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Javier Medina

A faithful man*
*Rob Cortess translation made for friends & contacts who wanted to read the definitve biography of Don Alvaro in
English when none is available. This has the blessing of Don Javier Medina with whom he spoke face-to-face.

Apologia for this English Translation


Robert Z. Cortes
I translated this book because I am a fool or, at least, so said the looks on the faces of some
who learned that I was translating this book. You know - the obviously forced half-smile with the
accompanying eyebrows raised in disbelief or incomprehension and a half-gasping, perfunctory
"Oh, good luck!" Some couldn't even suppress a "What for?" But I take comfort in the
knowledge that not all fools are foolish, and some fools are so because of love. I would like to
think I am one of the exceptions to the former; I am sure I am one of the latter.
My love for Don Alvaro came quite slowly, though. I remember an incident during my first retreat
as a numerary of Opus Dei. I was saying the rosary with everyone, walking around the living
room, and I passed by a picture of Don Alvaro, who was still the Prelate then. In that one instant
that my eyes fell on his picture, two things happened in very rapid succession: I recalled how
the older members of Opus Dei in my center seemed to always talk about the Father with so
much enthusiasm and affection; and then I asked myself if Id ever get to love the Father the
way those older members seemed to. I had wanted to, of course, but I couldnt imagine how.
As I found out later, this love is not something one acquires on ones own. It is something that
one nurtures, yes, but one can only nurture something once it has been given. And the giver of
the gift is God. I am certain my love for Don Alvaro is such a gift.
The gift came with the vocation to Opus Dei, later to be nurtured by personal encounters with
Don Alvaro in the flesh twice in my case. He first came to the Philippines and then I went to
Rome. In both cases, I felt the overpowering humility of his person. Imagine a person of his
stature asking me to pray for him. What does one say to such a request? Well, yes, of course
but I mean, what sort of yes? That would be an embarrassed yes. That would be a yes
that knew it would say more than it would do. That would be a yes that knew that the one
being asked needed it more than the one asking.
But Don Alvaro would protest if he heard me say that. Indeed, he felt the need to be always
serving and asking for pardon when he felt he didnt serve enough. I say that not only because
Ive heard and read about it, but also because I myself experienced it in the most jaw-dropping
way. It happened like this.
I was coming to Rome for the first time as a staff member of a group representing the
Philippines for a conference for university students (UNIV 1993). By coincidence, I was turning 6
years Opus Dei in those days and I would have to be granted what members call the fidelity.
Ill spare you the other technical details, but I have to mention that it entails a simple and short
ceremony to be officiated by a priest. In my gumption, thinking that this was some wonderful act
of Providence, I wrote to Don Alvaro months before to ask him if he could officiate my fidelity.
Of course, I knew that for that to happen would be next to impossible. In fact, he never did
officiate that short ceremony but that eventuality only highlighted his astonishing humility. For
1

the moment our group came out of the airport, the person sent to fetch us, before saying
anything else, asked aloud who Robert Cortes was. When I said it was I, he said that Don
Alvaro was sending his apologies for not being able to officiate my fidelity, as he would be very
busy that day.
That message absolutely startled
me because I didnt even expect my
letter to be read, much less to be
taken seriously, by Don Alvaro. I
know that he reads thousands of
letters. But there it was the
apology of the century, next only to
Pope John Paul IIs apology to
humankind for the sins of all the
sons and daughters of the Catholic
Church throughout history. And as if
that were not enough, Don Alvaro
had arranged that I should do my
fidelity in the oratory of the Holy
Apostles.
And if that detail at first sounds
trivial, it wouldnt, once one knows
what very few people know: that the
most important announcements in
One of Don Alvaros detail to make up for not having officiated my fidelity the history of Opus Dei were made
was to request the organizers to put me on stage during the get-together
in this oratory. For example, Don
with him that day. After the get-together he would again make the same
Alvaro announced the erection of
request of me that he had made years before in Cebu, Pray for me.
Opus Dei as a Personal Prelature
there you will see that if you have a mind of reading this unofficial English translation of his
official biography in Spanish. I am definitely not hinting that my fidelity is anywhere as
important as the erection of the Prelature. On the contrary, I point out that detail to highlight just
how magnanimous Don Alvaro is.
Now I didnt use the present tense on that last verb in trivial fashion; I used it rather deliberately.
My deliberateness is borne from the conviction even after Don Alvaro died, he has been as
magnanimous with me as he was in his earthly life. No, perhaps I err. He is now more
magnanimous with me as he ever was.
He was magnanimous with me when he procured for my mother in 2007 a benign tumor instead
of what the doctors said was 95% a malignant one because of its location, shape, and size.
That was then completely excised, there was absolutely no chemotherapy that was required
afterwards, and there has been no remission until now.
He was magnanimous to me when he procured, in mind-boggling fashion, more than 2 million
pesos worth of funding for my M.A. in Columbia University in New York. He did it again for my
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Ph.D. in the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. He continues to be magnanimous
with me even now, and even in just small things like the cure of a bad cold so I wouldnt miss
my choirs mini-concert.
I have to admit that after being a recipient of favors, dizzying both in quantity and quality, I am
not so sure now if I love Don Alvaro because he was and is my father, or only because of the
things I have received. This is the miserable tendency of human beings who are still so far from
the sanctity of Don Alvaro. And the worst part is that the more I dwell on the question, the
further away I feel I get from the answer.
In any case, the answer is probably not all that important, so why even bother, I told myself.
What I did instead was to do something more objective, and that is, to be the fool for Don Alvaro
and translate this book.
And because I am a fool, I dont know Spanish like the Spanish-speaking natives of Spain and
Latin America. I am not even a native of the English language like most Brits, Americans, and
Canadians.
But I am not foolish, so I use Google Translate (GT). I have also studied Spanish for the last 32
years, and for the time being live in little Spain here in big Italy (i.e., the real one, not the little
one in New York). I have also studied and taught Latin for the last 29 years to strengthen the
etymologies of my English and Spanish vocabulary. Best of all, I have been studying English for
the last 45 years, a continuing intellectual endeavor with the best possible foundation: Sesame
Street.
Now a little word about Google Translate. I vaguely know of a few people who sneer at it and
think genuine translations must be done without it. Such a belief may very well be defensible in
elite intellectual circles, and to the judgment of their members that my translation is fake, I
willingly submit. However, being a child of my generation which was the first in Philippine
Science High School to actually have Computer Science in our curriculum (in school year 19831984, it was taught for one quarter and you are allowed 3 seconds of laughter at this point), I
do believe that we ought to use technology to our advantage. And if my task of translation be
expedited with it such as GT, why not? Never mind that its considered fake by the intellectual
elite.
I shall soften up on my self-flagellation at this point by asserting that I do think this GT-aided
translation is in fact a personal, rather than a computer, translation. The simple reason for that is
that Ive had to overhaul whole sentences from what GT gave me in many instances, and in all
instances, I painstakingly went through every line of the book. This would be obvious if one took
pains to try and actually read, say a chapter, of my translation and compare it with what GT
would cough up if you were to cut-and-paste it yourself. And again, I used that last idiom in
quotations marks quite deliberately because whereas GT delivers its translations in a few
seconds based on some mindless algorithm, I went through each line with a lot of deliberation
using all my nearly 50 years of education to produce the final translated text that you now read.

This is the reason that it has taken me more than a year to actually come up with this finished
book. Not less, of course, because I did not do this full-time, and not less because, like many
human beings with original sin, I have given in to laziness many times but what I really mean
by this reason is the following.
Aside from GT, Ive had to use at least two Spanish dictionaries, Websters, the One-Look
reverse dictionary, and consulted with several persons more familiar with Spanish. I also felt the
need to use countless other sites and sources (for medical terms, historical events, cultural
details, etc.) to make sure the translation is as faithful to the original text but also not as jarring
to the English speaking ear. In many instances, getting to the best translation of a phrase was a
genuine investigative process that required more than one sitting and forced me to stay up late
at night. Obviously, effort doesnt assure effectiveness in the end, but at least, it cannot be said
that this is merely GT work. No sir not with those more than 200 pictures, some of which were
excavated from the deepest recesses of the internet through a process that can only be likened
to sleuthing.
As I close this lengthy introduction to the translation, I have to issue two warnings to the reader.
The first concerns technical error. As I said, this was made in my free time and with no help of
editors. So you will see a lot of typographical errors. Please do me the kindness of pointing
them out so I can make the necessary changes. The second warning is more serious: you may
actually be considered a fool yourself for reading this work of a fool.
I once asked a Spanish-priest-publisher now living in the U.S., who happened to pass by Rome,
what he thought of publishing this translation, and his answer was instant: it wont sell. And that
may very well be true. John Coverdale, a good American friend, who is both a very intelligent
professor and very good human being, has produced an excellent, much shorter, and thus more
readable version of Don Alvaros life which are available for both children of the light (read:
Scepter) and of darkness (read: piracy).
I would defend myself starting this translation by saying that I did so way before Johns version
came out. But now that his book has been out for more than a year why did I even bother
finishing it?
Well, like I said: because I am a fool. Many times, they are called fools who, like me, try to take
seriously what St. Josemaria wrote: To begin is easy; to persevere is sanctity. Let your
perseverance not be a blind consequence of the first impulse, the work of inertia: let it be a
reflective perseverance (The Way, 983).
And so, like I said, you, dear reader, may very well be a fool as well for reading (and finishing)
this translation. But lets hope we are both fools for love of a man who deserves much more and
certainly no less a man who has loved us and has been faithful to us and for us unto folly.

November 28, 2015


33rd Anniversary of the Erection of Opus Dei as a Personal Prelature
4

INTRODUCTION
Vir fidelis laudabitur multum [1]: "the faithful man will be greatly praised." This phrase from the
book of Proverbs reflects the earthly life of Venerable Alvaro del Portillo. Bishop Echevarra, the
present Prelate of Opus Dei, once said that "when Alvaro del Portillos biography is written,
among other relevant aspects of his supernatural and human personality, this fact will occupy a
prominent place: the first successor of St. Josemaria Escriva in the government of Opus Dei
was, before everything and above all, a staunch Christian, a most faithful son of the Church and
the Founder, a pastor completely given to all souls and in particular to his pusillus grex, the
portion of the people of God the Lord had entrusted to his pastoral care, in close communion
with the Roman Pontiff and his brothers in the episcopate. He did it with absolute selflessness,
with willing and cheerful self-giving, with pastoral charity and vigilance "[2].
Bishop Alvaro del Portillo was endowed with outstanding intelligence its enough to recall his
resume: Assistant of Public Works, Doctor in Civil Engineering, Doctor of Philosophy (History),
and Doctor of Canon Law. Moreover, he enjoyed an admirable willpower, a great capacity for
work, a strong and friendly nature, and an extraordinary ease of making friends.
Nevertheless, if we want to find the root of everything that he was, we would not look at his
human qualities, undoubtedly great they may have been. Rather, we would turn our attention to
his theological virtues: faith lived to its ultimate consequences and exercised in great
circumstances as well as in minute details; hope that moved him always to trust in God's help;
and charity with God and neighbor that brooked no limits. And all this built on a humility without
wrinkles, which as a Castilian classic explains, is "the basis and foundation of all virtues and
without which there is virtue." [3]
Fidelity, which has its origin in faith (as the etymology suggests), is the most characteristic
feature of the life of Bishop del Portillo: faithfulness to God, loyalty to the Church and the Pope,
loyalty to Opus Dei and its Founder. Without fear or exaggeration, we can see that, since
discovering his divine call on July 7, 1935, he spent every moment of his existence to surrender
himself completely to the fulfillment of the divine Will with all the strength of his being. And this
Will was quite clear to him: next to St. Josemara, he was to be always an unwavering support,
a rock; after the Founders transit to heaven, his first successor as head of Opus Dei.
During the nineteen years he was the "pastor" of Opus Dei, Bishop del Portillo carried out his
ministry in an inseparable union of mind of soul, we would write with St. Josemara. He
would continually stress to the faithful of the Work that, with the foundational period over, they
ought to live, until the end of time, the stage of continuity and faithfulness." [4] This meant the
full loyalty to the spirit which the Founder had left not only written, but carved, as he liked to
repeat [5].
At that time, he made it his fundamental mission to complete the legal path of Opus Dei, i.e., its
configuration as a personal prelature of universal scope, according to what St. Josemara had
seen. As well, it was during his tenure as Prelate that the beatification of the Founder took
5

place. With this, the spirit of the Work was given once more a sort of new seal by the Supreme
Authority of the Church. It was a way of highlighting once again that the way the Founder taught
was and is, in fact, a path to holiness for Christians called by God to live ones life in love,
fulfilling their ordinary duties.
Under the guidance and inspiration of Bishop del Portillo, Opus Dei continued to serve the
Church through the start of apostolic work in new countries; the ordination of eight hundred
priests from among the members of the Work; initiatives such as the Pontifical University of the
Holy Cross in Rome, and many other works of social solidarity ranging from clinics in Africa,
Europe, and America, to schools and universities in different continents. All these were over and
above the personal apostolate of each of the faithful, which is as varied as life itself, and which
Bishop Alvaro himself constantly encouraged.
On hearing of the death of Bishop del Portillo, John Paul II sent a telegram of condolence to
Bishop Echevarria and all the faithful of Opus Dei, which recalled "with gratitude to the Lord for
the life of priestly and episcopal zeal of the deceased, the example of fortitude and of
confidence in divine Providence which he consistently showed, and his fidelity to the See of
Peter and generous service to the Church as a close associate and worthy successor of
Blessed Josemaria Escriva." [6]
On June 28, 2012, after an exhaustive historical and theological study intended for these cases,
Pope Benedict XVI officially declared that the Church acknowledges that the Servant of God
Alvaro del Portillo lived heroically the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity, with God and
with neighbor) as well as the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance) and
other related virtues. For this reason, the title of "Venerable" was conferred on him, and he
could now be proposed to the Catholic faithful for devotion and imitation.
In the following pages, the reader can verify for himself or herself the truth of the words of
Blessed John Paul II, and the reasons that Benedict XVI declared Alvaro del Portillo
Venerable, a step towards his future beatification and canonization.
FOOTNOTES:
[1] Prov 28, 20.
[2 ] Echevarria, J. , Homily at the funeral Mass for the soul of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo , Rome,
25 -III- 1994 ( AGP , Library, P01 , 1994 , 264 ), for the original Italian text, see Romana, 18 (
1994 ) , p . 28.
[3 ] Cervantes , M. de, The Dialogue of the Dogs, in Exemplary Novels , vol. 2 Ed Chair, Madrid,
1995 , p. 312 .
[4] Del Portillo, ., Letter 30 -IX- 1975 , n . 9 (AGP, Library, P17, vol. 2, n. 36).
[5] Many times, orally and in writing, Saint Josemara used this expression, to refer to the spirit
of Opus Dei. E.g., in his Letters from 14 -IX- 1951, n. 7; 29 -IX- 1957, n. 3; 25 -I- 1961, n. 54,
etc.
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[6] John Paul II, Telegram to Bishop Javier Echevarra, AGP, APD T- 17395.

PREFACE
The literature on lvaro del Portillo is sufficiently abundant [1]. To date, two extensive
biographical profiles have been published, which provide an adequate summary of his life [2].
As well, in 1996 and 2001, professors at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome,
prepared two volumes of studies on some facets of his thought and his ecclesial path [3], in
addition to those published on his life. Lastly, there are over sixty articles about him which have
appeared in theological or canonical journals and dictionaries, not counting those in the daily or
graphic press worldwide.
In addition to these materials already very valuable themselves upon the death of the
Venerable Servant of God, hundreds of people [4], conscious of his spiritual and human stature,
felt moved to write down memories or impressions which they remembered of Don Alvaro. In
total, these testimonies occupy a few thousand pages, and make up a wealth of documents.
Among these, the account written by Bishop Javier Echevarra, the present Prelate of Opus Dei,
who lived with Bishop del Portillo from 1950-1994 [5] stands out: he is an exceptional witness
who was closely involved in most of the events in the narrative he evokes.
This book has been built around such material that perhaps it should carry the subtitle:
Testimonies on Alvaro del Portillo, or Alvaro del Portillo as seen by those who met him. And
here lies the main novelty of this book if compared to existing sketches. Outlining the various
episodes, I have not attempted to offer a "personal approach" to Don Alvaro or to the various
milestones of his existence, but rather to transmit the image, vision, and memory of those who
knew him - "in the flesh," we could say - at different stages of his life: from childhood to his
death.
Some of these people were later called to testify as witnesses in the proceedings on the life and
virtues of Don Alvaro that, beginning 2004, the Diocese of Rome and the Prelature of Opus Dei
conducted in view to his possible beatification and canonization as prescribed by the canonical
norms. In writing this book I did not include these testimonial statements - which to date are not
public - but only the testimonies previous to them.
Another approach that I have tried to follow as far as possible was to allow Bishop del Portillo to
speak. For this, I have used written sources (i.e. his letters and other documents), as well as
oral ones. Sometimes, during family get-togethers or the celebration of some personal
anniversary, Don Alvaro recalled events of his life. This happened only a few times, because he
usually did not talk about himself. But in the archives of the Prelature of Opus Dei transcripts of
some of these intimate conversations, which are a very important autobiographical source, have
been preserved.
As regards the manner of citing unpublished sources on the founder of Opus Dei, Bishop del
Portillo or Bishop Echevarra one can keep in mind the following:
- "AGP" means the General Archive of the Prelature of Opus Dei.

- "APD" is the corresponding acronym to the provisional section which contains the documents
relating to Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, which are mainly of three types: a) accounts, which are
numbered with the letter "T" followed by the corresponding number; b) documents: "D" No. and
c) letters of correspondence of Don Alvaro ("C" followed by the date: for example, C- 350823
means letter August 23, 1935).
- " Library, P01 " ( . , Or P02 , P03 , etc. ) indicates the section of the archives where the
transcriptions of oral texts from meetings or family- preaching, etc. are found
- Since 1984, Bishop del Portillo began sending monthly pastoral letters to the faithful of the
Prelature of Opus Dei on ascetic and spiritual matters. These writings were collected in three
volumes bearing the title of Family Letters. These texts are cited: Letters ..., followed by the
volume number and paragraph number (e.g. Letters ..., vol. 1, n 107. . .)
The earthly life of Bishop del Portillo coincided and sometimes intertwined, with people, events
and institutions which had international impact: the two world wars, the apostolic development of
Opus Dei, Vatican II, the holy life of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the pontificate of several
popes who marked the course of humanity, etc. Thousands of pages are needed to do justice to
these events and characters. Thus, with few exceptions, I have limited myself to simply mention
them in passing as they appear in the life of Don Alvaro, hoping that the reader has the
background necessary to understand them properly.
In doing this work, I relied on the invaluable help of many people. First, I must mention those
who have written testimonials about Bishop del Portillo, stating their personal memories for the
General Archive of the Prelature of Opus Dei. Monsignor Flavio Capucci, Postulator of the
Cause of Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God Alvaro del Portillo y Diez de
Sollano has guided me so many times with his advice and comments. Prof. Federico Requena,
Francesc Castells and Luis Cano, experts in the history of Opus Dei, pointed out to me key
directions for the development of this work. For the use of family, academic, ecclesiastical, etc.
documents concerning Don Alvaro, Drs. Velaz Jos Ramn Pereira, David Lazarus and
Silberberg Augustine gave me generous support, time and expertise. I am also indebted to Dr.
Jose Manuel Martin, Guillaume Derville and Carlo Pioppi, who had the patience to read this
books manuscript and the kindness to suggest concrete improvements; Marc Carroggio,
journalist, and Santiago Herraiz of Scepter Publishers have contributed to the drafting. I put on
record my deep gratitude to all of them.
FOOTNOTES:
[1] A list of writings on Bishop Alvaro del Portillo is suggested at the end of these pages.
[2] I refer especially to the books of Salvador Bernal, Memories of Alvaro del Portillo, Prelate of
Opus Dei, Madrid, Ignatius Press, 1996, pp. 296 (translated into the major languages), and
Hugo de Azevedo, Misso Cumprida: Biography of Alvaro del Portillo, Lisbon, Diel, 2008, pp.
343 (there is an Italian translation published by Ares, Milan, 2009, and Spanish, by Ediciones
Palabra, Madrid, 2012).

[3] Pontificia Universit della Santa Croce, Academic Act in memory of Bishop Alvaro del
Portillo, Rome, 1996, p. 692, and Bosch , V. (ed. ), Servo buono e fedele : scritti figure di sulla
Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, Vatican City , Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001 , pp . 161.
[4] This is from the nearest relatives brothers, cousins, etc. to important men and women of
ecclesiastical and civil society, through people of different ages and conditions, who had met
Don Alvaro more or less intensely at some point in their lives.
[5] Perhaps a little clarification is important, to better show what is meant here by the term "lived
with Bishop del Portillo". The particular law of Opus Dei provides that two people live more
closely with the head of The Work, to help him in his spiritual and material needs. Bishop del
Portillo and Bishop Echevarra exercised this assignment with St. Josemara. Then, in 1975,
once Don Alvaro was elected to succeed the Founder, Bishop Echevarra and Msgr. Alonso
received this assignment: hence the particular value of their testimony.

10

Part 1: Childhood and youth

(1914 1939)
11

Chapter 1: A Christian home


1.
2.
3.
4.

