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Frederic Ozanam and Sr Rosalie Rendu

With Sr Rosalie’s growing influence and reputation in Paris regarding her help and support for those in need, she attracted many people to her door asking for her advice and counsel in these matters.

  Among these was Frederic Ozanam and his young friends, seeking her advice.  She was the centre of a charitable movement that characterised Paris and France in the first half of the 19th century and her experience was priceless for these young people.  She directed their apostolate, guided their coming and going in the suburbs, and gave them addresses of families in need, choosing them with care.  Indeed it is fair to say that Sr Rosalie was largely responsible for the successful development and growth of the SVP in its early stages.  It was she who advised Frederic to adopt St Vincent as their patron.

  Hardships were not lacking in the districts of Paris.  Epidemics of cholera followed one after another.  Lack of hygiene and poverty fostered its virulence.  Most particularly in 1832 and 1846, the dedication shown and risks taken by Sr Rosalie and her Sisters were beyond imagination.  She herself was seen picking up dead bodies in the streets.

  During the uprisings of July 1830 and February 1848, barricades and bloody battles were the marks of the opposition of the working class stirred up against the powerful.  The Archbishop of Paris was killed trying to intervene between the fighting factions.  Sr Rosalie was deeply grieved.  She herself climbed the barricades to try and help the wounded fighters irrespective of the side they were fighting on.  Without any fear, she risked her life in these confrontations.  Her courage and sense of freedom commanded the admiration of all.

  When order was re-established, she tried to save a number of these people she knew and who were victims of fierce repression.  She was helped a great deal by the Mayor of the district, Dr Ulysse Trélat, a true republican, who was also very popular.

In 1852, Napoleon III decided to give her the Cross of the Legion of Honour.  She was ready to refuse this individual honour but Fr Jean Baptiste Etienne, head of the Priests of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity, prevailed upon her to accept it.

Always in fragile health, Sr Rosalie never took a moment of rest, always managing to overcome fatigue and fevers.  However, age, increasing infirmity, and the amount of work needing to be done eventually broke her strong resistance and equally strong will.  During the last two years of her life she became progressively blind.  She died on 7 February, 1856 after a brief acute illness.

Sr Rosalie’s tomb

  Emotions ran high in the district and at all levels of society in both Paris and the countryside.  After the funeral rite at St Médard church in her parish, a large and emotional crowd followed her remains to the Montparnasse Cemetery.  They came to show their respect for the works she had accomplished and show their affection for this “out of the ordinary” Sister.

  Numerous newspaper articles witnessed to the admiration and even veneration that Sr Rosalie received.  Newspapers from all sides echoed the sentiments of the people.

  Numerous visitors flocked to the Montparnasse Cemetery.  They went to meditate at the tomb of the one who was their salvation.  But it was difficult to find the gravesite reserved for the Daughters of Charity.  The body was then moved to a more accessible site, close to the entrance of the cemetery.  On the simple tomb surmounted by a large cross are engraved these words: “To Sister Rosalie, from her grateful friends, the rich and the poor.”  Anonymous hands brought flowers and continue to bring flowers to this gravesite: a lasting yet discreet homage to this humble Daughter of St Vincent de Paul.