St. Josemaría Escrivá Founded Opus Dei to Help People Become Holy Through Life’s Daily Tasks

“Ordinary work is not only the context in which people should become holy,” said St. Josemaría. “It is the raw material of their holiness.”

The St. Josemaría Escrivá Altar in Peterskirche, Vienna.
The St. Josemaría Escrivá Altar in Peterskirche, Vienna. (photo: Jebulon / Wikimedia Commons/CC0)

St. Josemaría Escrivá (1902-1975) was born in Barbastro, Spain — a small town that would later become famous as the place where 51 Claretians were martyred in 1936 at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.

He entered seminary and was ordained a priest in 1925. On Oct. 2, 1928, a young Father Escrivá was on retreat in Madrid. While offering an earnest prayer to know the will of God in his life, Father heard the tolling of a nearby church bell, and believed he clearly saw his answer (emphasis his). His life’s work would be to launch a movement which would “tell men and women of every country and of every condition, race, language, milieu, and state of life … that they can love and serve God without giving up their ordinary work, their family life, and their normal social relations.”

Thus Opus Dei (“Work of God”) was born. Father Escrivá began to organize men and women who shared his vision, and by 1940, Opus Dei had 400 members from several European countries. Pope Pius XII officially recognized the movement in 1943, and three years later Father Escrivá established the Opus Dei headquarters in Rome.

In the following decades, Opus Dei spread to North America, Central and South America, Africa and many countries of Asia. (It came to the U.S. in 1949.) Today, there are more than 85,000 men and women involved in Opus Dei, representing more than 80 nationalities.

Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice, shortly before his election as Pope John Paul I, described Father Escrivá as “a revolutionary priest … vaulting over traditional barriers.” He continued:

“St. Francis de Sales proclaimed sanctity for everyone, but seems to have taught only a ‘spirituality for lay people,’ whereas Msgr. Escrivá wants a ‘lay spirituality.’ Francis, in other words, nearly always suggests for the laity the same practical means used by religious, but with suitable modifications. Escrivá is more radical; he goes so far as to talk about ‘materializing,’ in the good sense, that quest for holiness. For him, it is the material work which must be turned into prayer and sanctity.”

Msgr. Escrivá further explained:

“Ordinary work is not only the context in which people should become holy: It is the raw material of their holiness. It is there in the ordinary happenings of their day’s work that they discover the hand of God and find the stimulus for their life of prayer … holiness, apostolate, and the ordinary life of the members of Opus Dei come to form one and the same thing, and that is why work is the hinge of their spiritual life.”

St. Josemaría wrote many books on spirituality during his life, the most famous being The Way (which has sold millions of copies in 39 languages), Furrow and The Forge. The Way, for example, tells readers, “I’ll tell you a secret, an open secret: these world crises are crises of saints. God wants a handful of people ‘of His own’ in every human activity. Then … pax Christi in regno Christi –‘the peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ.’”

Father Escrivá died in 1975. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on May 17, 1992. The Holy Father told the 300,000 in attendance that Msgr. Escrivá was an “exemplary priest who succeeded in opening up new apostolic horizons of missionary and evangelizing activity.” Later, echoing Josemaría’s words, he exhorted all Christians to strive to “permeate homes, workplaces, centers of culture, the media, public and private life” with the Gospel message. Pope John Paul went on to canonize Father Escrivá on Oct. 6, 2002.

Opus Dei maintains a unique relationship with the Holy See; in 1982, Pope St. John Paul II declared it a “personal prelature” or a non-territorial jurisdictional structure. Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz has served as prelate of Opus Dei since 2017.