Ramn del Portillo y Pardo


Clementina Diez de Sollano
A deeply united family
A child like the others, although a bit naughty
Alvaro del Portillo y Diez de Sollano was born in
Madrid on March 11, 1914, a Wednesday. He
was born at home, in the first floor of #75 Alcala
Street [1]. Six days later, he was baptized in the
nearby parish church of San Jos, and received
the names of lvaro, Jos Mara and Eulogio,
the last one in honor of one of the saints whose
feast was celebrated that day. [2]

Figure 1: Ramon del Portillo and Clementina Diez de


Sollano. Photo credits: opusdei.org.mx

His parents, Ramon del Portillo y Pardo and


Clementina Diez de Sollano, had married in the
parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Cuernavaca,
Mexico, on January 11, 1908 [3]. They came
from two families united by kinship and had a lot
of dealings with each other [4]. In January 1910 ,
the first of their sons, Ramon , was born,
followed by Francisco (1911), Alvaro (1914),
Pilar (1916), Jos Mara (1918), Angel (1920),
Maria Teresa (1926) and Carlos (1927) [5].

To situate ourselves historically, let us recall that


when Alvaro was a little more than three months, on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, a Serbian
terrorist assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and
his wife Sophie. That assassination triggered the start of the First World War, which left eight
million dead, six million disabled, and very deep social and economic wounds in the fabric of life
in the countries of Europe.
On August 20 of that year St. Pius X died, carrying with him the immense pain of seeing the
world ravaged by war. On September 3, Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa Giambattista was
elected to the See of Peter. He took the name of Benedict XV, and guided the Church for over
seven years, until January 22, 1922.
Spain - which came to the threshold of the twentieth century extremely battered - remained
neutral in the Great War, and this policy produced economic benefits. The social situation was
precarious in many aspects, and there was a latent uneasiness in a broad stratum of the
population, partly fueled by proponents of anti-Christian ideologies. An example of such
unstable equilibrium facing the country was evident in the time of office that presidents of
12

government lasted in those years: between 1900 and 1920, the average was about eight
months. In 1921, the defeat of the Spanish Army in Morocco (the disaster of the year") further
undermined the foundations of the monarchy of Alfonso XIII.
1. Ramn del Portillo y Pardo
Ramn del Portillo y Pardo was born in Madrid on January 28, 1879. His parents were
Francisco Portillo y Gomez, a native of the same city, and Concepcin Pardo de Santayana
Gmez de las Barcenas, born in Santander [6]. Later, they had two daughters: Maria del
Carmen [7] and Maria del Pilar [8], who, as will be seen later, played an important role in the
early life of Alvaro del Portillo.
After studying law at the Central University, Ramn del Portillo worked as a lawyer at a major
insurance company in the country: the company Plus Ultra, the headquarters of which was in
No. 8 Plaza de las Cortes.
Don Ramon was of slim physique, and the doctors had prescribed for him to take almost daily
moderate amounts of insulin, to improve his appetite and thus make him gain a few kilos. For
this reason, his children remembered, he suffered real hunger pangs at the most unexpected
moments. If this happened while he was walking, he would enter the first candy shop or caf
along his route to remedy his almost intolerable situation [9].
Her daughter Pilar has portrayed him as "a neat and elegant man, proper in every way, and very
polite. (...) He was very good and had a great concern for the education of his children, which
showed, as elsewhere, his love of order. He took note of all expenses he made every day in an
agenda: newspaper, this much; cigars, this much; alms, this much (because he always gave
alms). He likewise wrote down what he gave weekly to each of his children." [10]
Indeed, Don Ramon had a passion for punctuality and order which, in some respects, was
almost bordering on some sort of mania [11]. For example, he came home every day at exactly
two-thirty: not a minute before or a minute later. Another detail: he liked to note down, by hand,
the changes in the weight of his children. So we know that on March 12, his day of birth, lvaro
weighed 3 kilos 240 grams, and was getting fatter every week until he was six months and one
day [12]. He also took note of the height: when he turned 3, Alvaro measured 93 centimeters
[13].
Carlos, the youngest son, remembered him as a loving father. "I see him serious, serene, with
his fine elliptical wire-rimmed glasses, working at his desk. He would approach me timidly, smile
at me, open a drawer, and show me what was inside. A wonderful world would open up for me:
there, perfectly ordered and aligned, were pencils, pens, erasers and other writing
instruments."[14]
He was fond of reading and of bulls. When he could, he went to Madrid's Plaza de las Ventas;
otherwise, he was happy to follow the bull runs through radio (brand "Nora"), which they had at
home [15]. From him, Alvaro took a liking to the "national fiesta": Don Ramon used to
accompany the very young Alvaro to Victoria Street, next to the Puerta del Sol, to buy tickets or

13

subscriptions. He knew well the bullfighters of the day and bullfighting language. Even during
adolescence and early adulthood, he came to fight calves [16].
Moreover, quite often, Ramon went to see pelota games and in those times, he used to bet
small amounts of money. But he did so with a twist: betting on the two contenders. Then, with
some ingenuity, and to the delight of the family, he showed that he did not know how go about it
because he never managed to win a peseta, indeed, he always came with a small loss. In any
case, it was evident that he was a sober man, even as he acted naturally and complied with the
obligations of his social and occupational status. [17]
His children agree that he was "serious but not a severe" and "on weekends preferred to stay at
home, where customs remained unchanged. On Sundays, after Mass, he would take Tere and
Carlos (the youngest ones) for a walk in the Retiro Park (...). Naturally, before leaving, he
checked them from head to toe: if their hair was well-coiffed, if they had clean hands, if their
clothes were fixed... And after reviewing them and liking what he saw, he took them out, quite
happy and contented... "[18].
lvaros relationship with his father was one of absolute filial confidence; father and son were
genuine friends. [19]
2. Clementina Diez de Sollano
The maternal grandfather of Alvaro del
Portillo was Ramn Diez de Sollano
(1855-1929). The surname is "Diez"
(meaning ten) and not "Dez"1. The story
goes that "apparently, in ancient times, [in
Sollano], there were ten brothers, lords of
the place, who all looked like each other,
and would each sign: one of the ten of
Sollano (in Spanish, uno de Diez de
Sollano): thus the name came to be." [20]
Ramon was a native of Llodio (lava),
although his family roots were in Zalla
(lava), whose council owned Sollano
Figure 2: The family estate San Antonio del Puente. Photo credits: [21]. He had been educated in France and
opusdei.org.mx
at twenty he moved to Mexico, following
what was, more or less, a family tradition. There, on April 24, 1884, he married Maria de los
Angeles del Portillo, who belonged to a family of landowners in the state of Morelos. [22]
His daughter, Clementina, lvaros mother, was born on April 16, 1885, in Cuernavaca [23], and
spent much of her childhood and youth in two estates of the family, named Buenavista and San
Antonio del Puente. Buenavista was seven hundred meters above sea level, and was far 1

Diez vs. Dez: the surname of Alvaros maternal grandfather has only one syllable and the accent falls on the e,
not on the I. Thus, it is pronounced as DYETH, not DI-yeth.

14

about five kilometers from Cuernavaca and about seventy kilometers from Mexico City, the
capital. The estate produced guavas, mangoes, bananas, oranges, coffee and a variety of
flowers. San Antonio del Puente, meanwhile, was a sugar mill located twenty kilometers from
Cuernavaca [2].
Dolores, a sister of Clementina twelve years her junior, recalls that their family spirit emphasized
the virtues of fortitude, a sincere and deep religious piety, and generosity in serving others.
Dolores says their life was "somehow fierce yet nevertheless structured and closely monitored
by our mother who made her watchfulness invisible to us with her finesse." [25]. She relates that
Clementina woke up every day at six in the morning on the dot and bathed in a tub of cold water
[26]. When she was a little grown up, the basin was replaced by lagoons, known as The Ojitos"
(Little Eyes), to which they both would come in the early morning riding a horse.
She adds that "Clemen (as the mother of Alvaro was fondly called) was a great horse rider and
rode the bravest horses which she knew and handled very well to the admiration of all." [27]
She remembered an occasion in Buenavista when young Clementina, while waiting for the
laborers and their families, dared to ride on Prieto, "a fiery and high-spirited pure black-blood
that no woman had tried to ride until then but she won the horse over. [28]
As was usual in those days, the property of the Diez de Sollano had a church, which stood out
from among the many other structures. There Mass was celebrated on Sundays and holy days;
during the month of October, the Rosary was prayed every evening and often included
Benediction (i.e., blessing with the Blessed Sacrament). Holy Week was celebrated each year
with solemn liturgical ceremonies and processions. These expressions of Christian life brought
together all the residents living in the property, including the farmers and their families [29].
Clementina's mother, Dona Maria de los Angeles carried out works of mercy, which she did with
her daughters. "She had a full-blown orphanage, which doubled at times as a nursing home for
old people. There she took care of both old people and children as if they were her children."
[30]. She likewise visited the homes of laborers to provide their families with spiritual and
material support, and, when appropriate, to care for their sick, attend to maternity cases, help
the dying die well, and assist the widows. [31]
Clementinas education was completed with a few years of schooling in the school run in
London by the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart. She had a good cultural formation. She knew
English and French, enjoyed history and literature - particularly biographies - and followed
current events with interest through newspapers" [32]. Her doctrinal religious formation was
better than most; her bedside book was The Imitation of Christ, and she loved to read spiritual
texts [33].
While she was in Europe for her studies, her parents moved to Spain one summer, and there all
the family gathered in the house that the Portillos owned, in La Granja de San Ildefonso
(Segovia). It was there that Ramn del Portillo and Clementina Diez de Sollano met.
Clementina was twenty-three when she got married, in 1908. From then on, she settled in
Madrid. Her children testified that, in every way, "she always felt very Mexican; she spoke with
15

the accent of her native land (a trait that gave her a special sweetness) and her voice had an
almost musical softness." [34].
She was very pious, and
went to Mass every day.
[35] Her children would
always remember her as
a placid, serene woman
of great kindness; but,
when necessary, she
knew how to act
decisively and
energetically [36]. She
instilled in them "a great
moral rectitude, without
sentimentality or false
pieties; she was very
Figure 3: The Del Portillo children in La Granja de San Ildefonso where they would spend
upright in everything
their summers. Photo credits: Saxum: Remembering Alvaro del Portillo
and, at the same time,
very flexible. She educated us with a great common and supernatural sense at all times. [37] "I
did not hear her criticize anyone. (...) She kept on reminding us that we should never speak ill of
anyone, and emphasized that we ought to desist from rash judgments." [38]
She also had a robust spirit of mortification. Her son Carlos has not forgotten that "she took cold
baths at dawn, when she thought no one was listening. However, it was inevitable that some
gasps would escape, since it was so cold, and we heard them despite the sound of water, no
matter how discreet she wanted to be especially those wee hours of the day. In the morning,
when we asked her, she always came up with some evasive remark, or tried to change the
conversation, as if what we heard were a product of our imagination." [39]
Her niece Isabel Carles summarizes what she thought of her aunt Clementina by saying she
was "the picture of a godly mother who sacrifices herself entirely for her children." [40]
In November 1910, the Mexican Revolution erupted, through which individuals like Jos
Venustiano Carranza, lvaro Obregn, Francisco (Pancho) Villa, and Emiliano Zapata rose to
international fame for various reasons. Political elections were called and one of the presidential
candidates, Francisco Ignacio Madero, called for an armed uprising against the dictator Porfirio
Daz, accusing him of having falsified the results of the polls. Soon, the conflict turned into a civil
war that lasted for many years, and claimed the lives of many victims (some authors speak of a
million dead, others calculate up to two million).
As happened to many other landowners, the Diez de Sollanos lost their properties as a result of
the riots, and Clementina's fathers life was saved only by a miracle. In this situation, Ramon
decided to emigrate to Spain [41]. Pilar del Portillo recounted, "the revolutionaries were
themselves those who facilitated his leaving the country because they knew he was an honest

16

man, and one who had always sought to raise the standard of living of farmers and farm
workers." [42]
The reputation of honesty of lvaros grandfather lasted through the years, and in 1951, the
Mexican newspaper Excelsior - The Journal of National Life published an article entitled
Doing Justice to the Landowners of Morelos. It mentioned that some landowners did not
make the mistake of others (i.e., landowners), and among them are worth mentioning Don
Ramn Diez de Sollano and his worthy wife, Mrs. Maria Portillo de Diez de Sollano, co-owners
of the Haciendas San Antonio de El Puente and Buenavista who never took off land from poor
peasants, and always met the duties imposed by social justice, human solidarity and Christian
charity, in accordance with the Encyclical Rerum Novarum of the immortal Pope Leo XIII,
spread in the state of Morelos with singular zeal by the second Bishop of Cuernavaca, Don
Francisco Plancarte y Navarrete, of pleasant and glorious memory for us Morelanos. [43]
An ancestry such as that mentioned earlier could not have failed to produce in lvaro a great
affection for the Mexican nation. Later on, when he was older, he recalled that as a child, his
grandmother, Maria de los Angeles - who had other gifts except a good musical ear - would rock
him to sleep in her arms while singing the national anthem of her country as a lullaby. The lyrics,
of course, were hardly the most appropriate to induce a baby to sleep: Mexicans, at the cry of
war, ready your swords and bridle, and at the resonant crack of the cannon, shake the land from
its very core...
3. A deeply united family
Although the Diez de Sollanos lost their most important material possessions around 1910,
another two decades would pass until those financial difficulties began to affect the family of
Ramon del Portillo and Clementina Diez de Sollano. Until then, their economic condition was all
right because, together with his professional income, Ramon had inherited some of his familys
wealth: a farm in Leganes and several houses in Madrid [44].
At the time of lvaros birth on March 11, 1914, the family lived in one of the best residential
areas of the capital. Spains neutral stance in World War I was turning Madrid to a political and
commercial crossroad. Among many, this was manifested in an intense architectural and urban
development. The city was turning into a European metropolis, and would reach one million
inhabitants in the late twenties [45].
The del Portillo-Diez de Sollano family also continued to grow. In September 1916 their first
daughter, Pilar, was born, and in May 1918, Jos Mara [46]. Both were born in Burgos, where
their maternal grandparents then resided [47].
They were forming a family that was deeply united [48] to deep Catholic roots. In a
posthumous article, Bishop del Portillo left a few written words about the family, which perhaps
echo his own: "It is precisely in the family a communion of persons among whom reigns a
free, disinterested, and generous love the place, the context in which, more than anywhere
else, one learns to love. The family is a true school of love." [49]

17

Two years and nine months after his birth, on December 28, 1916, Alvaro received the
sacrament of Confirmation from Bishop Eustaquio Nieto y Martin, Bishop of Sigenza, in the
parish of Our Lady of the Conception in Madrid [50]. It was then a legitimate custom in Spain for
children of this age to be confirmed. The church, designed in a longitudinal Gothic style with
three naves and a tower forty-four feet high, had been completed two years earlier.
As he grew up he learned from his parents some Christian prayers, such as the morning and
night prayers, grace before and after meals, the Rosary [51] and other Marian invocations that
he repeated piously until his death. One example of this goes, "Sweet Mother, do not go away /
do not take away your sight from me / be with me everywhere / and never leave me alone. /
Since you protect me so much, / as a true Mother, / ask Them to bless me: the Father / Son and
Holy Spirit." [52]
Ramon and Clementina also taught their children to keep the commandments of God and the
Church. Without forcing anyone, they knew how to prudently encourage them to frequent the
sacraments [53]. On Sundays the entire family went to Mass. Teresa recalls that "we took a
walk in the Retiro with my parents who got along very well with each other," [54] and that Don
Ramn had the habit of "inviting them to potato chips and soda." [55]
When he turned 75, Bishop del Portillo recalled in a homily the Christian atmosphere that
pervaded his home. "I took a quick look at my life, and the many graces of the Lord came to my
mind and heart: a Christian family, parents who taught me to be pious, a mother who instilled in
me a special devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Holy Spirit, and the Blessed Virgin under the title
of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and... so many other good things!" [56]
The practices of piety were well interwoven with hard work and the good use of time. For
example, his mother would gather the younger children to make rugs in the dining room, a task
both useful and enjoyable at the same time. Doa Clementina would carry a colored hessian
cloth, and each child would get the wool with the color for that part of the design that
corresponded to him or her. Then, using a sewing hook, they would do their portion of the rug.
[57]
All that was done with refinement and good manners. Pilar del Portillo says that the children
were "formal enough" and knew how to greet visitors, complying with the rules of "etiquette and
good manners." [58]
Above all, however, as reflected in the preceding pages, Ramon and Clementina gave to their
children, a lofty example of love, loyalty, strength, diligence, order, punctuality, generosity, and
service to others.
4. A child like the others, although a bit naughty
Alvaro grew up as a normal child. Thanks to the notes his father took, we know that his physical
development was above average at the time. At three years old, he was about one meter in
height [59].

18

Those who knew him describe him as a happy child.


According to his sister Pilar, he was "happy, funny,
somewhat chubby, good-looking, with a friendly and
smiling face. A child like all children: sporty, playful,
funny, and slightly naughty" [60]. Her cousin Isabel
Carles added that he had "a great capacity for
enthusiasm" [61], although it might be more accurate
to say that he exhibited a clear tendency to be unruly.
Bishop Echevarra recalls a prank from an anecdote
he heard from the lips of the protagonist. At a party
there were several visitors in his parents' house, and
among these people, there was a man who sported
the then-current Kaiser moustache. He narrated that
the mans face had drawn his attention, and he went
to his father to tell him that he wanted to rub the
mouth of that family friend with a little hot pepper.
Naturally his father told him that he ought not to think
of doing such mischief. But the boy did not listen and
promptly did what he had intended to do.
"This man was not only manifestly upset, as was
natural, but, upon seeing the slight involuntary smile of
Don Ramn the situation was after all a bit comical gave vent to his anger and challenged
the father of Alvaro to a duel. Don Ramn, a man of Christian criteria, refused. Aside from
apologizing, he downplayed the issue, and expressed clearly and firmly that it was neither
appropriate, nor in accord with the Faith to engage in such a duel, a challenge that he would
never accept, precisely because he knew that a Christian could not do so. The affair ended with
no more consequence than the cooling of the friendship between that man and the family." [62]
Figure 4: Alvaro in 1917. Photo credits: Opus Dei
(Information Office)

Other manifestations of Alvaros spirited character came to the fore while he was learning
foreign languages. Don Ramn and Doa Clementina wished their children to learn English and
French, and at a very early age, they were given individual teachers. The two teachers,
Mademoiselle Anne and Miss Hoches took their work very seriously and Alvaro, who at that
time did not have an interest in languages "sometimes got angry, got down on the floor, and
tried to bite their legs. [63] Naturally, this behavior always received its requisite punishments
from Don Ramn and Doa Clementina.
Little lvaro loved his parents and siblings. However, when he lost the status of "benjamin of the
family" upon the birth of his sister Pilar, he seemed to have been jealous at all the pampering
given to his sister. His parents told him that "envy makes your face turn yellow." And one day
they caught him in front of the mirror cabinet, commenting aloud: "They say that children, who
are envious, turn yellow; well, Im extremely envious, yet I'm still quite white." [64]
In May 1919, King Alfonso XIII consecrated Spain to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Nevertheless,
despite the efforts of government to stifle anticlericalism through policies, it continued to spread
19

among intellectuals and workers. Bishop Prudencio Melo y Alcalde of Madrid, synthesized the
spiritual situation of his diocese at that time with these words: "The good ones do better every
day, as can be seen by the increasing number of people receiving the sacraments and of parish
organizations. As for the bad ones: one part is getting worse due to the presence of socialism,
liberalism, and the impious and indifferent press, while the other part is getting better because of
the apostolic activities." [65]
In February 1920 Angel was born, the sixth child of the family [66]. A month later, Alvaro turned
six, and in October, he started his schooling at the College of Our Lady of Pilar. As can be
expected, at that time the changes experienced by Spanish society could not yet be fully felt.
However, the waters were becoming more turbulent each time, and in the second decade of the
century, the political and social instability continued to grow. A series of weak and short-lived
governments were unable to provide effective solutions to the escalation of the war in Morocco
and to the increasing internal tensions created by some unions and other nationalists . In fact,
in major cities like Madrid or Barcelona, the number of deaths caused by gangsterism i.e.,
political killings at the hands of hired murderers, was growing: it is estimated that there were
more than 200 in those years. [67]
FOOTNOTES:
[1] Cf Birth of Alvaro del Portillo, AGP, D -6007 APD.
[2] Fr. Rafael Lpez Garca administered the sacrament, while the godparents were his
maternal uncle Jorge Diez de Sollano y Portillo, represented at the ceremony by his paternal
grandfather, and paternal aunt Mara del Carmen Portillo Pardo: cf. Part of Baptism (Madrid, 21
-IV- 1958), AGP, D -6005 APD.
[3] See Marriage document of Clementina Diez Sollano and Ramon Portillo y Pardo
(Cuernavaca, 24 - V -2001), AGP, D- 18861 APD.
[4] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. April.
[5] Cf Family tree, AGP, D -6021 APD.
[6] Cf birth certificate of Ramn Pardo del Portillo, AGP, D- 6129 APD.
[7] Born in Madrid on October 6, 1882 (cf. National identification, AGP, APD D- 6098).
[8] Born in Madrid on 23- X - 1883 (cf. National identification, AGP, APD D- 6099).
[9] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T- 19544, p. April.
[10] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, pp. 5-6.
[11] See ibid.
[12] He wrote down the weight and exact age. For example: "Day 13 July (4 months and 2 days)
6 kilos 450 grams" (ibid.).
20

[13] See ibid.


