf at the Lafarge trial, Clave was an honorable person who had good employment and no need of blackmail money. The woman allegedly being blackmailed also adamantly denied that the blackmail threats had any basis in fact.
Marie Lafarge offered no defense at trial but maintained her innocence. She was convicted of theft. A later appeal upheld the verdict but raised many questions that were never satisfactorily answered. Lafarge went on to be convicted of murder in a trial that became an even bigger media circus. The case is notable for being the first in history in which scientific forensic testing for evidence was employed. The prosecution used the newly developed Marsh Test for arsenic in the corpse of Mr. Lafarge. The test having first been done improperly by local investigators occasioned the calling of Dr. Orfila, the most famous toxicologist of his day. He arrived – attended by great publicity – to redo the tests on the exhumed body of Mr. Lafarge and testified against Marie. Since the entire murder plot closely resembled a fictional murder case that had been serialized in French newspapers several years prior to the crime, the trial also provoked a series of social commentaries questioning the advisability of husbands allowing their wives to read newspapers or fiction. Such was the drama into which Felix Clave was unwittingly drawn.
Even while in prison as a convicted murderer and jewel thief, Madame Lafarge continued to damage the reputation of Felix Clave. Her well-written “Memoirs of Madame Lafarge” identified him on page after page and cast him as the least-sympathetic character in the entire saga. The work became an international bestseller and was translated into many languages. She continued to get thousands of supporting letters, many containing proposals of marriage.
Clave returned to France but was deeply affected by these incidents. His health was damaged and his reason was affected. He nevertheless married and published several works, among which were collections of poetry and a book on Pius IX, published in 1848. His nervous troubles increased, and his wife resigned herself to committing him to an asylum in the Pyrenees. Felix Clave died at 42 in Pau on November 9, 1853 – two months after Frederic Ozanam's death.
It is not surprising that for a long time the Society refused to speak of this founder, whose portrait did not even appear in the gallery devoted to early members. It was not truly because Clave was the least-known among our founders, but rather because the scandal did not suit a fledgling society of devout Catholics dedicated to service of the poor.
The six men whose lives are sketched above are all remembered for having attended that first Conference meeting on April 23, 1833, in the editorial offices of La Tribune Catholique. The seventh and principal founder, Frederic Ozanam, has had his life story told in many books and other publications. Although these seven were all present at that first meeting, they were not all the most important actors in the growth of the early Society. These men were fortunate to have been mentored in the practical and spiritual aspects of charity by Sr. Rosalie Rendu, whose fascinating life story is told in a recent publication by Sr. Louise Sullivan, DC. Many came forward to join the founding seven and made significant contributions to the early growth and formation of the Society. These early members included Leon LePrevost, a non-student member who provided significant leadership, and Julles Gossin, a prominent Catholic Parisian who became a very capable successor to Bailly as President General. The contingent of Ozanam’s friends from Lyons – LaPerriere, Arthaud, Dufieux, Pessonneaux and Chaurand – contributed ideas that fostered a creative tension between the conferences in Paris and Lyons, and thus improved the prospects for the Society becoming a successful international organization. Finally, there was the significant contribution of Adolph Baudon, who led the organization through a very difficult transition period while he was the third President of the General Council. He served in that office for 38 years, and many consider him a second founder of the Society.
People of faith – as well as tremendous talent and integrity – these founders encouraged and challenged one another. The Revised Rule correctly states that “The Holy Spirit was undoubtedly present in all of them at the founding of the Society, fostering the charisms of each one.” Both Frederic Ozanam and Emmanuel Bailly were attentive to the diversity of gifts among these friends and inspired them with a practical vision of faith and friendship lived out as a vocation of service and compassion for their neighbors in need.
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