The old man sat next to me at lunch Saturday. As is traditional at these retreats, the first question after introductions was not what one does for living or where one live but to which parish we belong. St. James the Less, he said. He asked my parish and mentioned he’d heard of our fish fries. Famous across the diocese we are for that. He seemed as plain and ordinary as any of us though his face and way of talking reminded me vaguely of my grandfather. He mentioned his grandchildren with a special gleam in his eye, ticking off their ages with delight. Awfully close to his family I remember thinking.
A few hours later, after lunch and the next lecture ended, he made his way to the microphone. Speaking articulately without notes, he told us that the he belonged to the St. Vincent de Paul Society and asked how many knew it wasn’t started by St.Vincent de Paul but by a man named Frederic Ozanam, who was recently beatified, made blessed, the last step in the process of becoming canonized. I thought this was a pitch to join St. Vincent de Paul.
What followed was as unexpected as it was moving as it is difficult to capture on paper. Frederic Ozanam needs a miracle, he said bluntly. There was something in his manner old-school, a deep faith, at once simultaneously aware of his need but also of the primacy of God's will. His voice cracking, “Ozanam needs a miracle and I have one! My daughter is forty-six years old and was diagnosed last year with pancreatic and colon cancer. I asked the doctor how long and he said, ‘two months, maybe three’. I have nine children, but I’m a selfish man and...she is special...pray to Frderic Ozanam...".
"I'm a selfish man," he said, meaning he wanted to outlive his child, and at that point was there a dry eye in the place? There is selfish and there is selfish, and this was farther down the scale of selfishness than I was used to. Pease pray to Frederic Ozanam for this man and his daughter.