[14] Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0609, p. 1.
[15] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. 6.
[16] Cf Bernal, S., Memories of Alvaro del Portillo, op. cit., p. 44. "Well aware of these interests
and, above all, the daily grind of Don Alvaro, Escriva stamped this dedication in a copy of The
Way, way back in 1949: "To my son Alvaro, who, to serve God, has had to fight a lot of
bulls'"(ibid., p. 45).
[17] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T- 19544, p. 7.
[18] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -013, p. 6.
[19] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T- 19544, p. April.
[20] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T-0138, p. 3.
[21] Throughout his life, Alvaro would manifest a particular affection for the Basque Country.
Remembering his ancestors, he sometimes used some words in Basque: specifically, he could
count to ten in this language and sometimes used the term "ganorabako" which he had heard
from his grandmother, to mean people without shank (cf. testimony of Ignacio Javier Celaya Urrutia, AGP, APD T- 19254, p. 70).
[22] "Some of the Portillos and some of the Diez de Sollanos moved to Mexico during the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, where they made their fortune. The Diez de Sollanos,
specifically, became, over time, one of the biggest landowners of Morelos." (Testimony of Pilar
del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. 3).
[23] Cf Birth of Clementina Diez de Sollano Portillo, AGP, D- 17118 APD.
[24] Cf Story of Diez de Sollano and Dolores Portillo, lvaros aunt, family background, AGP,
APD D- 6022, p. 72.
[25] Ibid., P. 71.
[26] See ibid, P. 75.
[27] Ibid., P. 78.
[28] See ibid.
[29] See ibid., P. 66.
[30] Ibid.
[31] See ibid.
[32] Testimony of Mara Teresa del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T-1000, pp. 1-2.
21

[33] See ibid. As is known, The Imitation of Christ is a work generally attributed to Thomas a
Kempis, although its authorship is dubious. It has been one of the most popular texts of
spirituality in the Church since the fifteenth century, to such an extent that it is said to be the
most edited Catholic book after the Bible.
[34] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. 6.
[35] See ibid.
[36] See ibid.
[37] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, pp. 6-7.
[38] Testimony of Mara Teresa del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T-1000, p. 1.
[39] Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0609, p. 4.
[40] Testimony of Isabel Carles Pardo, AGP, APD T -0137, p. 1.
[41] The birth certificate of Ramn del Portillo Diez de Sollano certifies that his two maternal
grandparents, Ramon Diez de Sollano and Mara del Portillo lived in Madrid in 1910 (see AGP,
APD D -6133).
[42] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. 4.
[43] "Doing Justice to Morelos Planters ' Excelsior - The Journal of National Life, June 5, 1951,
reprinted in The Story of Dolores Diez de Sollano and Portillo, AGP, APD D- 6022, p. 62 .
[44] See Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0609, p. 7.
[45] On the history of the city see: Fernndez, A. (Ed.), History of Madrid, Editorial
Complutense, Madrid, 1994, p. 515-548.
[46] Cf Family tree, AGP, D -6021 APD.
[47] Cf birth certificate of Pilar del Portillo Diez de Sollano, AGP, D- 6144 APD.
[48] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. 7.
[49] Del Portillo, ., "A very large family" in Mundo Cristiano, n. 385, 1994, p. 26.
[50] The godparents were Jose Maria Palacio y Abarzuza, Count of las Almenas, and Carmen
Angoloti, Duchess of Victoria. Cf Part confirmation (Madrid, 22 -III- 1944), AGP, D -6006 APD.
[51] See Testimony of Mara Teresa del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T-1000, p. Two.
[52] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T- 19544, p. 13-14.
[53] See ibid., P. 7.
[54] Testimony of Mara Teresa del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T-1000, p. Two.
22

[55] Bernal, S., Memory of Alvaro del Portillo, op. cit., p. 27.
[56] Del Portillo, A., Homily on the occasion of his 75th birthday, 11 -III- 1989: AGP, Library,
P02, 1989, p. 286.
[57] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. 7.
[58] Ibid., P. 9.
[59] Cf Memos of Ramn del Portillo on the weight of his son Alvaro until 6 months and 19 days,
and up to 3 years ( AGP, APD- 6015) .
[60] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. 8.
[61] Testimony of Isabel Carles Pardo, AGP, APD T -0137, p. 1.
[62] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T- 19544, p. May.
[63] Ibid.
[64] This phrase was recalled by Bishop Echevarria on April 11, 2003, during a family gathering:
AGP, Library, P01, 2003, 423.
[65] Diocesan account of Bishop Melo y Alcalde, 1922 , cit. Requena , F., religious and spiritual
life in Spain in the early twentieth century, in Yearbook of Church History, 11 [ 2002 ], p. 39 .
Pope Leo XIII, in the Encyclical Rerum Novarum, promulgated on 15 - V - 1891 (Leonis XIII PM
Acta, XI, Romae 1892, pp. 97-144), had taken a position on social issues, founding the modern
social doctrine the Church. In that document, the errors of socialism and liberalism were
denounced. "To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man's envy of the rich,
are striving to do away with private property (...). But their contentions are so clearly powerless
to end the controversy that were they carried into effect the working man himself would be
among the first to suffer (...). But what is even worse, they propose a remedy in open conflict
against justice because to possess something private as your own is given to man by nature (...)
It is wrong, on the issue at hand, to assume that a social class is naturally hostile to each other,
as if nature had disposed the rich and the poor to fight each other in a perpetual duel" (nn. 2, 4
and 14). At the same time, it pointed out the duties of employers: "Do not consider the workers
as slaves, respect in them, as is right, the dignity of the person, (...) what is really shameful and
inhuman is to abuse men as if they were objects for profit (...). Among the primary duties of the
employer is to give everyone what is due to him or her (n. 15).
[66] Cf Family tree (AGP, APD- 6021).
[67] Cf Tussell, J., History of Spain in the twentieth century: from 98 to the proclamation of the
Republic, Madrid, Taurus, 1998, pp. 581and Ben- Ami, S., The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera
1923-1930, Barcelona, Planeta, 1983, pp 326.

23

Chapter 2: Eight years in the Colegio


del Pilar
1.
2.
3.
4.

Elementary Education
A character that began to be sculpted
High School Student
The career choice

In October 1920, Alvaro began his studies at the Colegio del Pilar. In that year, the family had
moved to the top floor of #16 Conde de Aranda Street, near their former home and the parish
church of San Manuel and San Benito, noted for its neo-Byzantine dome.
In the same building, a few floors below, lived Alvaros paternal aunts, Pilar and Carmen; the
latter was the godmother of Alvaro. Pilar del Portillo remembered them as "two old ladies whom
we loved dearly [68], single, happy, loving, friendly, and devoted to charity. They were very
pious. They went every day to the Church of San Manuel and San Benito for the adoration of
the Blessed Sacrament and to Mass; they participated in many acts of piety at home and had a
private chapel"[69]. Often, Alvaro and his brothers went down to the house of their aunts Pilar
and Carmen, where they felt "very much at home" [70].
These two women, moved by their Christian zeal, helped out in the Foundation for the Sick, a
welfare work that the Apostolic Ladies of the Sacred Heart carried out in #13 Santa Engracia St.
From this place thousands of poor and sick in the suburbs of Madrid received material and
spiritual assistance. [71] There they would have occasion to know, years later, Father
Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei, who helped out in that initiative
through his pastoral ministry.
1. Elementary Education
October 4, 1920 was Alvaros first day as a student in the Colegio del Pilar; he was already six
years old [72]. At that time, primary school in Spain was made up of four levels: Small Toddlers,
Toddlers, Elementary, and Admission (Ingreso).
The Colegio Nuestra Seora del Pilar, run by the Marianists, had been in Madrid for thirteen
years and enjoyed a lot of prestige [73]. The members of the Society of Mary - with their
characteristic black frock coat (levita), which they used instead of the common religious habit
and for which they were known by the nickname "the Levites" - already formed part of the
cityscape in the Salamanca district. As the 1920-1921 academic year began the school had
eight hundred seventy students; more than a hundred boys had been refused enrolment for lack
of space [74].

24

The teaching style of the Marianists


was characterized by respect for the
student, on whom they sought to
instill a light and internalized
discipline. The words of the Gospel,
"the truth shall set you free" was a
slogan, written in large characters,
which the boys saw and read every
day upon entering the classroom.
One of the announcements
published in newspapers to attract
top students read: "The schools
distinctive spirit is that which reigns
in every Christian family." And
teachers often explained to parents
that they intended to work with the
family, not replace it. [75]
The school was proud to offer a
"modern" education, which sought to
promote "harmony between body
and soul." In this context, sports,
excursions and trips were an
important part of their educational
program. Likewise, students
attended lectures by personalities
Figure 5: Colegio del Pilar, 1908-1915. Photo credits: Pablo Echvarri
renowned in the world of culture;
they were also offered activities for
theater and journalism. Foreign languages, especially French, which kids were expected to
practice during breaks, were also taught. According to the practice at the time, classes ran from
Monday to Saturday. The schedule began at nine o'clock and lasted until one oclock, and was
interrupted for a while by a break from 11:00 to 11:30. Afternoon lessons began at three and
ended at five -thirty.
Religious training was thorough. Ruiz de Azua synthesizes it thus: "Religious education: well
taken care of. Attractive chapels. Weekday Mass with talk. Prayers in the classes. Rosary on
Saturdays. The custom of the first Fridays was well attended. Religion subjects, well kept.
Spiritual reading and examination of conscience in class, at the end of the day (...). The Chapter
of Our Lady. The careful preparation for first communion. Voluntary Mass before school day
[76]. Confession and weekly communion [77] were also encouraged.
The custom of the first Fridays mentioned above, refers to the practice of receiving Holy
Communion on the first Friday of the month, which was introduced into the Church by St.
Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), the great saint who promoted devotion to the Sacred
Heart of Jesus. The Lord had told this holy nun that those who received Holy Communion on
25

that day with the proper dispositions for nine months in a row would have the help of God at the
time of death. lvaro started to live this devotion in school and sought to spread it among his
acquaintances and colleagues [78].
Another manifestation of fervor that spread among the students of Pilar was the Way of the
Cross. Many years later, Bishop del Portillo recalled that in the text which was used in school,
at the last station, the Burial of the Lord, we repeated some very bad verse, but helped stir the
soul anyway; they continue to stir me. That text goes: The king of virtues / a heavy slab
encloses; / but the happy land / already sings salvation. And so it is: God died that we might
live; he is buried, so that we can go everywhere. So the earth sings happily of its salvation. [79]
Love for the Virgin Mary was fostered in a very special way. The Chapters of Our Lady,
considered by the Marianists as the engine and the strength of the school, had a very visible
presence. It was organized in sections, more or less according to the age of the students, and
each had a president and a secretary [80]. Every year, the feast of the Virgin of the Pilar was
celebrated with great solemnity. On that day, the Provincial of the Marianists preached a
sermon on the glories of Our Lady, and the Chapter officers renewed their consecration to the
Virgin.
The careful preparation for First Communion was another distinctive feature of the School and,
in fact, this celebration was one of the most solemn moments of the academic year. Alvaro
made his First Communion on May 12, 1921 [81]. Many years later, he recalled that before
receiving the Blessed Sacrament he went to confession with enthusiasm, realizing God would
be forgiving his sins; he left the confessional with great peace and joy. He also added that at
that time he had felt "important" upon seeing the affection with which the priest had treated him
in the name of Jesus Christ [82]. Since then he regularly sought and received this sacrament.
He received First Communion, as was customary in the school [83], at the Church of Our Lady
of Conception, as part of a group of over a hundred students of which only twelve were Small
Toddlers. The others were slightly older, and among them was Jos Mara Hernndez Garnica
[84], who was one level ahead. In 1943, he would receive priestly ordination with Alvaro. [85]
For the holy picture that served as souvenir of the ceremony, the parents of Alvaro chose an
image of a French style that was used in Pilar. It depicted a child in a family of early Christians
receiving Communion in what appears to be a domus ecclesiae [86]. As well, to capture the
moment, they made sure to take a photo of Alvaro dressed in the then-typical sailor costume
[87].
Until his death Bishop del Portillo kept very much alive the memory of the first time he received
the Blessed Sacrament. Numerous testimonies relate how, over the years, he remembered this
anniversary with affection. For example, in 1983, he confided to a small group of people, 62 or
63 years I've been receiving Holy Communion daily and it is like a caress from God" [88].
Since that day, Alvaro began to receive the Holy Eucharist regularly, observing the fast required
by the liturgical norms, which then extended from the previous midnight. [89] "That meant - his
sister Pilar commented - going to school every morning without eating. It's hard for a young boy
26

to start the day without breakfast. However, he did it every day without giving it any importance:
smiling, he took nothing except a piece of bread that he kept wrapped in his pocket. lvaro,
youre not eating breakfast?, we asked . - No, this is enough, pointing to the bun. And so it was,
day after day, since he was very young." [90]
Pilar added: "Now, looking back, I realize that since he was very young, the love of God took
hold of the soul of my brother with a singular force; and very naturally, without fanfare. He was a
pious child, with a piety which was manifested in very simple things that, at first, did not call the
attention of anyone in our family. Many of these manifestations of piety are present in good
children of Catholic families, but it is surprising that Alvaro never changed: without falling into
childishness, or naivet, (...) he continued to keep in the center of his soul that innocence, that
simplicity, that sincere search for God that he had when he was very young. I remember him
over the years, always the same." [91]
After the celebrations of
the First Communion,
the academic year
reached its final stages
and exams got closer.
As expected, students
had periodic
examinations that began
in October, as the
educational system of
the school was based
largely on motivation
through competition and
leadership. Grades were
Figure 6: Alvaro with his classmates in Pilar. Photo credits: Saxum: Remembering Alvaro
given weekly and each
del Portillo
subject was scored out
of a hundred. There were three types of grades, and those who managed not to have any of the
third type (the lowest) throughout the month made it to the Honor Roll. Every day as well, the
two best students in the List of the Day were acknowledged, and at the end of the year, those
who had received the best grades (i.e., of the first type) throughout the year appeared in the
Golden Book [92].
The grades of lvaro during his four years of Primary Education have not been preserved.
However, the school records show that during his year as a Small Toddler he appeared in the
Golden Book, which meant - as mentioned - having earned (high) grades of the first type all
year [93]. He also appeared in a List of the Day, which meant being the first or second, in
class in terms of grades, for the week [94].
After that academic year, the Portillos went to La Granja de San Ildefonso in the province of
Segovia, to spend the summer away from the heat of Madrid [95].

27

As regards the state of Alvaros health at this stage of his life, one could only point to the onset
of scarlet fever that had no significant consequence.
On October 3, 1921, his second year in school, he became a Toddler. Upon returning from the
holidays the students would find some new things. Undoubtedly, the most obvious was the new
building of the school campus in Castell Street: an imposing neo-Gothic building, originally
commissioned by the Duchess of Sevillano to be a boarding school for girls of the aristocracy.
Her death put a halt to the project, and the Marianists purchased the building.
Another change in school life was the cancellation of the film sessions which they used to have
in previous years in the Royalty (a theater). The money that was supposed to be spent for this
activity renting the movies, etc. - went to the families of soldiers fighting in Morocco, some of
whom were alumni of Pilar.
As already noted, the year 1922 began with the death of Benedict XV. On February 6, the
College of Cardinals elected as Benedicts successor the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, who
took the name of Pius XI and solemnly inaugurated his pontificate three days later in St. Peters
Square: it was the first public coronation of a Pope since 1870.
Among the events of that academic year, the visit of the Nuncio Federico Tedeschini to the
school in May of that year would be etched deepest in the memory of the students of Pilar. The
papal representative, in their words, was very pleased, admiring the flourishing state of the
religious life, and the intellectual and civic life of many students" [96].
The school year ended in June. After the usual holidays in La Granja, lvaro went on to his third
year; in October 1922, he moved to Elementary. A classmate, Javier Garca Leniz, who
joined the school that year, has left a lively written testimony to the character and personality of
lvaro at eight years old:
"I am a pediatrician and I have encountered, over my forty years of practice, thousands of
children and adolescents. I remember many of them and could tell many stories. But there is
one child, a young boy, I could not forget throughout my life. He was my classmate. (...) I was in
Elementary then, the level prior to Admission, and I sat timidly in the row of desks that were
closer to the window, I think in the second to the last row. To my left was a child, eight years old
like me, somewhat chubby, smiling, kind, and friendly. His name was Alvaro del Portillo. (...)
lvaro impressed me from the outset as especially friendly because of his kindness, simplicity,
and joy. He was profoundly good.
I remember one particularly sunny day when Mr. Vicente, our teacher, suddenly said: As the
weather is very good, instead of having a class, lets all go for a walk in the Retiro Park.
Vivaaaa!!!, I shouted, overjoyed; and rising from my seat, I started jumping around and gave
Alvaro a big hug. For me as an eight year old, trees and ponds with boats in the park in place of
classrooms and books was just an awesome idea.

28

"But the teacher was hardly


amused by my enthusiasm
and my sudden raucous
cries; he considered my joy
and those hugs I gave to
Alvaro a lack of discipline
and proper education,
something not to be
tolerated. He punished the
whole class by cancelling
the walk to the park.
"My hopes were dashed. I
was shocked at the
reaction of the teacher, and a bit frightened of what my classmates would think of me. Then, to
my astonishment, instead of telling me I was such a fool, and that because of me the walk to the
park was cancelled, lvaro apologized to me and gave me that smile and sympathy of his that
are so characteristic of him." [97]
Figure 7: El Retiro Park. Photo credits: Saxum, Remembering Alvaro del Portillo

During that year, Alvaro continued his excellent academic achievements, and was listed again
in the Golden Book [98]. He remembered some of the textbooks that were used in Elementary,
such as the calligraphy manuals by Eduardo Cotelo, used by many schools throughout Spain
during the first third of the twentieth century. In later years, he was very happy to know that the
Founder of Opus Dei had also used school books written by this author [99].
In addition to the strictly curricular activities, the Elementary students made some visits to the
Home run by the Sisters of the Poor, to bring a little joy to the elderly and needy who were
there. It was a custom that had been in El Pilar since its inception. As well, over the months,
there were several lotteries, exhibits of various types, or conferences on missions, especially
from Japan, where the Marianists ran several schools. For the first time, students went to a
retreat. [100]
The end of the academic year was startled by the assassination of Cardinal Juan Soldevila,
Archbishop of Zaragoza, who was gunned down by anarchists on the afternoon of June 4, 1923.
The social climate in Spain had already greatly degenerated by this time, and almost unanimous
voices were calling for political change. This arrived on September 13, 1923, in the form of a
coup. On that date, General Miguel Primo de Rivera, with the acquiescence of King Alfonso XIII,
established a dictatorship which lasted until 1930.
But the new regime could not solve the serious social problems confronting Spain, except the
issue of Morocco. Nevertheless, it was still a time of political stability and economic
development: the industrial sector grew remarkably; a stimulus was given to the literacy of
citizens; communications systems improved; urban population increased, especially in Madrid.
At the same time, political movements (in 1921 the Spanish Communist Party was founded),
trade unions and anti-religious intellectuals, who were sowing hatred against the Catholic
Church in large segments of the population were developed.
29

In October, Alvaro started the last year of schooling before high school, the level known as
Admission. It was then that he got to attend the classes of Don Pedro de Saralegui, author of a
collection of readings on the history of the conquest of America, that part of history called The
White Legend [101]. On June 6, 1924, he passed the entrance exam in the Cardinal Cisneros
General and Technical Institute. The exam consisted of a passage taken from Don Quixote and
some items consisting of two-digit division. [102]
Thus began a new stage in his life. However, before moving on, it would be interesting to
comment a bit on his health. In the application which he had presented in April for the entrance
examination in June, after explaining that he had finished the studies required for the entrance
examination for secondary education, he added that he should "leave Madrid during the
summer months to attend to his health ..." [103]
What was the reason for that clarification? Available medical data indicate that since 1924 that
is, when he was ten years old he had begun to suffer acute rheumatic fever, and he was
treated with salicylates until 1926. [104]
2. A character that began to be sculpted
The distinguishing mark of Alvaro in the final years of his childhood was precisely his attitude to
the health problems he had. "He suffered a type of rheumatism which sometimes prevented him
during the acute phases of the disease from being as lively as most children. On many
occasions he had to take large doses of salicylates and undergo a rigid diet, in accordance with
the indications from both his doctor and his parents, who watched over him with a lot of affection
amidst the strictness of his diet. He bore this burden with good humor as shown by the fact that,
as he said on several occasions, while his other brothers took a hearty breakfast, Mexican style,
he could only take the medications that were incompatible with other foods. Then, addressing
his brothers, with that tone and manner of speaking characteristic of Mexicans, he made this
comment: "how lucky you are: you can eat fried egg with beans, while all I get are salicylates.'"
[105]
Indeed, Doa Clementina, was fond of preparing a lot of Mexican cuisine for her husband and
children. lvaro always retained a taste for Mexican chilis and, in general, for spicy food
condiments because they were often used at table since childhood. Moreover, everyone in the
family was all very fond of sugar, to the point that, according to an account, they would consume
a kilo of it daily. He also loved bananas. In Spanish the word is pltanos, which he used to
pronounce as paltanos because of a speech defect which he had as a child.
The good humor with which he approached his health difficulties reflects two attributes of his
character, consistently stressed by those who knew him at the time: a remarkable strength,
united to a great affability. His strength of character was quite known in the family, and was
soon detected by his teachers. In one of the report cards sent to his parents, they attempted to
explain Alvaros character to his parents as politely as they could by writing, The brusqueness
in Alvaros character is lightly outlined.... Upon reading it, Don Ramn reacted by saying, What
do you mean lightly outlined? It is sculpted! [106]

