The Legacy of Blessed Antione Frederic Ozanam

Christopher Viola, Contributing Writer

As a part of the Speakers Series, on Wednesday, Sept. 17, the Center for Labor and Employment Law, the Center for Law and Religion and the Labor Relations and Law Society presented The Life and Legacy of Antione Frederick Ozanam.

The guest speaker for the evening, Dr. Raymond Sickinger, spoke about his most recent biography, “Antione Frederick Ozanam.” The Mattone Family Atrium in Belson Hall fell silent in the early evening as the attention of the entire audience was focused on Dr. Sickinger and what he had to say about the biography.

According to Dr. Sickinger’s lecture, Frederick Ozanam was a trailblazer for modern Vincentian service and was the forefather of the immersive style of service, where the focus is on understanding the needs of the people by living through their struggles with them. Dr. Sickinger made several points describing the impact that someone so young was capable of and how it changed how service operates in the world today.

Ozanam’s tenacious approach to service and human dignity has resulted in a change in the fundamental understanding of charity and its relevance to justice. Ozanam is often considered the forefather of modern Catholic Social Teaching. As founder of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Ozanam popularized the Vincentian method of interacting with the poor and vulnerable while working towards dignity for all people.

Following the presentation of Dr. Sickinger, Courtney Sokol, the President of the Labor Relations and Employment Law Society, conducted a panel with two of the St. John’s Law School alumni and members of the St. John’s Hall Law Employment Society on the issue of the living wage; an issue that comes very close to the work that Frederic Ozanam did in his lifetime, especially regarding the dignity of the human person.

Amanda Jaret ’13, Honorable Mark Pearce and Chairman of the NLRB, and Michael Masri ’95, Partner at Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Brightstone, LLP, contributed to a dialogue about the “Fight for 15,” a movement aspiring to bring about a national minimum wage of $15.

The two panelists had very different opinions about how working conditions affect the lives of the American people. When asked by the moderator, if workers were provided insurance and protections of that nature, would they then increase their productivity. Masri’s response was an immediate no, citing his work with employers and his insistence that it is not too often spoken about how an employee would abuse an employer.

Jaret, on the other hand, believed that changes on the micro level ultimately influence change on the macro level. The panel also placed a focus on what the panelists believed was the government’s responsibility in taking care of the economic needs of the people. Masri commented on how necessary it was to care for the aging population of the United States, especially regarding health care. Jaret placed a greater emphasis on caring for elements of family life such as Universal Pre-K.

The legacy of Frederic Ozanam was the focus of the final section of Dr. Sickinger’s book. Ozanam’s legacy manifests itself in the Vincentian model of the university, the St. Vincent de Paul chapter on campus and directly through the Social Justice program on campus, the Ozanam Scholars program, for which he is the namesake.

Dr. Sickinger introduced a very influential figure in Catholic history in light of his contributions towards social change during his time. Modern applications of Catholic Social Teaching contribute to aid the poor and vulnerable and provides new life for those that society often forgets. The fight for workers’ rights is still an ongoing battle in 2017 and it would be naïve to believe it will subside anytime soon, he said.

The presentation ended with the claim that the only thing to be done is work towards a better tomorrow and a better legacy. The life of Frederic begged a very important question for all students: if Ozanam could make history at the age of twenty, what’s stopping anyone else?