30

Alvaros strength of character, which was consistent with some timidity, or at least with some
indifference, was accompanied by a great kindness. His cousin Isabel Carles emphasizes that
"he was good, very good: cheerful, generous and friendly. Ever since he was small he had that
strength of character and sweetness that always characterized him. And besides, he had an
extraordinary candor and a great kindheartedness. [107]
Another facet of his personality was his generosity to others. One of his classmates indicates: I
have no specific details of the small services he rendered to us. But that is the consequence of
being around him as his seatmate for the entire year: Alvaro, being a very normal child, was
different in this respect - he constantly helped others." [108]
His sister Pilar remembers the same thing, and adds other notable details: that he was a
studious child, noble and disciplined, polite, strong, and sincere. [109] His brothers and cousins
admired his obedience to his parents. [110]
Moreover, the adjective naughty which, as we saw, accompanied him since childhood, far from
diminishing, seems to be confirmed at the time. His sister Pilar narrates that one day, he found
a stick, I do not know where, and he enjoyed hitting the rest of us his siblings in the legs. And
there must have been about a day or two that he had taken a liking to the game, because I who was a little younger than him - I remember him chasing me through the halls of the house
poking me with the said stick... But anyway, they were just normal antics of all children. We
played like all brothers and sisters, but as to quarreling, if it means fighting among ourselves I
do not remember what we ever did that" [111].
Lastly, he was a pious boy. Sister Maria Luz del Sagrario Perez, OSC, recalled that in the
summer the whole family stayed in La Granja de San Ildefonso (Segovia), and Alvaro frequently
went to Mass in the Church of the Poor Clares, along with other friends of his age [112].
3. The High School Student
In October 1924, Alvaro started high school. There was the change in school principal that year:
Fr. Luis Heintz, who was the founder of El Pilar, was replaced by Fr. Domingo Lzaro, until that
time Provincial of the Society of Mary. Meanwhile, Antonio Martnez took office as Head of
Secondary Education. These substitutions meant that the Marianists in Spain had already
reached some degree of maturity as a congregation: a generation of Spaniards now took over
from the religious pioneers who had arrived from France.
Changes were likewise introduced in the academic curriculum. For example, the compulsory
use of French during breaks was lifted, and a new grading system was introduced. The grades
became about fifty in number, and came written on sheets fringed with different colors: gold
(which meant very good) for the top two or three in the class; red (also very good), for the
next ten; blue (good), green (fair), purple (bad), and black (very bad). [113]
In any case, the School maintained its high academic and pedagogical standards. As one reads
some issues of school magazines, Recuerdos (Memories) & El Pilar, at the time, one is
impressed by the detail and regularity of reports made regarding the numerous acquisitions of
materials for laboratories, museums, and classrooms [114]. The same high standard could be
31

gleaned from the offerings for cultural activities. In the years that Alvaro attended the School,
lectures on topics as varied as those reflected in the following titles were given: "Monuments of
Madrid", "Communications", "Fine Arts", "Education of the people", "Microbes", "Gases for
combat and protection against them", "Civic education", "Journalism", "Canaling the
Guadalquivir to Cordoba", Educational centers in the United States", "Altamira and other
caves."
Among the speakers, one could highlight Juan de la Cierva, alumnus and inventor of the
autogyro; Severino Aznar, sociologist; Hugo Obermaier, anthropologist; and Vctor Pradera,
classical orator. As regards cultural excursions outside Madrid, high school students had the
opportunity to visit some towns rich in art and history such as Avila, Segovia, Toledo and Alcal
de Henares.
The sports program which the school offered was also quite advanced for that era. Regular
sports included football, calisthenics, gymnastics, fencing, hockey, hiking, and tennis [115].
lvaro engaged in these sports with fondness, though perhaps, with more brute force than skill,
as what can be deduced from some testimonies. "While playing football and hockey, he realized
that he could hit his opponents to the point of causing physical damage; specifically I remember
that he left hockey because in the first game, while holding the stick in one move, he
inadvertently slammed the head of one opponent with it." [116]
He was also very fond of swimming, horse riding, and cycling, especially in the summer,
demonstrating a remarkable physical strength [117]. He engaged in these activities from 1926,
when the rheumatism, which he had begun to suffer ten years earlier, started to improve.
There was a drop in his school performance in the first year of high school, judging by his
grades, a contrast to the brilliant results he had obtained in the previous level [118]. One of his
colleagues recalls that "one of the teachers wrote this entry next to his grades: clown. No doubt
the moniker was born from some small childish prank that one stern teacher of the School did
not receive too well (...). That confirms my memory of Alvaro: a cheerful, affectionate, and
friendly child, somewhat naughty and a clown like all children. He was not a little saint; there
was nothing in him that smacked of being a goody-two-shoes. But in that goodness, in that
simplicity, in that desire to help everyone, one could already see the finger of God." [119]
Certainly, his achievement in school was less stellar that year; but it also seems true that the
feedback he got from his teachers seemed a little too pessimistic. In fact, his grades for the final
examinations in the School were not all that bad: two outstanding (in Arithmetic and Geometry
and Religious) and three noteworthy (Language, Geography, and Calligraphy). [120]
On his second year in high school the negative assessments of teachers on lvaros behavior in
class had disappeared, and his grades could be considered high intermediate [121]. The final
grades he got were the following: outstanding for both Latin and Religion; noteworthy in
Arithmetic and Geography; and competent in Gymnastics [122].
In October 1926, he finished his third and final year of high school, with final grades similar to
the previous [123]. This time, he received two outstanding (for Physics and Chemistry and for
32

History of Spain) and two competent (for Natural History and for Ethics of Duties and Law)
[124].
In June 1927, teachers informed the students about the curriculum that the Minister of
Education, Eduardo Callejo, was about to put into place, which would take effect the following
year [125]. The so-called "Callejo reform" would create two streams in high school: the basic
stream (three years for students who would not proceed to college) and the university stream.
The latter consisted likewise of three years of schooling, with the first year common to everyone
in the stream. However, in their second year, students proceed to one of two tracks: Letters or
Sciences [126].
Following the enforcement of the new plan, a dozen
classmates of Alvaro left the school to begin preparing for
admission to the so-called specialized schools, among
which academies for military officers and engineers were
included. At that time, those careers were not exactly in the
same level as the university career, properly speaking, and
those who aspired to be military officers or engineers only
needed the basic bachelor degree and pass an entrance
exam (a very hard one) in the appropriate school. Alvaro,
however, decided to start the university stream in high
school: this appears to show that, at thirteen, he had not yet
matured in his decision to study engineering.

Figure 8: Alvaro with Maria Teresa. Photo


credits: josemariaescriva.info

Summer that year would be special for the Portillo family: it


was then that Carlos, the youngest, was born [127].
Previously, in April 1926, Maria Teresa had been born [128].
All in all, they were now eight brothers and sisters, and the
eldest, Ramn, was seventeen.

We can assume that the Portillos continued to follow the events taking place in Mexico, where
the Cristero War broke out in January. As well, like all Spaniards, they cheered upon learning of
the end of the war in Africa.
4. The career choice
In October 1927, lvaro began to course the new high school program in preparation for
university. It was in December of that year that a photograph of the Portillo brothers appeared in
the El Pilar magazine in the "Gallery of brothers section [129]. In the picture, only Alvaro,
Francisco, Jose Maria, and Angel were present; Ramon had graduated two years earlier.
In this period his weekly grades tended to be the same, and "noteworthy" became the most
common [130]. In the Cardinal Cisneros Institute, where he continued to study for his
examinations, he received two outstanding (in French I and II) and three competent
(Mathematics, History and Geography). [131]

33

Within the academic year he became more definite as regards his professional career [132]. In
1983, he narrated how he came to the decision: "I had to choose the university track. My father
was a lawyer and I thought: I could be a lawyer like my father. But lawyers have to talk a lot in
public, and I was not good at that because I was shy. The best job was one that I would be
alone. So I decided to do engineering"[133]. Beside this reason, it can be assumed that the
possibility of studying engineering, specifically civil engineering, could have crossed his mind
more than once during his high school years also because that career path had a notable
presence in the Colegio del Pilar [134].
The selection process for admission to Engineering School at the time, there was only one for
all of Spain was very competitive. In fact, each year only a little more than twenty students,
representing approximately five percent of those who took the entrance exam, were eventually
admitted. Alvaro was not a hasty or reckless young man: he knew the difficulties that he would
face. In addition to being prudent, he was decisive. For instance, if someone asked for
something, he would say, "Well, I'll think about it." But he wasnt like some who would say that
and then do nothing, having given the excuse of thinking about it. lvaro pondered, and then
acted. He was prudent, but not indecisive or sluggish. This led him to act with great serenity and
peace "[135].
At the same time, the decision to become an engineer indicates that he was confident in his
ability to meet the challenge: he was not timid. In addition, by undertaking those studies "he
showed what we already perceived about him since childhood: a great intellectual capacity"
[136]. lvaro was gifted with a good memory, a talent that would facilitate a very complete
intellectual formation. At school, he learned enough Spanish literature, and his taste for classic
literature remained constant throughout his life. So, over the years, one would hear him quote
from memory many passages of poetry learned in high school. For example, in 1986, during a
discussion about ascetical formation, he quoted a few verses from the Duke of Rivas and
applied them to the cleanliness of heart required of those who receive Communion: "Let those
doors be defended / which none must enter. God lives / within them, compared to Whom the
sun would not be cleaner (...) So thundered the street / a voice already cracked / that left from a
palace / whose door was closed." [137] On another occasion, he quoted a poet of the Royal
Court unknown to many: "Very high is the summit! /The Cross most high! /To get to heaven, /
what a little kick! "[138]. Of course, he did not fail to have recourse to the Spanish mystics such
as St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa, etc.
His taste for literature was rounded out by his fondness for popular sayings that made his
conversation more pleasant. Sometimes we would hear him say phrases like, "He who is his
own man, deserves honor," or "I'm going for tuna and go see the duke; For such we are, oneeyed; They bark, then we ride; The guests are craving for their fingers" and many others like
them.
To those who knew him around this time, what was immediately evident about Alvaro was his
joy, his resolute and affable temper, his concern for others, his unostentatious piety, the clean
look in his eyes, and love for his family. Equally noteworthy was the trust he had for his father
which, years later, he expressed in these words: "God, Our Lord, wanted me to be my father's
34

friend, and this obviously prevented me from making bad friendships" [139]. He always
remembered with joy and gratitude the talks he had with Don Ramon, in which he talked about
his doubts, interests, and hobbies in all simplicity. [140]
His enthusiasm to begin a new stage in his life preparation for the future career he had
chosen also advanced. It was the summer of 1928.
FOOTNOTES:
[68] In 1920, they were respectively 38 and 39.
[69] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p. 8.
[70] See ibid.
[71] See Martin Hernandez, F., Luz Casanova. A life dedicated to the poor, Madrid, 1991
(published by the Congregation of Apostolic Ladies). They were also friends with the Jesuit Jos
Mara Rubio (1864-1929), known as the " Apostle of Madrid", who conducted a broad spiritual
and social work during the twenties, among people of the most varied social conditions (cf. .
Staehlin, CM, Father Rubio. Life of the Apostle of Madrid, Madrid, Egda, 1974, pp. 406). He was
canonized by Pope John Paul II, on May 4, 2003, in Madrid.
[72] On the history of the school, vid. El Pilar : one hundred years of history, 1907-2007 ,
Madrid, 2007 , 407 pp; Ruiz de Azua , P., info on Colegio del Pilar ( 1907-1946 ) , Release
notes and Enrique Torres Rojas, Centennial Publications. College, Madrid, 2007, pp. 93 and
periodicals school for the years in which he studied: Memories of Our Lady of Pilar, until 1923
and from this year: El Pilar: organ students and alumni of the College of Our Lady of Pilar .
[73] Cf Memories of Our Lady of Pilar. Academic Year 1920-1921, Madrid, Imp Sons of Benigno
Ayora, 1921, p. 123.
[74] See ibid. p. 15. During the same year the Prince Don Carlos de Borbn, who had studied
there until then, left the school. His grandfather, King Alfonso XII, was a pupil of the Stanislas
Marianist School in Paris and since then, relations between the Royal Family and the Society of
Mary were affectionate. During the twenties, the Princesses went to the most important cultural
shows which were held in the School.
[75] See El Pilar: One hundred years of history, 1907-2007, op. cit., p. 29.
[76] Ruiz de Azua, P., info on Colegio del Pilar (1907-1946), op. cit., p. 12.
[77] Cf Memories of Our Lady of Pilar . Academic Year 1920-1921, op. cit., p. 75.
[78] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T- 19544, p. 478-479.
[79] Del Portillo, ., Cit. Bernal , S., Memories of Alvaro del Portillo , op. cit. , pp . 32-33.
[80] See El Pilar: One hundred years of history, 1907-2007, op. cit., p. 360. Every year, the
incorporation of new members, the reception of applicants, and the inauguration of the boards
35

were surrounded with great pomp and solemnity: sables, banners and flags filled these touching
ceremonies which were the delight of the young people. Alvaro , however , never felt particularly
drawn to these events and was not part of any, unlike his older brother, Ramon, who studied
four years before (see El Pilar: student organ and organ of the alumni of the school Our Lady of
Pilar, 1923 , 1924 and 1925 ) .
[81] Cf Memories of Our Lady of Pilar . Academic Year 1920-1921, op. cit., pp. 111-112,
reminder print, AGP, D- 17112 APD.
[82] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T- 19544, p. 478.
[83] Cf Ruiz de Azua , P., info on Colegio del Pilar ( 1907-1946 ), op. cit. , p. 54 .
[84] Cf Memories of Our Lady of Pilar. Academic Year 1920-1921, op. cit., p. 112.
[85] Currently, the canonization process of Jos Mara Hernndez Garnica is ongoing. A sketch
of his life was written by Martin de la Hoz , JC, Opening horizons, Igl . Montalegre Santa
Maria, Barcelona, 2010, id, On the roads of Europe, Palabra, Madrid 2004.
[86] Cf reminder print, AGP, D- 17112 APD.
[87] Vid . Photo album.
[88] Diary of the stay of Don Alvaro in Mexico, 1983, AGP, D- 19186 APD .
[89] Cf Code of Canon Law, 1917, c . 858 1.
[90] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. 11.
[91] Ibid.
[92] See El Pilar: One hundred years of history, 1907-2007, op. cit., p. 29.
[93] Cf Memories of Our Lady of Pilar. Academic Year 1920-1921, op. cit., p. 123.
[94] See ibid. , P. 113 .
[95] "During the summer, we moved to La Granja de San Ildefonso: we lived in a house in
Queen Street, at number 11. I distinctly remember one of those rooms, next to the old Palace of
the Bourbons "(Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. 7). In
photographs taken during these dates, it is common to find grandmother Concha and aunts
Carmen and Pilar.
[96] Tedeschini, F., Words of Encouragement, El Pilar : Student organ and organ of the alumni
of the College of Our Lady of Pilar, 1923, sn The first issues of the new magazine published
without page numbering.
[97] Testimony of Javier Garca Leniz, AGP, APD T -0139, p. 2.

36

[98] See El Pilar: Student organ and organ of the alumni of the College of Our Lady of Pilar,
1923, sn
[99] Cf Bernal, S., Memories of Alvaro del Portillo, op. cit. , p. 28 .
[100] Cf Gonzlez Calleja , E., The Spain of Primo de Rivera. The authoritarian modernization
(1923-1930), Alianza , Madrid 2005 , p. 98 .
[101] Many years later, Alvaro del Portillo would defend his doctoral thesis in history on a topic
of American history. Perhaps the lessons of his teacher Saralegui somehow strengthened his
interest in the Americas, which he already had because of their family roots.
[102] Cf Exercises for entrance exam (Madrid , 16 -VI- 1924) , AGP, D -6003 APD -3 and ballot
entrance examination for Secondary Education (Madrid , 16 -VI- 1924) , AGP, APD D -6004 -1.
Educational legislation stated that only public schools were authorized to issue graduation
certificates for high school. Therefore, those studying in private institutions were required to take
an examination in the public school which the private school indicated.
[103] Cf Application for entrance examination (Madrid, 17 -IV- 1924), copy in AGP, APD D 6003 -2.
[104] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T- 19544, p. 14-15.
[105] Ibid. Other constraints, such as the fact of having to wear glasses from an early age, or a
small hand tremor due to high blood pressure, which he also bore with joy, ease and
supernatural sense (cf. ibid., P. 762 ) .
[106] See Ibid. , P. 6.
[107] Testimony of Isabel Carles Pardo, AGP, APD T -0137, p. 1.
[108] Testimony of Javier Garca Leniz, AGP, APD T -0139, p. Three.
[109] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. 8.
[110] Testimony of Isabel Carles Pardo, AGP, APD T -0137, p. 1.
[111] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. 8.
[112] See Letter from Sister Maria Luz del Sagrario Perez, OSC, Bishop Javier Echevarra
Rodrguez, AGP, APD T- 15097.
[113] See El Pilar: One hundred years of history, 1907-2007, op. cit., p. 393.
[114] As explained by the chronicler of the School: "D. Luis was a lover of intuitive teaching, and
traveling abroad he took notes of materials, equipment or procedures that called his attention.
He asked material to production houses in Barcelona, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and in his school
one could admire multifarious collections of sheets, geography, races, landscapes, productions,
anatomy, hygiene, zoology, botany, geology with real waste. Both the Houses of scientific
37

material which was later founded in Madrid, as Sogeresa y Voluntad began these studies at
the College. Its museums of Natural History, physics, chemistry, experimental psychology, had
respectable appropriations each year, which allowed them to be equipped with everything one
needed to pursue studies widely for the 2nd level and to the University. The library was staffed
with care."(Ruiz de Azua , P., Facts about Colegio del Pilar [ 1907-1946 ] , op. Cit. , P. 15).
[115] See El Pillar: One hundred years of history, 1907-2007, op. cit., pp. 42 and 351 and Ruiz
de Azua, P., info on Colegio del Pilar ( 1907-1946 ), op. cit. , p. 66 .
[116] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T- 19544, p. 15 .
[117] See ibid.
[118] See Course Details 1924/1925 (1 school), AGP, D -6105 APD.
[119] Testimony of Javier Garca Leniz, AGP, APD T -0139, p. Three.
[120] See Review of Concepts and Exercises Arithmetic and Geometry (Madrid 10 -VI- 1925) ,
AGP, D- APD 6004-4 , Review of Religion, first course (Madrid 10 -VI- 1925) , AGP APD D 6004 -5; Spanish Language Exam (Madrid, 11 -VI- 1925) , AGP, D- APD 6004-6; Exam General
Geography and Europe ( Madrid, 10 -VI- 1925), AGP, APD D -6004 -3; Review of Calligraphy
(Madrid , 6 -VI- 1925) , AGP, D -6004 APD -2.
[121] See Course Details 1925/1926 (2 of high school), AGP, D -6106 APD.
[122] Cf Latin Exam, first year (Madrid , 16 -VI- 1926) , AGP, APD D -6004 -10; Review of
Religion, second course (Madrid 10 -VI- 1926) , AGP, D APD -6004 to 9 ; Review of Arithmetic
(Madrid , 9- VI- 1926) , AGP, D -6004 APD -7; Review Special Geography of Spain (Madrid, 17
-VI- 1926) , AGP, D- 6004- APD 11; Review Gymnastics, first course (Madrid 10 -VI- 1926) ,
AGP, D -6004 APD -8.
[123] See Course Details 1926/1927 (3rd high school), AGP, D- 6107 APD.
[124] See Review of Concepts of Physics and Chemistry (Madrid , 13 -VI- 1927) , AGP, APD - D
6004-13 , Test History of Spain ( Madrid, 12 -VI- 1927) , AGP, D APD -6004-12 , Review of
Natural History ( Madrid, 23 -VI- 1927) , AGP, D- APD 6004-15 ; Consideration of ethical and
civic duties and rudiments of law ( Madrid, 16 -VI- 1927) , AGP, APD D -6004 -14.
[125] See El Pilar: Organ for students and alumni of the College of Our Lady of Pilar, 1926 , p.
73, and El Pilar: One hundred years of history, 1907-2007 , op. cit. , p. 387 . On the "Callejo
reform" one can refer to the following documents: Royal Decree establishing a new school
curriculum, Santander 25-VIII-1926 (published in the Gaceta de Madrid on 28- VIII -1926, pp.
1234-1237.). Royal order establishing the transitional regime of former (1903 ) the new
curriculum secondary school , Madrid 28 -VIII -1926 (published in the Gaceta de Madrid on 31VIII -1926 , p. 1268-1269 ) . Real concrete by developing and implementing the new curriculum
for secondary schools, Madrid 3 -IX- 1926 (published in the Gaceta de Madrid 5 -IX- 1926, p.
1468-1469). By Real clarifying doubts and consultations on the implementation of the new
curriculum for secondary education, Madrid 11 -IX- 1926 (published in the Gaceta de Madrid on
38

12- IX- 1926, p. 1585-1586). Another Real clarification by doubts and consultations on the
implementation of the new curriculum for secondary education, Madrid 9-X -1926 (published in
the Gaceta de Madrid on 10- X -1926, pp. 196-197).
[126] In fact, this plan was very much opposed since its inception, and was only in force for four
years , surviving a few months after the fall of Primo de Rivera.
[127] He was born on September 5, 1927. Cf Family tree, AGP, APD- 6021.
[128] She was born on April 8, 1926 . Cf Family tree, AGP, APD- 6021.
[129] See El Pilar: Organ for students and alumni of the College of Our Lady of Pilar, December
1927, p. 280.
[130] See Course Details 1927/1928 (4th year high school), AGP, D- 6108 APD.
[131] See Review of French, first course (Madrid , 6 -VI- 1928 ) Review of French , second
course (Madrid , 16 -VI- 1928 ) Review of Concepts of Algebra and Trigonometry (Madrid 5 -VII
-1928 ), Review of political and Economic Geography, and History of Spanish civilization in its
relations with the Universal (Madrid 5 -VII- 1928 ) : AGP, APD D -6004 -16, 17, 18 , 19 and 20 .
The ballot for the course of history is not preserved, but one can see his score in the Certificate
in the whole School (Madrid 21 -VII- 1933).
[132] In October 1927, he requested the title of Basic High School, which was delivered in
December. Cf Request for the Basic High School Degree (Madrid 1-X - 1927: free 5 -XII1927), AGP, D -6003 APD -10.
[133] Del Portillo, , Remarks on a family , 4 - V - 1983 meeting . AGP, Library, 830504 B.1.4
T- series.
[134 ] From 1921-1927 there a preparatory academy for civil engineers within the school itself,
and Pilar magazine gave news of alumni who went through the school and offered some
guidance on these studies. Specifically, when Alvaro was studying eleventh grade, an article
appeared in which the conditions for success as a civil engineer were explained: "facility for
mathematical studies, ability to draw or sketch [sic], love of the countryside or nature, spirit of
observation, a quick eye, spirit of discipline and above all, will" (Mendoza, JL, Engineers, El
Pilar: Organ for students and alumni of the College of Our Lady of Pilar, 1925, p 126). And in
the following year a long story on the School of Civil Engineering, with photographs, in which
one could read was published: "The prestige that this school currently enjoys is because of its
modern pedagogical orientation and its select faculty "(Belda, M., School of Civil Engineering, El
Pilar: Organ for students and alumni of the College of Our Lady of Pilar, 1926, pp 177-179.)
[135] Testimony of Isabel Carles Pardo, AGP, APD T -0137, p. 1.
[136] Ibid.
[137] De Saavedra, . A loyal Castilian Romance I.

39

[138] Fernndez Grilo, A., The hermitage of Crdoba.


[139] Del Portillo, . , Homily on the occasion of his 75th birthday , 11 -III- 1989 , cit. , P. 287 .
[140] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T- 19544, p. 7.

40

Chapter 3: Adolescence and early


adulthood
1.
2.
3.
4.

Prayer of the Founder of Opus Dei


On the way to Engineering
Studies as Assistant to Public Works and admission to Roads
Spirit of solidarity with the most disadvantaged
a. The "Society of St. Vincent de Paul"
b. An attack in Vallecas
5. The first encounter with Saint Josemara
Something happened on September 23, 1928 that could have dramatically affected the Portillo
family. Ramon, lvaros eldest brother, had invited him to the Novedades Theatre, where a
comedy written by a famous playwright was then showing. In the end, for unknown reasons,
they could not go. [141]
As bad luck would have it, the theater burned down that very day. It appears that the fire began
in one of the sets. It spread quickly, and firefighters were unable to put it out: they could only
prevent it from spreading to adjacent buildings. The flames were visible from towns like Vallecas
or Getafe. The theater, with its nine hundred seats, was fully booked, and the spectators according to the news at the time [142] - sought safety in flight. There was a great rush to the
exit doors, those who occupied boxes slid down the columns to the floor, or they simply jumped
or fell into the crowd below. Sixty-seven people were killed and over two hundred were
wounded and bruised: many of them crushed or trampled on. It was a great tragedy. [143]
1. Prayer of the Founder of Opus Dei
A few days after this event, on October 2, the feast of the Guardian Angels, Opus Dei was born
[144]. A young priest, Josemaria Escriva, was doing a spiritual retreat. On that day, after
celebrating Mass, while reading some personal notes concerning his inner life, he received an
extraordinary grace through which he "saw" that God was entrusting him with a supernatural
mission: that of spreading the message of the universal call to holiness.
Opus Dei was going to be - within the bosom of the Church - a mobilization of ordinary
Christians seeking to sanctify themselves and doing apostolate in the middle of the world
through professional work and in other circumstances of ordinary life. This was explained by the
Founder in a letter dated January 9, 1932: In raising up his Work during these years, the Lord
has wanted to remind everyone of the truth that all of them ought to sanctify themselves, and
that the majority of Christians ought to sanctify themselves in the world, in ordinary work. So as
long as there are men on earth, the Work will continue to exist. This phenomenon will always
happen: people of all professions and trades seeking holiness in their state in life, in that
profession or in this duty, being contemplative souls in the middle of the street." [145]

41

Immediately, St. Josemara began diligently carrying out the mission he received. "From the first
moment there was an intense spiritual activity, and I started looking for vocations," [146] he
would write years later. The first means of apostolate he used was prayer. He prayed a lot and
got others to pray. Thus, in his spiritual notes, referring to the early years of Opus Dei, he wrote,
"I have a real obsession to ask for prayers: from religious and priests, pious laity, the sick whom
I take care of From all I ask alms of prayer, for my intentions, which are, of course, the Work
of God and vocations to it."[147]

Figure 9: The Foundation for the Sick where St. Josemaria carried out a lot of
apostolic activity. Photo credits: josemariaescriva.info

In the summer of 1927, Father


Josemaria had met Carmen and
Pilar del Portillo, during his work
as a chaplain at the Foundation
for the Sick of the Apostolic
Ladies. Years later, in 1930, one
of them would speak of her
nephew Alvaro, praising his
virtues and intelligence, and also
adding some anecdotes from his
childhood and adolescence: as,
for example, that the young man
was very fond of bananas; but
could not pronounce that word
well and said paltanos instead
of pltanos [148 ] .

Since then, St. Josemara


prayed for the young student,
whom he would not know personally until 1935. In 1971, he confided: I prayed for years for
Alvaro. I had heard of him from his aunt. She was an elderly lady who helped out in some
apostolic activities in which I was involved in Madrid. She once spoke with pride of her nephew
lvaro who was studying for two degrees. He was beginning them, or rather, if I remember
correctly, he had not even begun. But she spoke with fondness and passion of the two degrees
of his nephew (...). So I began to pray for Alvaro [149].
The effectiveness of this prayer would be apparent in July 1935, when Alvaro joined Opus Dei.
For now, however, let us continue to the fall of 1928 when Alvaro was about to start preparing to
enter the School of Civil Engineering, Canals, and Ports.
2. On the way to Engineering
At that time, to enter the School of Civil Engineering it was necessary to pass several very
highly selective and competitive exams. The school was of the opinion that for the engineering
profession to enjoy high standards and prestige, the first thing to do was to subject the
candidates to an intense screening such that only the most able make it through.

42

In Madrid there were three


academies that specialized
in helping students to pass
those tests. These were: the
"Toral-Cos", which attracted
the largest number of
students, and for this
reason, credited themselves
the biggest number of
student admissions; the
Krahe," which produced the
least number of admission
turnouts; and "Misol" known
to be very technical.
According to some
engineers, the last academy
Figure 10: The School of Engineering. Photo credits: Saxum: Remembering Alvaro del
provided the most balanced
Portillo
instruction [150]. It was
directed by a renowned civil engineer and mathematician, Felix Alonso Misol, who taught math
classes to groups of twenty students. [151] In addition, this institution had a boarding school for
students from other cities of the peninsula.
Alvaro chose the Misol Academy and went to class from September 1928 to June 1933, the
month in which he passed the entrance test. Those were five years during which sudden
changes in the socio-political situation of the country transpired, events that affected his family
life. lvaro would later recall that it was during those years as well that he experienced gentle
but important transformations in his inner life: "The Lord was already beginning, at that time, to
enter into my soul." [152]
In September 1929 his maternal grandfather, Ramn, died [153]. A month later the New York
Stock Exchange brought about Black Thursday, and a great financial crisis was soon felt in
Spain: the pace of the economic improvement that the country had experienced in previous
years quickly dissipated. To give an idea of how bad the financial crisis was, it would be enough
to consider that the value of the peseta relative to the British pound nearly tripled. Naturally, the
family income of the Portillos was also affected by these financial fluctuations.
The year 1930 began with a national political crisis. On January 27, General Primo de Rivera
resigned as head of government. The dictatorship had lost much of the support it had enjoyed in
its infancy. The middle class, i.e., the small traders and large businesses, were drifting apart
because of the lack of economic stability; the student protests multiplied, and the army, deeply
divided, refrained from supporting the dictator, a factor which hastened his fall. [154]
Primo de Rivera was succeeded by General Berenguer and then Admiral Aznar, opening up a
period of great social instability that led to the proclamation of the Republic on April 14, 1931,

43

after municipal elections that defeated candidates opposed to the monarchy in forty-one of fifty
provincial capitals.
The establishment of the Second Republic brought with it profound social and religious
implications [155]. The secularizing process, already manifesting itself for years especially
among intellectuals and among workers upon the instigation of some political parties, had
resulted in episodes of violent anticlericalism. King Alfonso XIII had to leave the country on the
day of the proclamation of the Republic, giving up the leadership of state, but without a formal
abdication. He would die in exile in Rome on February 28, 1941.
Pope Pius XI immediately recognized the new regime, as did the representatives of the Spanish
hierarchy. However, the government - six of whose members were Freemasons - began to
establish anti-Christian measures, such as the abolition of the teaching of religion in schools.
Between May 10 and 12, convents in Madrid were burned with the authorities simply looking on.
On the 22nd, the government issued the decree of freedom of conscience and religion, as a
means to end Spains being a Catholic confessional state. The following month, Cardinal
Segura, the Archbishop of Toledo, and Monsignor Matthew Mugica, Bishop of Vitoria, were
forced to leave Spain upon order of the government. In September, the articles of the
Constitution were approved that decreed the expulsion of the Jesuits and the subjection of other
religious orders and congregations to a special law on associations, which prohibited them from
teaching. In October, the Prime Minister Manuel Azaa, announced that Spain had ceased to be
Catholic. Religious violence increased.
The change of political regime affected academic life as well. The new government imposed a
return to the curriculum previous to the Callejo reform; specifically, in order to gain admission
into the engineering schools, the requirement of six years of high school was reinstated. lvaro
had completed only four years of high school and, therefore, still lacked two. To complete them,
he followed one of the possibilities offered by the new legislation: to validate the two years of the
high school which he coursed (i.e., university stream, Sciences track) through a set of tests.
He took the exam in September 1931 in the Cardinal Cisneros Institute, and he passed. [156]
He was 17 when he began his fourth year of preparation at the Misol Academy.
During this period, aside from La Granja de San Ildefonso (Segovia), the Portillo family also
spent their summer vacation in Santander or in some small towns in Asturias. In these towns
magnificent scenery, lvaro constantly discovered the imprint of God. Over the years, he would
reveal how the contemplation of the Cantabrian sea or sailing in a boat helped him to pray. He
also liked to swim [157]. In Asturias he befriended the family of Jose Maria Gonzalez Barredo,
who applied for admission to Opus Dei in 1932. Later on, during the Spanish civil war, we will
see the father of Jos Mara, also named Alvaro, figure in an episode in the life of St. Josemara
and lvaro [158].
It was precisely in a town of the Asturian coast, in La Isla, that an event, which clearly showed
the hand of God, occurred. Alvaro and his brother went out with some friends to hike. They
thought of crossing over to Villaviciosa or Ribadesella in a motorboat. Just when they were
about to sail, when they were already in the boat, his brother told him that he wanted to stay
44

behind because he was not feeling well. lvaro decided to stay to accompany him instead of
joining the others in the boat ride.
A few hours later, without warning, a strong gale broke out in that coastal area and the boat
sank. The entire crew of the small boat drowned, except one, the youngest, who managed to
reach the bank despite the surge of water. As he struggled against the waves, he promised
himself that if he survived, he would give his life to the Lord. He reached the rocks and was
saved, but his fear and exhaustion had drained him of all color. Soon afterwards, he entered the
Convent of Valdedios [159]. Later on, lvaro would confirm that this event had made him think
that the Lord had kept him alive because He had a plan for him. [160]
Divine Providence continued sculpting his soul by means of difficult circumstances. Economic
setbacks suffered by his mothers side of the family as a result of the Mexican Revolution,
together with the loss of other assets, this time on his fathers side of the family, brought about
some financial crisis. lvaro's father lost a lot of money and much of his inheritance, such as the
estate in Leganes and some properties in the old Madrid [161].
lvaro faced all these family troubles calmly and without bitterness. One of his colleagues in the
Misol Academy remembers him at this time as a "person of great kindness (...). He inspired
great confidence among those who were dealing with him. He was always smiling when he
spoke, and showed great affability, warmth and kindness." [162]
At the same time, he felt spurred on by duty to help his parents financially. To this end, he
decided to take the entrance exam for the School of Civil Engineering sooner than scheduled.
This meant taking it more or less simultaneously with the test for Mining Engineering.
Meanwhile, he likewise decided to enroll in a course that would eventually make him an
Assistant of Public Works. This was a course with less prestige and thus shorter; but it would
allow him to earn a salary in just over two years, and through this, he could pay for his
engineering studies, as well as earn some money to provide for his familys needs [163] .
On March 1932 he took the entrance exams for the School of Mining Engineering [164] and in
April, that for Civil Engineering [165]. The entrance exams were very hard: he had to pass two
sets of exams consecutively. The first set consisted of three qualifying tests, each lasting three
days. Each day consisted of two problems - on mathematics and drawing - of five hours each.
The second set consisted of two qualifying tests, of three days each, this time involving higher
mathematics, and translations of French, English, and German, and conversational French.
lvaro failed the exams for Civil Engineering on his first attempt, as well as for the School of
Mining Engineering, even though he finished almost all tests. [166]
The exams for admission to the School for Assistants of Public Works were also quite difficult.
They consisted of three qualifying rounds, which lasted nine days in total, and with two daily
tests on mathematics and drawing. The top twenty examinees who got the best scores were
admitted. In October 1932, Alvaro enrolled in the School. [167] He was 18.
3. Studies as Assistant of Public Works and admission to the School of Engineering

45

The School for Assistants of Public Works was under the Ministry of the same name, and was
located in the building of the School of Civil Engineering. Both schools also shared the same
faculty and, in fact, had the same Director and Secretary. Classes for engineers were taught in
the morning, while those for Assistants, in the afternoon.
At the end of each academic year, students were expected to submit a public works project: in
the first year one involving roads, and on the second, one involving railways. The lessons of the
last course ended in May, but the degree was not granted until December, to allow time for the
submission and approval of the final project. After obtaining the degree, the new graduates
would compete for a position in the Ministry of Public Works [168].
The end of adolescence and the onset of young adulthood can be a problematic phase for most
people. It is a time of physical and psychological turmoil, when the first professional challenges
appear, along with desires of becoming independent. For most young people, this is the phase
when they turn cold towards other members of the family. In lvaros case, however, this was
not so: at eighteen and nineteen, he was rather a young man with a clear sense of responsibility
and desires to help his parents and siblings, especially the younger ones in the family [169].
Maria Teresa Alvaro recalls: "He loved me and looked after me" [170]. And Carlos, the
youngest, said that "he helped us solve puzzles and amused us with his carpentry skills. He
loved photography. I remember that, in 1933, he told me that he was going to take a very
interesting shot, but that I had to be very still. He took an old Kodak and told me to put myself
first on one side, then on the other. And I began to sit as still as a statue, with my first gray suit,
(...) jacket and shorts. I was intrigued; what he did seemed to require a lot of skill: he measured
the distances very well with an engineers precision, and he indicated the gesture I had to make
and the facial expression I had to put on. A few days later he showed me the result: it was me,
shaking hands with myself! I could not believe it. That picture got me all excited. Later on, I
guess lvaro no longer found time to practice this hobby." [171]
Above all, this was a period of intense work since, together with his studies as Assistant of
Public Works, he continued to prepare for admission into the School of Civil Engineering. In
June 1933 he passed the first year for Assistants with the rating of "Good" [172] and in that
same month he took and passed the entrance examination for the School of Engineering [173],
together with 23 other candidates out of the 549 who took it [174].
Meanwhile, the social climate of the country was getting more overcast, so to speak. In January
1933 a revolt carried out by anarchists in Casas Viejas (Cadiz) had taken place, and the
Republican authorities issued a severe crackdown. In May a law concerning churches and
religious congregations was approved by a markedly anti-Catholic court. In June, Pope Pius XI
issued his encyclical Dilectissima nobis, in which he compared the situation of the Church in
Spain with the persecutions suffered during those years by the Christians in Mexico and in
Bolshevik Russia. In September, the first Azaa government would resign.
4. Spirit of solidarity with the most disadvantaged

46

Figure 11: The Director of the Engineering School, Vicente Machibarrena. Photo credits:
Saxum: Remembering Alvaro del Portillo

When the 1933-1934


academic year began,
lvaro had intended to do
his first year of Civil
Engineering
simultaneously with his
second year in the School
for Assistants of Public
Works. However, shortly
after classes started, the
director, who as already
stated was the same for
both schools, told him
that he must choose one
of the two.

For this reason, he chose to interrupt his Civil Engineering studies, to finish the degree of
Assistants of Public Works as quickly as possible [175]. As regards this decision, he
commented in 1985: "I accepted the advice of the director of the School of Civil Engineering,
who was concerned that pursuing two degrees at the same time might cause a breakdown of
my health; I therefore decided to postpone my studies at the School of Civil Engineering for
another year."[176]
a. The " Society of St. Vincent de Paul"
Meanwhile, the Lord continued to intervene in his soul, urging him to give to the needy. In those
months he met Manuel Snchez Prez, who was on his fifth year at the Engineering School,
and a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. [177] For the last four years, he had been
helping out in the parish of San Ramon, located in the district of Puente de Vallecas, which was
a socially depressed and troubled area, the result of the recent urban transformations in the
capital.
In the first third of the century, Madrid had grown ostensibly. In the beginning of the 30s it had a
million inhabitants, of which only thirty-seven percent were born in the capital. Most of this new
population was composed largely of day laborers and unskilled workers who stayed in the
suburbs and lived in precarious conditions: shacks without electricity or toilets, districts without
enough schools. In these neighborhoods, syndicalism and communism found a fertile breeding
ground [178].
The general elections of November 1933 were won by a coalition of right-wing parties. This fact
prompted the radical left to further promote social instability. In a meeting that month, the
Socialist Largo Caballero, who was Minister of Labor and later became prime minister, declared
without mincing any word: "Let us be realistic. There is a civil war (...). This war has not yet
become a bloody one; but that will come about, fortunately or unfortunately (...) We have to fight
anyway, until in all the towers and government buildings are flown not the tricolor flag of a
bourgeois republic but the red flag of the Socialist Revolution!" [179]
47

Months of strikes, riots, insurrections, and attacks on individuals and Catholic institutions
followed. One needed to have great courage and a great spirit of charity to get into
neighborhoods like the Vallecas in order to carry out social work imbued with a Christian spirit.
[180] lvaro asked to help out in the activities carried out by the Society of St. Vincent, and
Manuel Prez notes that "he began attending the meetings we had on Saturday afternoons at
the Central House of the Society in Veronica Street. At these meetings we did a bit of spiritual
reading, assessed the experience we went through and the needs we observed the previous
week, and then agreed on the action plan for the following week. [181]
The group consisted of about ten or twelve young men, mostly engineering students, who were
relatives or friends of each other. Among these were Angel Vegas, brother of the priest Jos
Mara Vegas [182]; Pedro Arrupe, a medical student and future Superior General of the Society
of Jesus; and the brothers Guillermo and Jess Gesta de Piquer. The latter was martyred three
years later, and was beatified by John Paul II. [183]
Several members of this group have
kept a vivid memory of Alvaro del
Portillo even after many years. Manuel
Perez described him with these words:
"He was tall, elegant, and had a
compassionate and serene
countenance, and a smiling face. Very
simple and at the same time, hardworking and intelligent." [184] Guillermo
Gesta de Piquer remembered him as a
pious man, with apostolic zeal and a
desire to help the needy, extremely
simple, serene, and wise [185].
Meanwhile, ngel Vegas wrote: "He
Figure 12: Church of San Ramon in Vallecas. Photo credits: Carmen
caught our attention. He was a civil
Pena from Panoramio
engineering student, and had a lot of
human and intellectual prestige. He was truly exemplary in that task that we carried out among
people in need. I say he surprised me because he was one of the brightest students of the
School, and at the same time, he was a very approachable and simple person, very intelligent,
cheerful, well-mannered, friendly, kind, and above all this was what struck me the most
profoundly humble, with an extraordinary humility, which left a mark. (...) I did not say that
phrase at random. lvaro left a mark. Many years have passed, and although I have not seen
him since, I have not forgotten his personality, and I've noticed lvaros mark in so many lives: a
mark characertized by affection, kindness, love of God. [186]
The students roamed the desolate and rough suburbs, distributing alms, food vouchers
redeemable at grocery stores, medicines, etc. On Sundays they taught catechism in the parish
of San Ramon.

48

They did not limit their work to children, and also sought to reach out to adults. "We were
concerned about improving the spiritual formation of those people - Manuel Prez narrates and wanted to organize a retreat: something that may seem strange now, but then, it wasnt. At
that time that activity was widespread among the ladies and gentlemen of nearly every parish in
Madrid. And we thought we should organize a Lenten retreat that the poor could attend, in the
same place in which we gave catechesis. However, instead of a retreat, the members of the
Society ended up giving a catechism class for adults. I particularly remember lvaro giving one
of those talks. With that simplicity and sweetness that always characterized him, he knew how
to deal with people with great affection and understanding. There were around 20 men." [187]
The retreat, the story continues, ended with lunch "in the dining room of the parish priest who
provided food. There were a few hundred guests. Some Sisters of Charity who ran a Home for
the blind across the street cooked the food - very succulent and tasty dishes - and we served.
The men were given wine and a pack of tobacco. Alvaro, like the others, actively participated in
fixing the table and personally served those people." [188]
Manuel Prez mentions another episode of this time, which took place near the Abroigal
Brook. Alvaro and he had come to visit a number of people living in slums and found "that one
of those families had had an altercation with another. The police had arrested the parents and
they were put in prison, leaving four small children on their own, abandoned in the shack. The
poor boys one was only one year old didnt know what to do: they had no food and were
shivering with cold." [189]
They brought children to the police station, but it was closed, so they gave money to a neighbor
who could take care of them until the next day, when they could to go back to the police station.
When they spoke to the guards, they realized these men couldnt care less about the childrens
parents being incarcerated, so they had to go to a charitable institution: the Childrens Home of
Santa Cristina, which was in a university town. Some of the children were so small they did not
yet know how to walk. Manuel Perez wrote: "I have kept in my memory that image of Alvaro with
one of those poor children in his arms, through the streets of Madrid, heading for the Childrens
Home." [190]
Alvaro del Portillo carried out these tasks with a Christian spirit, as reflected in the words with
which he recalled this work, years later: "I always learned from them: people who did not have
enough to eat, and I saw nothing but joy. To me they were a great lesson. [191]
He was convinced, moreover, that these activities prepared his soul to respond affirmatively to
the call of God in Opus Dei: "Some colleagues from the School of Engineering took me to visits
to the poor for a few months. Contact with poverty, with neglect, produces an enormous spiritual
impact. It makes us see that many times we worry about sheer nonsense, which is merely a
manifestation of our selfishness and pettiness. We see people suffering for serious reasons poverty, abandonment, loneliness, disease -, yet they are happy because they have the grace
of God. This produces an impact; that's what prepared me for the moment I was introduced to
our Father." [192]
b. An attack in Vallecas
49

There was no shortage of events that showed the risk university students carrying out the works
of mercy took. One of these events took place on Sunday, February 4, 1934. lvaro was
teaching a class of Catechism in the parish of San Ramon in Vallecas, as he usually did. When
he had finished, he was told that a few agitators in the area were planning to give "the four or
five of us who were giving catechesis a beating we would never forget." [193]

Figure 13: Don Alvaro narrating the attack in a get-together. Photo credits:
Saxum: Remembering Alvaro del Portillo

The attack was extremely violent,


with homicidal intent. "They hit me
with a wrench on the head. I was
saved from worse consequences
because the attack happened near
the entrance of the Metro. I was
able to escape only because I
entered the station at the same
time that a train arrived, into which
I entered with my blood-soaked
coat still pursued by those who
attacked me. They were coming
right at me when the automatic
door of the train closed behind me:
that was perhaps the only reason I
wasnt killed." [194]

When he got home, his parents


were out. So as not to alarm his siblings, he did not explain what happened: he gave the excuse
that he took a fall while walking on the street. The domestic help, Mercedes Santamara, seeing
the gravity of the situation, accompanied him to a first aid station where he was treated poorly.
[195] As a result, the wound got infected, the pain and medication that followed caused
enormous suffering, and he took everything with holy resignation" [196]. The doctor who took
care of him in the following weeks, repeatedly said to Doa Clementina: "What a very brave son
you have! He never complains!"[197]
Antonio Conde, a fellow student at the School for Assistants of Public Works, stated in this
regard that "we were able to know with certainty his religious convictions because, on one
occasion, he came to the School of Engineering with a bandaged head (...). Thats how we
learned that he helped out in the poorest neighborhoods and at the same time taught Christian
doctrine to children in these neighborhoods. We learned in class that the reason he came with
the bandaged head was that they had been attacked by a group of extremists." [198]

50

A month after the assault in


Vallecas, i.e., in early March,
Manuel Prez met St
Josemaria. After attending a
retreat preached by the
Founder of Opus Dei, he asked
for spiritual direction and began
to frequent the means of
Christian formation for college
students in a small apartment
on Luchana Street, where the
DYA Academy was set up
[199].
It was just over a year that St.
Josemaria had begun apostolic
Figure 14: Don Alvaro is 4th from the left. The bandage under the cap is evident.
activities for college students;
Photo credits: Opus Dei (Information Office)
they were called Circles (or
classes) of St. Raphael. They were meetings, given with a family spirit, in which some
ascetical and doctrinal topics are explained to the participants. Through these classes, they
were thus helped to make resolutions to improve their Christian life. In the early months, St.
Josemaria carried out these activities in his mother's house, in Martnez Campos Street, but he
soon realized that to promote the exapansion of Opus Dei it was necessary to have appropriate
means. Thus, in December 1933 he set up an Academy and Student Residence which he
named DYA, taking the name from the classes in law and architecture (in Spanish: Derecho y
Arquitectura) that were taught there. [200]
Manuel Perez was very impressed by St. Josemara and his preaching, especially by the
message of seeking holiness in the middle of the world through ones work and daily activities.
Over time, still keeping the memories of the retreat alive, he said: He talked about Christian
perfection, which could be lived without abandoning the world; also of living ones ordinary life,
each one in his own state, and using as the primary means (for holiness) ones professional
work. For me this idea was a novelty in the world of spirituality: it made such a strong impact
and I was pleasantly surprised. This doctrine contrasted with the ordinary idea that had been
instilled in us that one needed to depart from the world to live a life of perfection." [201]
Despite this enthusiasm, it would still be a year until March 1935 that Manuel Prez would
suggest to his friend to meet St. Josemaria. At this time lvaro had just turned twenty. Three
months later, he finished his second year at the School for Assistants of Public Works, with a
rating of "Good". [202]
5. The first encounter with Saint Josemara
In late 1933, the electoral victory of the CEDA (Coalicion Espaola de Derechas Autonomas or
Spanish Coalition for Autonomous Rights), led by Jos Mara Gil Robles, had raised the hopes
and efforts of some Catholics to try to redirect the Republican regime to paths of greater
51

tolerance and understanding for the Church. However, the facts would show that each time
there was less and less chance for dialogue: and clearly through no fault of Catholics. In
October 1934, the most Marxist-leaning communist forces made an attempt at subversion in
Madrid and Catalonia, but failed. They triumphed in Asturias, where a bloody revolt ensued called "Revolution of Asturias; their victory lasted a fortnight, until their forces were crushed by
the army.
It was a real coup attempt led by the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, which raised a "Red
Army" consisting of 30,000 volunteers. It is estimated that the clashes left between 1,500 and
2,000 dead. The city of Oviedo was badly damaged, and buildings of great historical and artistic
significance were destroyed. Thirty-five priests and religious were killed, and fifty-eight churches
devastated [203]. With the uprising suppressed, the political and social tensions markedly
increased, and the nation was fast breaking apart. [204]
Meanwhile, Alvaro del Portillo
began, his first year of civil
engineering studies. [205] At
that time he only lacked the final
project to finish the degree as
Assistant of Public Works. He
presented it and it was
approved in January 1935.
[206] Three months later, the
Ministry eventually appointed
him Assistant, and assigned
him to the Tagus River Basin.
[207] According to the practice
of the time, he was allowed to
continue studies in Civil
Engineering and was assigned
to the Headquarters of Bridges and Foundations, which allowed him to work in Madrid on a
schedule compatible with his classes [ 208 ]. He worked in the office in the evenings, attended
attended classes at the School of Engineering in the mornings. His annual salary was 5,000
pesetas [209]. By this time he had already obtained a driver's license. [210]
Figure 15: Alvaro with his Engineering classmates. He is 3rd from the left. Photo
credits: Opus Dei (Information Office)

In 1994, one of his classmates at the School of Engineering wrote about the impression that
Alvaro made on him at the time they met. He remembers that he was a polite guy, friendly,
well-mannered, with very blue, peaceful and serene eyes, and a great natural goodness, who
spoke with a distinctive lisp. He was very intelligent and at the same time very humble. But what
always called my attention were his good faith and the simplicity with which he approached
everything, the absence of any kind of malice. (...) He was very mature for his age, but he had a
profound innocence because of which he always acts uprightly before God: the innocence of a
Christian who has not lost the soul of a child, the innocence of the good man who has not been
stained by the shadows of the complication of envy and resentment, of ulterior motives, of those
inner hidden corners in the soul from which pride emanates. These things seem contradictory,
52

but these were not so in him: Alvaro was very intelligent and at the same time very simple; was
innocent and candid, but not nave; serious and responsible but at the same time, cordial,
friendly. In short, he was a profoundly good man." [211]
His new obligations in school and at work did not prevent him from continuing with the
catechesis and outreach activities he had begun the previous year. In fact, it was in one of these
activities that the possibility of getting to know the founder of Opus Dei arose. One day in March
1935, while walking with Manuel Perez and other friends to visit a poor family in the suburbs of
Madrid's outskirts, the conversation turned to Escriva and the apostolate that he was doing in
Madrid.
Manuel spoke of the priest with enthusiasm.
He had helped out in the transfer of the DYA
Academy to 50 Ferraz Street, now converted
to an Academy and Student Residence, in
September of the previous year [212], and he
invited lvaro to get to know the priest. The
response was immediate: Sure, Ill go, he
said [213]. And in fact - Manuel continues -, in
a few days we were in Urquijo Street and went
to the DYA Residence in Ferraz Street, where I
introduced the Father to him. [214] On that
occasion, the Founder and Alvaro spoke for
just a few minutes.
In 1975, Bishop del Portillo recalled the
interview: I saw that he was a very joyful
priest. He asked me immediately: What's your
name? Are you the nephew of Carmen del
Portillo? She was my godmother, my father's
sister, who died a very old lady and had greatly
helped the Father visiting the sick of the
poorest neighborhoods of Madrid. And as she
Figure 16: Facade of what used to be the DYA Academy.
Photo credits: josemariaescriva.ino
was my godmother, besides being my aunt,
she had told Father that she had a smart nephew. For this reason the Father remembered me,
as well as a detail that my godmother had told him. He said that as a small child, I really liked
bananas (in Spanish: pltano), but apparently could not pronounce that word and said
paltanos instead of pltanos. So the Father said: then you're the one whos very fond of
paltanos?
I was astonished, and answered: yes! I like them a lot! Then the Father took his appointment
notebook and, as if he had nothing else to do than to attend to me he had a lot to do, of
course and he spent only a few minutes with me -, he suggested very warmly: we must speak at
length and more leisure. And we agreed on a date four or five days later. I also wrote down the
date." [215]
53

They both agreed to the meeting, but an unforeseen appointment came up for St. Josemaria
who could not get the information through to him. Consequently, they didnt see each other on
the due date. "When I went, the Father wasnt there: he stood me up. It seemed that he had
been called to attend to a dying man, but he could not send me that message because I had not
left him my phone number." [216] In those years, the Founder carried out an intense pastoral
work in the poorest slums and hospitals of Madrid, and often received urgent requests to attend
to someone spiritually.
In addition, St. Josemara was going through a very difficult economic patch. Leaving everything
to Divine Providence, he had embarked on the adventure of opening the DYA Academy and
Student Residence for apostolic reasons bringing with it the consequent financial outlay. (The
initiative was based on a loan which was foreseen to be paid for through the prospective
residents fees.) Unfortunately the Revolution of Asturias had caused a delay in the opening of
the academic year and a decline in enrollment at the University of Madrid. The consequence for
the DYA was that students did not arrive as expected, followed by a loss of revenue. In
February they were forced to give up one of the units they had rented for the Residence.
Certainly, not everything was a source of woe, as the Lord sent great joys as well. March 19,
1935, the feast of Saint Joseph, would go down in the history of Opus Dei as the day that the
early members made their final incorporation. In addition, on the last day of that month the first
Mass in the Ferraz Residence was held and the Blessed Sacrament was reserved [217].
After that failed rendezvous in March, Alvaro was busy with his many duties and did not return
to see St Josemaria until three months later, after his first year of Civil Engineering was over
[218]. In early July he was about to leave Madrid to spend the holidays with his family, when he
remembered the priest with whom he had spoken for only a few minutes in March, and he
decided to go to the DYA Residence to say goodbye for the summer. That meeting was
decisive.
lvaro was twenty-one and was prepared to listen to the call of God. The Christian formation he
received at home and at school, his simple but intense life of piety, his eagerness to work for
and attend to the needy: all these, accompanied by the prayer and sacrifice of Saint Josemara,
had prepared his soul as a fertile ground to receive the divine seed.
FOOTNOTES:
[141] Cf Bernal, S., Memories of Alvaro del Portillo, op. cit., p. 35.
[142] Cf The chronicle of the event in the newspaper ABC, Madrid, No. 8032, 25 -IX- 1928, p.
April.
[143] See ibid., Pp . 35-36.
[144] On the foundation of Opus Dei and the first steps of the Founder, cf. Vazquez de Prada,
A., The Founder of Opus Dei, vol. I, Scepter, Madrid, 1997, p. 251-324.

54

[145] St. Josemara Escriv de Balaguer, Letter January 9, 1932, n. 92 (quoted in Vzquez de
Prada, A., The Founder of Opus Dei, vol. I, op. Cit., P. 304).
[146] St. Josemara, Letter 29-XII-1947/14-II-1966, n. 90 (quoted in ibid., P. 315) .
[147] St. Josemara , Personal Notes , n . 302, 30 -IX- 1931 (quoted in ibid., P. 312, note 156 ).
[148] See testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. 15.
[149] St. Josemara, Remarks during a family get-together, 19 -IX- 1971: AGP, Library, P01,
1985, 825-826.
[150] See Testimony of Andrs Aterido Caadilla , AGP, APD T- 0678 , p. Three.
[151] See ibid., P. Two.
[152] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together, 24 -VIII - 1977. AGP, Library, P01, 1997,
1006.
[153] Cf Family tree, AGP, D -6021 APD.
[154] Cf Ben- Ami, S., The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera 1923-1930, op. cit., pp. 208-231.
[155] On the religious question during the Second Spanish Republic one can consult, among
others, Redondo, G., History of the Church in Spain, 1931-1939, Scepter, Madrid, 1993, vol. I;
Carcel Orti , V. (ed.), History of the Church in Spain, BAC, Madrid, 1979, p. 331-394; Id
Religious persecution in Spain during the Second Republic (1931-1939), Scepter, Madrid, 1990.
[156] Cf Request for enrollment in the subjects of the two courses of the bachelor's degree
Sciences (8 subjects ) and the set of all (Madrid 28 -VIII -1931), AGP, D- APD 6003-16 final
exam; request to take the final exam at the Central University and request for delivery of the
same transcript (Madrid 28 -VIII -1931), AGP, D- APD 6003-17; Exercise written final exam
(Madrid s/f), AGP, D -6003 APD -18 ratings revalidation exams Baccalaureate Degree (Madrid,
29/30-IX-1931 ), AGP, D-6004 APD-20.
[157] See Testimony of Antonio Gmez Trueba, AGP, APD T -0015, p. 18.
[158] Cf Bernal, S., Memories of Alvaro del Portillo, op. cit., p. 34.
[159] See ibid., Pp . 34-35.
[160] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T- 19544, p. 17.
[161] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. 13.
[162] Testimony of Andrs Aterido Caadilla, AGP, APD T- 0678, p. 5.
[163] See Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0609, p. 7. 'It was
then relatively normal to join the School of Assistants when they had prepared all the materials
for admission: it was a precaution that was not an abandonment of the study because of the
55

always problematic entry into Civil Engineering"(Testimony of Andrs Aterido Caadilla, AGP,
APD T- 0678, p. 5).
[164] Cf Request to the Director of the School of Mines, for admission to examinations (Madrid,
2 -IV- 1932), AGP, D -6012 APD -2.
[165] Cf Request to the Director of the School of Civil Engineering, for admission in entrance
examinations (Madrid , IV -1932), AGP, D -6009 APD -1.
[166] Cf Sign in Join enrollment Road (Madrid , 20 -IV- 1932) and test result (Fail), AGP, D 6009 APD -2, and record at the School of Mining Engineering, Archive of the original School of
Mining Engineers; photocopies certified in AGP, APD D -6012 -1 to 4, D -6013 and D -6014 -1
to 4.
[167] See Record of School for Assistants of Public Works, original works in the School of
Engineers of Public Works of the Polytechnic University of Madrid; photocopies certified in AGP,
APD -6008 D -1 to D- 4 and 6120.
[168] See Testimony of Andrs Aterido Caadilla, AGP, APD T- 0678, p. 4.
[169] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. 11.
[170] Testimony of Mara Teresa del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T-1000, p. Two.
[171] Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0609, p. 8.
[172] Cf File Helpers School of Public Works, AGP, D -6120 APD. There were three grades :
"Very good" , "Good" and " Suspended" that is given in the whole course. To move from one
year to another, it was necessary to pass all subjects between the June and September: if the
student was suspended, the entire course should be reviewed and the following year all
subjects.
[173] Cf Request to the Director of the School, to be admitted in the entrance exams (Madrid ,
18 -IV- 1933), AGP, D- APD 6009-3 and Enrollment admission (Madrid, 30 -IV- 1933) and test
result (Admitted) , AGP, D -6009 APD -4.
[174] See Testimony of Andrs Aterido Caadilla, AGP, APD T- 0678, p. Three.
[175] Cf Sign tuition for 1st year (Madrid, 30 -IX- 1933) and qualification and classification of
the end of the course (suspension of studies), AGP, D -6009 APD -10 to 12.
[176] Del Portillo, ., Letter to Antonio Gmez Trueba, AGP, C- 851126 APD . Teammate
Andrew Aterido points out that perhaps teachers also feared that the example of lvaro could
lead other students to underestimate the difficulties to be encountered (see Testimony of
Andrs Aterido Caadilla, AGP, APD T- 0678, p. 4).
[177] See Testimony of Manuel Snchez Prez, AGP, APD T- 0431, p. 6. The Society of St.
Vincent de Paul had been founded in France, in the third decade of the nineteenth century by
Antoine- Frdric Ozanam (1813-1853), a famous secular university professor, French writer
56

and apologist. Its components are intended to offer a testimony of faith, credible in the eyes of
an increasingly secularized society, through attention to the poor and needy. Quickly, the
conferences met a remarkable expansion throughout the world and specifically in Spain were
widely disseminated. During those years, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul had its own
independent address in the parishes to which each it was assigned.
[178] Cf Fernndez , A. (Ed. ), History of Madrid, op. cit. , pp . 515-548.
[179] Statement published in The Socialist, 10 -XI- 1933.
[180] On the prevailing anti-religious climate in the capital, cf. Carcel Orti , V., Religious
persecution in Spain during the Second Republic (1931-1939), op. cit.
[181] Testimony of Manuel Snchez Prez, AGP, APD T- 0431, p. 6.
[182] Don Jos Mara Prez Vegas (1902-1936) was appointed Rector of the Sanctuary of
Cerro de los Angeles in 1935. He had a friendship with Saint Josemara and assisted him in the
ascetic means of formation the Founder taught some priests. He died a martyr.
[183] See Testimony of ngel Prez Vegas, AGP, APD T -0142, p. Two.
[184] Testimony of Manuel Snchez Prez, AGP, APD T- 0431, p. 6.
[185] See Testimony of William Gesta Piquer, AGP, APD T- 0143, p. 1.
[186] Testimony of ngel Prez Vegas, AGP, APD T -0142, p. Two.
[187] Testimony of Manuel Snchez Prez, AGP, APD T- 0431, pp. 8-9.
[188] Ibid., P. 9.
[189] Ibid., P. 8.
[190] Ibid.
[191] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together, 8- V - 1983. AGP, Library, P01, 1983,
105.
[192] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together, 4 -III- 1988. AGP, Library, P01, 1988,
304. By our Father" he refers to Saint Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer.
[193] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family gathering, 16 -VI- 1976. AGP, Library, P01, 1976, 925.
[194] Del Portillo, ., 851 Note the Personal Notes of St. Josemaria Escriva n . 1131, cit. in
Vzquez de Prada, A., The Founder of Opus Dei, vol. I, p. 515.
[195] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, p. 14.
[196 ] The quoted phrase comes from the journal of Luchana / Ferraz, p. 33 ( AGP, D- 17087
APD ), which was the first center of Opus Dei. By order of the Founder from the beginning of the
57

Work, in all centers there a "diary" in which the apostolic family events and activities are noted.
In the following pages of this biography we refer to the papers of other centers, because they
are important sources of information. At the time of the assault, lvaro still frequented the
residence. It is possible that Manuel Perez, who met Saint Josemara a month after that event, I
recounted that in a gathering, impressed by the strength of his friend Alvaro, and was entered in
the journal of the center .
[197] Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0609, p. 7.
[198] Testimony of Count Antonio Mestre, AGP, APD T -0582, p. 1.
[199] See Testimony of Manuel Prez Snchez on St. Josemara, 1976, AGP, sec A, 100-45
leg, carp 1.
[200] On the apostolic work of Saint Josemara with university students in those years, cf.
Vazquez de Prada, A., The Founder of Opus Dei, vol. I, op. cit., pp. 474-484.
[201] See Testimony of Manuel Prez Snchez on St. Josemara, 1976, AGP, sec A, 100-45
leg, carp 1.
[202] Cf File School for Assistants of Public Works, AGP, APD -6008 D -4 and D -6120 .
[203] Cf Redondo, G., Church History ..., op. cit., vol. I, p. 412 ; Carcel Orti , V., The Great
Persecution: Spain, 1931 to 1939, Planeta, Barcelona 2000, p. 99-102.
[204] Cf Bolloten, B., The Spanish Civil War: Revolution and counterrevolution, Alianza, Madrid,
1989, p. 73-89.
[205] Cf Request to enroll in the 1st year ( Madrid, 29 -IX- 1934) and registration for 1 year
(Madrid, 30 -IX- 1934), AGP, APD D -6009 -13 and D- 6009-14.
[206] Cf File School for Assistants of Public Works, AGP, D -6120 APD.
[207] Cf Staff at the Bureau of Public Engineers, original works in the archives of the Secretariat
of the Ministry of Construction and Urban Development, Madrid File: Docket 37604; photocopies
certified in AGP, D -6148 APD.
[208] Cf Request for a position for Assistant of Public Works in Madrid (Madrid, 28 -XII- 1934),
AGP, APD D -6148 -3; Job for serving in the Headquarters Committee on Bridges and
Foundations (Madrid, 16-III-1935), AGP, D -6148 APD -5.
[209] Cf Appointment as Assistant eventually bound for the Delegation of the Tajo Water
Services (Madrid, 16 -III- 1935), AGP, D -6148 APD -4.
[210] Cf Driving license, AGP, D- 18812 APD.
[211] Testimony of Ricardo Castelo Viedma, AGP, APD T -0140, pp. 1-2.

58

[212] See St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, critical edition prepared by Pedro Rodriguez,
Scepter, Madrid, 2002, commentary to paragraph 481, p. 618. During the same month, St.
Josemara had published Spiritual Considerations and Holy Rosary, and three months later, in
December, was appointed Rector of the Board of Santa Isabel, where he set up his home (cf.
Vzquez de Prada, A., The Founder of Opus Dei, vol. I, op. cit., pp. 519-532).
[213] Testimony of Manuel Snchez Prez, AGP, APD T- 0431, p. 11.
[214] Ibid.
[215] Del Portillo, , Remarks on a 2 -X- 1975 family get-together. AGP, Library, P01, 1975,
1637.
[216] Ibid.
[217] Cf Vazquez de Prada, A. , The Founder of Opus Dei, vol. I, op. cit., pp. 533-549.
[218] He earned the rating of "Good: I cf. Registration Registration for the 1st year (Madrid, 30 IX- 1934) and classification and qualification at the end of the course" (Good) , AGP, D -6009
APD -14.

59

Chapter 4: The reason for my life


1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

The Call of God


First Steps in Opus Dei
A few weeks in La Granja
Spiritual Growth
The First Six Months of 1936

"From the beginning of Opus Dei in 1928 - St. Josemaria explained - my preaching has been
that holiness is not something for the privileged few; rather all paths of the earth can be divine,
all states, all professions, all honest tasks." [219] "The ascetical struggle in the Work revolves,
as a door on a hinge, around professional work, whatever it may be. Any human task is
sanctifiable. There is no work that we cannot convert into an instrument for holiness, because
human work is the fulfillment of a command of God: everything can be sublimated."[220]
"I dare not say - taught the Founder vividly which is more pleasing to God: the work of a
professor at the Sorbonne, or that of the village barber. I do not know which is more pleasing to
the Lord: it will depend on the rectitude of intention, on the self-giving - which is to freely say
yes to God -, on the spirit of sacrifice with which it is carried out, the spirit of sacrifice which
drives one to put the last stone to the task, to finish up to the last detail for love."[221]
There is no doubt that apart from the Catholic faith, the encounter with Opus Dei was the most
important event in the life of Alvaro del Portillo. That call to serve God in the middle of the world,
in apostolic celibacy, through the fulfillment of the ordinary duties of a Christian - spiritual,
familial, professional, social - is the indelible mark that characterized his entire existence. In
studying his life, it is clear that one ought to distinguish between what happened before and
after July 7, 1935.
1. The Call of God
Although they had not seen each other since March, on July 6, 1935 Alvaro went to the DYA
Residence in order to bid the Founder of Opus Dei farewell before leaving for La Granja with his
parents and siblings. He saw that decision as an impulse of divine Providence. "That priest had
made an impact on me: it was obviously a thing from God. And when I was about to leave
Madrid, before the summer, it occurred to me: I'll say goodbye to that priest who was so nice. I
went, although I had not spoken to him for more than four or five minutes previously. He
received me and we chatted at a leisurely pace about many things. Afterwards he told me:
tomorrow we have a day of recollection it was Saturday why dont you stay and attend it
before going out for the summer?' [222]
The next day, Sunday, July 7, he attended the recollection. He remembers that Saint Josemara
preached "on the love of God and love of the Virgin" [223], and the latter moved him deeply: "I
had not ever heard anyone speak of God so strongly, with so much love of God, with so much
60

faith."[224] Later on, on several occasions over the years, he would narrate candidly how, after
hearing these meditations, he had been left on fire [225].

Figure 17: Alvaro del Portillo was 21 when he sought


admission to Opus Dei. Photo credits: Saxum:
Remembering Alvaro del Portillo

No evidence is preserved of the conversation on


the 6th or of the recollection on the 7th, but we can
assume that in one way or another the Founder
would explain to him the core of the message that
God wanted to convey to men through Opus Dei.
"We have come to tell, with the humility of one who
knows himself a sinner and of little worth - homo
peccator sum (Luke V , 8) we say with Saint Peter , but with the faith of one who leaves himself to be
guided by the hand of God, that holiness is not a
thing for the privileged few: that the Lord is calling
all of us, that from everyone he expects Love:
everyone, wherever they are; everyone, whatever
their state in life, profession, or job. Because that
normal, ordinary, apparently unimportant life can
be a means to holiness: (...) all the ways of the
earth can be used for an encounter with Christ."
[226] "For the vast majority of men and women, to
be a saint implies sanctifying work, sanctifying
themselves in their work, and sanctifying others
through work, and thus finding God along the path
of their lives." [227]

From that moment on, lvaro identified himself with


this spirit which reminds men and women of all
walks of life to look for Christian perfection in everyday life, sanctifying work and the ordinary
circumstances of each one, to contribute to promotion of the growth of Christ's kingdom both in
breadth and depth. In the later writings and preaching of Bishop del Portillo we will find a faithful
echo of the Founders teachings. He wrote in an article in 1966: "Those who live given over to
hard work should, by the same human labor, seek their own perfection, help their colleagues, try
to improve the whole society and creation, but also try to imitate Christ with his active charity:
He whose hands were exercised in a job, and continues to work for the salvation of all in union
with the Father... All the faithful, therefore, in any condition of life, job or circumstance, and
precisely by means of this, can sanctify every day as long as everything is received with faith
from the hand of the heavenly Father." [228]
Without delay, he requested for admission to Opus Dei from St Josemaria on the same day
[229]. His soul was well disposed to receive God's grace. That was how he described, later on,
what happened on that morning of July 7, 1935: "The Holy Spirit opened my eyes: He made use
of that day of recollection preached by our Founder in order to place in my heart a new
restlessness which brought about the beginning of my real life." [230]

61

Alvaro was always convinced of the supernatural character of his decision: "It obviously was a
divine call because the idea of a vocation of that kind had not even remotely occurred to me: I
thought only of studying engineering and starting a family." [231] According to him, God sent
him an "irresistible" grace (una gracia tumbativa): "When I was twenty-one, I met our Father.
That's when he spoke of the Work, and I received that overwhelming grace that pushed me to
respond: Lord, I am here, I want to be in the Work." [232]
Having comprehended the essential features of the specific charism of Opus Dei, he felt
strongly the divine call to follow that message of radical commitment to the pursuit of holiness in
the world in his own state in life. In this generous and immediate response there was no
precipitation: aside from his age at 21 years old he was quite mature -, he had always stood
out as someone particularly thoughtful and cautious about making major decisions.
He summarized the process as "the story of the trusting and persevering prayer of our Founder,
who for about four years (even without knowing me, and just because one of my aunts had told
him) had prayed that the Lord would grant me this truly great grace, the greatest gift (after faith)
that God could have given me." [233]
St. Josemara accepted his request for admission immediately, expressing full confidence in the
human and Christian maturity of that student, for whom he had been praying and mortifying for
so long: more than four years. [234]
For lvaro the assimilation of the spirit of Opus Dei was not only a conceptual process, but a
practical one as well. Since that July 7, he tried to carry out this desire to sanctify the situations
and circumstances of his everyday life with total commitment [235]. He worked assiduously,
seeking to perform his tasks with perfection, and he exercised the human virtues for God's sake
and others.
At that time, there also arose in lvaro an intense filial feeling towards the Founder of Opus Dei,
which lasted throughout his life, and without which it would not be possible to understand his
later life as an engineer, priest, and bishop. With the call to do Opus Dei on earth, Alvaro
received a specific charism: a keen awareness of that mission that God asked of him, which
could only take place if he lived completely united to the mind and heart of the Founder. He was
convinced that his identification with Jesus Christ could only come about by faithfully following
St. Josemaria: the Founder was what one would call the "official channel."
In 1992, the Italian journalist, Cesare Cavalleri, asked him in an interview about this bond of
filiation. His answer sums up the supernatural bond which united him to St. Josemara: With a
holy pride, I consider myself, though undeserving, a spiritual son of the Founder and an
insolvent debtor. Among many things, I owe him my vocation of total surrender to God in Opus
Dei; I owe him the call to the priesthood, an ineffable gift of the Lord, and the constant impulse
to constantly serve the Church, with a total commitment to the Roman Pontiff, the bishops in
communion with the Holy See, in the spirit of obedience and of union to the Hierarchy of the
Church as is proper of spirituality of the Work. Therefore, the filial and immense esteem which I
have unites me to the Father not only because he gave me an example of heroic sanctity, but

62

also because he was the instrument the Lord used for me to find my vocation, which is the
reason of my life,"[236]
2. First Steps in Opus Dei
On July 7, 1935, lvaro del Portillo decided to delay his planned summer vacation to begin his
spiritual formation with St. Josemara in Madrid. The Founder of Opus Dei personally took
charge of teaching the first steps to this new son of his, who in turn immediately understood
the supernatural quality of the priest teaching him. "In 1935, when I had just met him, I saw
clearly that he was thinking only of the Lord and how to serve Him. He put all his five senses in
everything he did, but at the same time, he was completely immersed in God. He lived the
advice that he used to give: to keep ones feet on the ground and ones head in heaven, i.e., to
put all our powers into play in fulfilling the duties of each day, in professional work, in the priestly
ministry, but always with our thought in the Lord." [237]
St. Josemarias love for the Eucharist made a particular impact on him. "I remember that in 1935
he regretted not being able to install a richer tabernacle in the chapel of the Residence of
Ferraz; it was a very poor tabernacle which he had borrowed from Mother Muratori. It grieved
him to officiate at the Solemn Exposition with a monstrance of little value, of iron: its only silver
portion was the locket holding the consecrated Host. Since then Ive heard him say that he
wanted to use rich objects for the worship of the Lord, even at the cost of running out of money
for food." [238]
He soon also saw that the Founder practiced a constant and heroic penance, as an expression
of his love for God and as a means to advance the divine mission that had been entrusted to
him: "When I met him, one of the things that caught my attention was a light-colored wooden
box which was on his desk. Once I asked him what was inside. He opened it and showed it to
me: it was bitter herbs. He invited me to take a little with my finger, and to try it. It was a
mortification he did from time to time." [239]
St. Josemara began to give him some one-on-one talks on the basic theological, ascetic and
apostolic features of Opus Dei: "Although he was exhausted by all the work he had to do, he did
not hesitate to start a series of formation classes just for me: one more addition to the already
numerous activities that filled his days." [240] "He explained the spirit of the Work, and advised
me specifically to pray many aspirations, spiritual communions..., and offer abundant small
mortifications throughout the day." [241]
The Founders recommendations, the result of his inner life and supernatural prudence,
included even seemingly minute details, "Upon telling me about aspirations2, he explained:
There are spiritual authors who recommend counting the number of aspirations they say during
the day, and they suggest using beans, chickpeas or something like that, putting them in one
pocket and moving them to the other every time they raise their heart to God in prayer. In this
way they could know exactly how many they have said, and see if they have progressed that

Aspirations are short prayers directed to God or the saints.

63

day or not I do not recommend it, because there is also the danger of vanity or pride. It would
be better that you make your Guardian Angel do the accounting." [242]
In the task of giving spiritual formation to his children, the Founder read and commented on
some of his foundational writings to them. Specifically, in those months he commented on the
Instructions on the supernatural spirit of the Work [243]. This document, dated 1934, affirmed
that the apostolic vision they were carrying out was not a human endeavor, but a supernatural
one, divine in its origin and nature, not imagined by someone for a particular moment in history
or brought up to help resolve specific contemporary problems, such as the precarious situation
in which the Church found itself in Spain since 1931[244]. By the will of God, Opus Dei would
last as long as there were men on earth.
The purpose of St. Josemara in writing this text was to forge in the hearts of his children these
three considerations: "1) The Work of God comes to fulfill the Will of God; therefore, have a
deep conviction that heaven is bent on its being done. 2) When the Lord God plans a work in
favor of men, He first thinks of the people He would use as instruments... and He grants to them
the necessary graces. 3) That supernatural conviction in the divine origin of this endeavor will
eventually fill you with such an intense enthusiasm and love for the Work that you will feel very
fortunate in sacrificing yourselves to bring it about." [245]
Over the years, Bishop del Portillo would recall the impact that the Founder's faith and words
produced in his soul, words that sounded, since those early times, as if almost everything was
already done. "He spoke of Opus Dei projected over the centuries, despite the fact that we were
very few. Our Founder contemplated what we are seeing now: the full blossoming of all the
possibilities that, even then, Opus Dei already had." [246]
As time went on, he
strove to fulfill with love
the spiritual practices
that formed part of the
plan of the spiritual life of
the members of the
Work: Mass and
Communion, half an hour
of prayer in the morning
and afternoon, rosary,
Figure 18: Jose Maria Hernandez Garnica later became a priest and began Opus Dei in
etc. He also strove to
many places in Europe: England, Ireland, France, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium
share with the people
& Holland. Photo credits: opusdei.org.in
around him the gift he
had received from God. One such person was a former fellow student at the Colegio del Pilar,
Jos Mara Hernndez Garnica [247].
Jos Mara already frequented the DYA Residence, and some members of Opus Dei had
suggested to him to consider a possible vocation; but he had not given an affirmative answer.
lvaro also brought up the subject with him, and Hernndez Garnica, using plain perhaps
even blunt language, blurted out a comment to this effect: "Now, even the solid mass of del
64

Portillo, who previously did not open his mouth, does nothing but insist that I decide to be in the
Work." [248] The truth is that Jose Maria "resisted for a few days because, on July 29, he
wrote the Founder asking for admission to Opus Dei.
3. A few weeks in La Granja
On July 30, 1935 lvaro formally renewed his commitment to Opus Dei [249], and twenty days
later left for La Granja de San Ildefonso to spend a few weeks with his parents and siblings.
Hardly had he arrived there than he began a written correspondence with the Founder. Thus,
we have documents that are an eloquent testimony to his sense of responsibility in living the
spiritual obligations demanded by his vocation, his zeal for souls, his deep sense of filiation to
St. Josemaria, and his fellowship with other members of Opus Dei.
In the first letter, written the day after his arrival in La Granja, he writes: "Dear Father, I arrived
when they were about to start the festivities of San Luis, with their great horse show, cucaas3,
etc. Incidentally, as my family did not know what time I was arriving, they did not wait for me,
and I went to look for them at a church where a ceremony was being celebrated; there I found
Enrique Alonso- Martinez, whom I had met before with my family. Is this a sign that he will
become our brother? I talked to him for quite some time yesterday and today; the fellow is
excited about the Work (...). As you advised me, I try to unite myself with the Blessed
Sacrament and stay as long as possible accompanying Him there. Needless to say, although I
may not be able to go home to Ferraz, my affection for its spirit, which is mine, is not flagging,
but rather increasing. I beg you to pray that my enthusiasm to continue increase and my
perseverance not falter. Every night we have the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a
benediction, and the recitation of the Holy Rosary to which almost the entire village comes."
[250].
Eleven days afterwards he took up his pen once more. On this occasion, he opened with
simplicity some of his spiritual struggles, which show the delicacy of his soul and his desire to
grow in humility: "Dear Father I write you with great desires to go there and be with you and all
my brothers: I would very much like to attend the Tuesday get-togethers and breathe the
atmosphere of our home. (...) I beg you and all my brothers to pray much for me because truly
God does not abandon us if we will not forsake Him. But that rascal, the devil, has been
cunningly contriving to suggest a temptation, of pride above all, even at the time that Ive just
received Holy Communion! He tells me that those acquaintances of ours, who see me spending
a few moments of thanksgiving and with much fervor, think well of me, and a series of other
nonsense... I beg you to give me advice as soon as possible." [251]
The Founder of Opus Dei helped him with his counsels at the time that, even in those early
days, he was already leaning on lvaro to inspire the self-giving and the generosity of the other
members of the Work as well as the young people who frequented the apostolic activities. This
is shown in a brief paragraph in the September issue of Noticias, a modest mimeographed
newsletter that was sent to residents and university students who frequented the DYA
Residence. There, St. Josemaria reports that Alvaro del Portillo, "while in La Granja, is devoting
3

Cucaa: a game using a greasy pole

65

himself with some success to the famous fishing which St. Mark talks about in Chapter I of the
Gospel." [252]
He likewise directed his apostolic zeal to his parents and siblings. Her younger sister, Teresa,
recalls that "he read to Carlos and me the Story of a Soul (of St. Therese) and then we prayed
a decade of the Rosary. On the farm he would take me on long walks through the pine trees,
holding me by the hand, and told me things about St. Therese... He led me to God in a way that
was accessible to me, a little girl."[253]
As God had called him to celibacy, he stopped dealing with girls. He certainly didnt run away
from them when he coincided with them for whatever reason and spoke with them with
naturalness if the occasions called for it. However, he avoided frequent dealings with them, or
chatting with someone alone, and generally anything that could jeopardize his decision to live
apostolic celibacy. From the first moment, he was strict in this area, especially when some
women - in family get-togethers where he would find himself - behaved a little too coyly towards
him. He was kind and polite, but didnt give in to sentimentality. Without acting strange, he was
sober in his words and greetings. [254]
The Christian life requires perseverance and spiritual struggle especially if one does not
experience sensible consolations that move one to continue in the struggle to love God. During
those weeks, Alvaro went through a moment of difficulty of this kind, with the necessary
prudence and discretion, as St. Josemara wrote in the Way, point 994 which reads: "My
enthusiasm is gone, you wrote to me. You must not work from sheer enthusiasm, but out of
Love: conscious of duty, which is self-abnegation."[255]
Years later, Bishop del Portillo explained who wrote those words quoted by St. Josemaria: "Lets
now go to that point in the Way...: recall the letter from a man - a bit thoughtless - who, upon
asking for admission to Opus Dei, was filled enthusiasm. He followed this path not from any
merit of his own, but rather because the Lord God gave him so much grace. Afterwards, when
he was a little well-formed, his Father God took away the enthusiastic feelings, and told him: its
sufficient that you act with your head and with the love for the Lord that you already have. And
that man was a little sorry: what a pity! - he said to himself -, now I have to go a little against the
grain. And he entrusted himself to the Father. The one who wrote that rather silly sentence
was I..."[256]
In 1994, he recalled the event again, adding new nuances: "Once I wrote to Father that the
sensible enthusiasm had gone, even though it seemed to me that I saw God in all events.
Afterwards, enthusiasm already gave way to something more thoughtful, more serious, of a
different style: because it was the same love, but showing itself in another way, with greater
maturity and security. This does not mean that the initial enthusiasm was not serene, but maybe
in the beginning the Lord helped me by granting me a special joy. [257]
St. Josemaria wrote that point in the Way near the end of 1938 [258], while in Burgos. Naturally,
there was no way to identify the protagonist of the story. Alvaro himself, even though he would
have read it several times, did not realize that the letter referred to was his, until the Founder
himself revealed it [259]. Later on, when these details were known, the Founder clarified that the
66

point did not mean Alvaro was going through an internal crisis; rather he chose to write it down
because he thought it could help other souls [260]. In any case, the feeling of "loss of
enthusiasm" was short-lived, and it was a situation that God used to purify and make his selfgiving supernaturally mature.
In late September, lvaro was back in Madrid to continue his work at the Ministry of Public
Works, to begin his second year as a Civil Engineering student, and to deepen that "real life"
which he had taken on a little more than two months previously by the side of the Founder,.
There were only ten more months, until the entire Spain would clash in a bloody civil war.
4. Spiritual Growth
By October 1935 Opus Dei had been in existence for seven years. The DYA Residence, having
overcome the crisis of the previous academic year, was going through a period of expansion. As
a result of announcements sent to many provincial secondary schools and advertisements
posted in the national press, the number of applications exceeded the number of available beds
in the house of #50 Ferraz Street. And since they could not rent the floor they had left the
previous year, they opened an annex in #48 Ferraz, the adjoining house [261].

Figure 19: St. Josemaria depended a lot on Alvaro in running the DYA
Residence. Photo credits: Opus Dei (Information Office)

Alvaro continued to reside at


home with his parents, but was
in the DYA Residence
frequently. On October 23 he
renewed once more his
commitment in Opus Dei until
the following March 19 [262]. He
strove to practice the teachings
of the Founder on the
sanctification of work - "one hour
of study, for a modern apostle, is
an hour of prayer" [263]
spending his time remarkably
well. In the morning, he attended
classes for his second year of
Civil Engineering and in the
evening worked as Assistant of
Public Works [264].

Aside from the activities already mentioned above, he also supported the Founder in the
efficient running of the Residence. This was an assistance that included everything: when
necessary, he took care even of menial tasks in the house. In 1974, during one of his
catechetical trips to South America, St Josemaria recalled before a group of his daughters that
in the DYA Residence "Don Alvaro and I used to wash dishes and now we can say that we
broke a quite a few unintentionally. The worst were the floors: they broke our backs! Back
then, there were no appliances." [265]

67

He continued with the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, as a note from him on Sunday
November 3, 1935 shows. "A few of us went to teach catechism in the Orphanage of San
Rafael." [266]. He also participated regularly in the formation classes that St. Josemaria gave to
groups of college students. From December 26 to 31 he attended a spiritual retreat preached by
the Founder [267].
In the Christian life, the spirit of penance plays an irreplaceable role as a means of purification,
spiritual growth, and apostolic fruitfulness. Alvaro, who was learning from St Josemara, began
along this path with determination. So one day, Doa Clementina entered his room and found
him sleeping on the floor, as mortification; she was impressed. [268]
His growth in the theological and moral virtues was evident to everyone who encountered him
from day to day. Jos Mara Hernndez Garnica expresses a certain admiration by which he
confirmed the spiritual progress that Alvaro achieved in those early months of self-giving. "They
are the fruits of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially piety and love of God. That impression can
be summed up in one idea: bringing things to their ultimate consequences" [269].
Another witness who lived during those years, Jos Ramon Herrero Fontana, recalled "the
availability of lvaro for what the Founder of the Work wanted, or for doing some small service
to others. His availability was simple, natural, and he did you favors without your realizing. He
was rather quiet and he usually only spoke when he had to say a favorable word or a joke, if it
would please someone. I never heard him speak ill of anyone."[270].
Manuel Perez, who knew Alvaro well since they were together serving the parishioners of San
Ramon in Vallecas, noted that "since 1935, his behavior was affable, and was characterized by
a lot of simplicity (...). He had a very dignified demeanor and was very kind to everyone, trying
to deal with many friends. He never gave his opinion if not asked. In short: he stood out by his
sincere humility. There was nothing affected about him and he did not try to draw unnecessary
attention to himself even while helping his friends, however he could, to the best of his
capacity." [271]
A manuscript has been preserved, written most probably around 1935 or in early 1936, which
shows, in its simplicity, how lvaro grew in apostolic spirit. It shows how he asked himself:
"What kind of apostolate can I do with my fellow students?" [272]. Then on three sides of paper,
he talked about the need to start forming oneself in the spiritual life and in exceling in ones
profession so that he could deal with a few others, who in turn would become apostles, and thus
enable him to reach more souls [273]. In short, he showed that he had internalized the apostolic
spirit he had received from the Founder, and had asked - with a sense of personal
responsibility- about the best way to implement them. [274]
His family also witnessed the commitment of lvaro to live the Christian virtues, especially
charity. His younger brother, Carlos, remembers one incident very well. One day he was playing
with some engineering drawings which Alvaro had worked on for a whole year, and in the
process he completely destroyed them. "My mother, seeing that mess, got very upset and said
something like You'll see when your brother Alvaro gets home and see what you've done,
spoiling what hes toiled over for so long. Naturally I waited for his arrival with a lot of
68

trepidation. I waited for him to scold me, or yell at me, or even hit me as a result of his irritation...
But none of that happened. He came home; he looked at what was now only a former project;
he called me; I came trembling; he sat me on his knee, and then with the serenity that
characterized him, began to explain how much time he had spent doing that project, and how I,
for having played where I should not have, had destroyed everything. I was amazed: instead of
hitting me, what he did was teach me the importance of that work, so I would learn to be more
careful in the future! It may seem like an insignificant anecdote. But I have never forgotten it."
[275]
There were also some health problems during these months. His sister Pilar remembers that he
suffered an attack of rheumatism and he went to visit Dr. Gregorio Maran, who was the
leading specialist in Spain at that time. The "medicine" that was prescribed seemed really funny
for the whole family: chopped garlic soaked in a few drops of alcohol [276].
5. The first six months of 1936
The social situation in Spain increasingly got worse. On January 7, 1936, the President of the
Republic, Nicetas Alcal Zamora, had dissolved the Parliament and called for general elections
in February. The pre-election atmosphere was so tense that St. Josemara had to leave his
home in the Patronato de Santa Isabel, because it had become a dangerous place for a priest.
He moved to the DYA Residence while his mother and sister settled in a pension house in Calle
Mayor [277].
On February 16, the polls proclaimed the victory of the Popular Front, and three days later
Manuel Azaa took over the new, even more radical government. As feared, a new especially
antireligious violence began. The propaganda against the Church was furious. Hundreds of
churches were burned and sacrilegious theft, profanity, and violent actions against the clergy
multiplied.
The tension was such that the Founder seriously entertained the idea of being killed because of
his priesthood. Almost forty years later, Alvaro recalled that "one day the Father was waiting in
the dining room of the Ferraz Street Residence. When I entered, he said, You see how things
are, they can kill me at any time because I am a priest. Do you freely commit to carry the Work
forward if they kill me? 'Yes, Father,' I said with no hesitation."[278]
That affirmative answer carried with it a fully awareness of what he was committing to. This is
proven, for example, by a conversation between Alvaro and Juan Jimenez Vargas [279] in July
of that year, a few days after the outbreak of the Spanish civil war. They were talking to each
other about the events of those days, wondering how everything would end. If the communist
revolution succeeds - they said -, we cannot continue here and we will have to start a residence
abroad. [280] Both had very much committed themselves to doing the Work of God.
On March 19, 1936, lvaro renewed his incorporation into the Work and this time for life [281]. It
was a brief ceremony, simple and solemn at the same time, in which St. Josemara, then, had
the custom of kissing the feet of his spiritual children as he spoke the words of Sacred Scripture:

69

quam speciosi pedes evangelizantium pacem , evangelizantium bona [ 282] (How beautiful
are the feet of those who preach peace, those who preach the good news !) .
Throughout his life lvaro preserved indelible memories of that moment, and that scene came
flooding to his mind on June 27, 1975, when he was praying over the body of the Founder.
Before the burial, he knelt and kissed the feet of St. Josemaria. Later, he explained why he did
this gesture: I remembered that the Father had kissed me, and so I kissed back. How could I
forget? It was not just a gesture. It was not just an expression of loyalty and unity. Even more, it
was to renew my self-giving." [283]
The academic year got on, and by the end of March lvaro made one of those trips required by
the curriculum in the School of Civil Engineering. Very early on in their courses, students were
accompanied by their teachers to visit major construction works, installations, or workshops. On
that occasion, they headed towards the northern provinces of Spain.
During those days, he wrote to St. Josemara on several occasions, and his letters highlight - as
those written in La Granja in the previous summer - a sincere determination to be faithful to the
plan of life in the circumstances that sprang naturally from the rhythm of ordinary life. Likewise,
these letters vibrated with apostolic zeal. "All is going well for me, except the visit [to the
Blessed Sacrament], which is really very difficult to do, and evening prayer, which I could not do
either. I cannot sleep much because I have to wake up early; the other day I went to bed at 1
a.m. only to get up at 6 a.m. This, together with the distance I have to walk and the change of
the schedule, is enough to exhaust anyone. Its possible that tomorrow, I may go to Begoa to
hear Mass, if I have time; then at 9 we are summoned here in Bilbao to go to Sestao. If it were
all up to me, Id certainly prefer not going, so that I can do my prayer and hear Mass here; if I go
to Begoa, probably I will not have time to do the prayer." [284].
Upon his return in early April he received new responsibilities. For months, the number of
members of Opus Dei had grown, as well as the fellows involved in apostolic work. At the same
time, the Founder felt the need to start expanding outside Madrid. In February, he announced
plans to start in Valencia and Paris; in April he traveled to the capital of Turia, with the intention
of opening a residence for university students. [285]
In late June, it appeared that those desires would soon become reality. In Madrid, they prepared
to transfer the Student Residence to another house with better conditions located in No. 16
Ferraz Street. Meanwhile, Alvaro finished his second year of Civil Engineering with a grade of
Good [286]. In the first week of July, DYA began moving [287], but on the 13th an event
shocked Madrid and the entire Spain: Jos Calvo Sotelo, one of the royalist leaders of the
parliamentary opposition, was assassinated by members of the security forces for public order.
Perhaps it was the drop that filled the cup to overflowing: on July 18, the deep social and
political fracture that began in the country many months previously, finally gave way to the socalled "National Uprising".
When the news came that the African troops had revolted against the Government, Alvaro was
working on the design of the new building of the Residence [288]. The streets of the capital
were taken over by militants who, with fists raised, threatened pedestrians with guns.
70

Thereafter, religious persecution became even more open and bloody. lvaro began a long
period - more than two years - that would require him to manifest his heroism on many
occasions.
FOOTNOTES:
[219] St. Josemaria, Conversations with Monsignor Escriv, Scepter, 1996 Madrid, 18th ed., N.
26.
[220] St. Josemara, Remarks at a family get-together, 19 -III- 1964: AGP, Library, P01, 1986,
29.
[221] Ibid.
[222] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together, 25 -IX- 1975. AGP, Library, P01, 1975,
1637.
[223] Ibid. 1638.
[224] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together, 7- VII- 1985. AGP, Library, P01, 1985,
871.
[225] Cf Del Portillo, , Remarks on a 2 -X- 1975 family get-together: AGP, Library, P01, 1975,
1638.
[226] St. Josemara, Letter 24 -III- 1930, n. 1 cit. in Vzquez de Prada, A. , The Founder of
Opus Dei , vol. I, op. cit., p. 201.
[227] St. Josemaria, Conversations ..., op. cit., n. 55.
[228] Del Portillo, ., The laity in the Church and in the world in Nuestro Tiempo, n . 148 [X1966], p. 3-22.
[229] See Letter of request for incorporation into Opus Dei (Madrid, 7- VII- 1935), AGP, APD C350707-01.
[230] Del Portillo, ., Letters , vol. 1, n . 107.
[231] Del Portillo, . , Cit. in Chronological -spiritual Profile of the Servant of God Bishop Alvaro
del Portillo, Bishop Prelate of Opus Dei and (1914-1994), Rome 2002, p. 37-38 ( AGP, Library ).
[232 ] Del Portillo, . , Homily on the occasion of his 75th birthday , 11 -III- 1989, cit., P. 287.
[233] Cit. Bernal, S., Memories of Alvaro del Portillo, op. cit., p. 14.
[234] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T- 19544, p. 24.
[235] See ibid., P. 897.

71

[236] Del Portillo, ., Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei. (Interview by Cesare Cavalleri),
Madrid, Scepter, 2001, 9th ed., P. 106.
[237] Ibid., P. 133.
[238] Ibid., P. 142.
[239] Ibid., P. 201.
[240] Ibid., Pp . 102-103.
[241] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together, 14 -II- 1976. AGP, Library, P01, 441.
[242] Del Portillo, ., Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei , op. cit. , pp . 162-163.
[243] See Testimony of Ricardo Fernndez Vallespn on Saint Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer,
1975, T - 00162, AGP series A.5, Leg. 210, Carp. 2 Exp 6.
[244] Cf St. Josemara Escriv de Balaguer, Instruction, 19, 1934, nn. 1 and 6, cit. in Vzquez
de Prada, A., The Founder of Opus Dei, op. cit., vol. I, p. 576.
[245] Ibid.
[246] Del Portillo, ., Remarks at a family get-together, 2 - 1988 -X, AGP, B.1.4 T- 881002
series.
[247] See Diary of downtown Ferraz Street, ENTRY 1 -VIII - 1935: AGP, D- 17044 APD.
[248] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T- 19544, p. 26.
[249] See Diary of downtown Ferraz Street, ENTRY 1 -VIII - 1935: AGP, D- 17044 APD.
[250] Del Portillo, ., Letter to St. Josemaria ( AGP, APD C- 350823)
[251] Del Portillo, ., Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 350903 APD . I add other paragraphs of
that letter, showing his tasks in those days: "Here I have a very quiet life, because I'm at home,
except when I go to Mass, until 12 or so, when I go out, usually to sit with a book in a place
alone, or take a walk with Enrique until two o'clock. In the afternoon, from 3 to 4:00 I lie down,
then I do meditation, using Avancini4 which my aunt has left me, since I gave the Villacastn5 to
Enrique. Im usually left alone to myself until 7:30 in the evening, at which time there is Rosary
and Exposition. At the end of those, until 9:30 or nearly so, Enrique and I take a walk together."
(ibid.)
[252] This sentence is St Josemarias in AGP, Library, P01.
[253] Testimony of Mara Teresa del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T-1000, p. 3

4
5

Nicola Avancini is a Jesuit spiritual writer of the 17 th century.


Tomas de Villacastin is another spiritual writer of the 17 th century.

72

[254] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T- 19544, p. 846
[255] St. Josemara, The Way, no . 994, op. cit
[256] Del Portillo, ., Notes of a symposium , 4 -IV- 1982 , cit. ibid. , p . 1012.
[257] Del Portillo, . , Notes of a symposium , 4 -IV- 1982, cit. ibid., AGP, P03, 1994, p. 134.
[258] See St. Josemara, The Way, op. cit. , commentary on point 994, pp . From 1011 to 1014
[259] Cf Del Portillo, ., Notes of a symposium , 28 -VIII - 1991 , cit. ibid. , p . 1012.
[260] Cf Del Portillo, ., Notes of a symposium , 19 -II- 1976 , cit. ibid. , p . 1012.
[261] Cf Vazquez de Prada, A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. I, op. cit., p. 557.
[262] See Diary of downtown Ferraz Street, Entry of 23- X - 1935: AGP, D- 17044 APD .
[263] St. Josemara, Spiritual Considerations, Cuenca 1934, 34.5 and later collected in The
Way, no. 335
[264] Cf Request to enroll in the 2nd year ( Madrid, 30 -IX- 1935) and enrollment tuition for the
2nd year ( Madrid, 30 -IX- 1935), copy in AGP, APD D -6009 -15 and D -6009 -16.
[265] St. Josemara, Remarks at a family get-together, 29 -VII- 1974. AGP, Library, P05, vol. 2
251
[266] Diary of downtown Ferraz Street, Entry 3 -XI- 1935: AGP, D- 17120 APD.
[267] See ibid., Entry 26 -XII- 1935.
[268] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, pp. 16-17
[269] Hernndez Garnica, J. M. , cit. in Chronological -spiritual Profile of the Servant of God
Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, Bishop Prelate of Opus Dei and (1914-1994), op. cit., p. 41
[270] Testimony of Jose Ramon Herrero Fontana, AGP, APD T -1252, p. 1.
[271] Manuel Prez's words have come to us through Bull Luis Prieto, who heard and noted
them personally,: cf. AGP, APD T- 0993, p. 3
[272] Del Portillo, ., Note on the apostolate , AGP, D- 19435 APD , p. 1.
[273] See ibid., Pp . 1-3.
[274] See Testimony of Jose Ramon Herrero Fontana, AGP, APD T -1252, p. 1.
[275] Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0609, p. 9.
[276] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, AGP, APD T -0138, pp. 16-17.

73

[277] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A., The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. I, op. cit., p. 578.
[278] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together. AGP, Library, P01, 1975, 1638. Also in
1975, he wrote in a letter: "in early 1936, the Father asked me one day if I die, will you continue
with the work? Very surprised, I said yes. Then I knew that the question was directed to his
other sons. They were difficult times in Spain, and the Father didnt lack reasons to fear for his
life, by the mere fact of being a priest. But all he cared about was that the Work that God's will
be fulfilled, opening to men the divine path."( Del Portillo, . , Letters ..., vol. 2, n . 61) i
[279] Juan Jimenez Vargas, then a medical student, was one of the first to apply for admission
to Opus Dei.
[280] Testimony of Juan Jimenez Vargas, cit. in Vzquez de Prada, A., The Founder of Opus
Dei, vol. II, op. cit., p. 24 .
[281] See Diary of downtown Ferraz Street, entry for March 19, 1935: AGP, D- 17120 APD .
[282] Rom 10:15 (Vulgate)
[283] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together, 25 -XII- 1979: AGP, Library, Series T791 224 B.1.4
[284] Del Portillo, ., Letter to St. Josemara, AGP, C- 360401 APD
[285] Cf Vazquez de Prada, A., The Founder of Opus Dei, vol. I, op. cit., pp. 579-580
[286] Cf Registration for the 2nd year (Madrid, 30 -IX- 1935) and rating and ranking Prom
(Good), copy AGP, D -6009 APD -16
[287] See Diary of downtown Ferraz Street, entries 1, 2 and 6 -VII- 1936: AGP, D- 17120 APD.
[288] See Diary of downtown Ferraz Street, Entry 18 -VII- 1936: AGP, D- 17120 APD.

74

Chapter 5: Civil War


1. Pursued in Madrid
a. A fugitive for three and a half months
b. A prisoner in San Anton
c. Under the Mexican flag
2. The " Legation of Honduras "
a. Five and a half months with Saint Josemara
b. The death of his father
c. The hardest stage
3. Crossing the war front
In the days following the military uprising of July 18, 1936, many thought that the conflict would
soon be resolved. On the contrary, it was only the start of a war that would nearly three years
and - according to commonly accepted statistics would claim 500,000 casualties, of which
120,000 were in the rearguard [289]. As if the huge number of human lives lost were not bad
enough, one must add the enormous damage to Spains economy that resulted from it, and
worse, the moral wounds that even today refuse to disappear from Spanish society. [290]
Within weeks, Spain was divided into
two zones: the "Republican", where
the military uprising did not occur or
failed, and the so-called "National,"
which prevailed from the outset. The
Republican zone, where Madrid was,
witnessed horrific scenes of religious
persecution, especially in the first
months of the conflict [291].
Harassment against Catholics priests, religious and lay-people was continuous. Some scholars
believe that this persecution of
Christians was the largest Western
Figure 20: Madrid, 1936. Photo credits:
http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/scw/photessay.htm

Europe had ever seen after the first


centuries of Christianity, even
considering the worst moments of the French Revolution [292]. As shown in historical records,
during the last days of July 1936, the number of victims from the clergy ran up to 861, and on
July 25 alone (the feast of St. James, patron of Spain) 95 secular priests were martyred. In
August, up to an average of 70 a day would be murdered, among whom were ten bishops. In
total, 2,077 people were murdered. In the first year of the conflict 6,500 clergymen were killed
as a result of hatred for the faith. [293].

75

As for the victims who were neither


ecclesiastics nor religious, Carcel Orti
wrote: 'it is not possible to give even
approximate figures on the number of
lay Catholics killed for religious
reasons, because reliable statistics are
not available, but there were probably
several thousands"[ 294 ]. Therefore,
from the early days of the war, to
escape summary executions which
were getting increasingly widespread,
many inhabitants of Madrid who were
known for their faith fled from the city,
or procured more or less dubious
documents that at least guaranteed
some degree of security. Many sought
refuge in embassies.
In these circumstances, the priestly
Figure 21: Spanish leftists open-fire on the statue of Christ.
work of the Founder of Opus Dei
Photo credits: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ("Red Terror")
continued unabated; he was obviously
risking his life. After what can only be called a genuine odyssey, he found refuge with his four
children - among them Alvaro - in a diplomatic building in Madrid: the Legation of Honduras.
As for Alvaro del Portillo, we can distinguish two stages of his life during the civil war. The first
and longest, was spent in Madrid all the way until October 1938, when he got through to the
"National Zone." The second stage is reckoned from the moment of his joining the army of
Franco until the end of the war. In both periods he had the opportunity to interact with St.
Josemara, but in very different circumstances. Years later, he recalled the suffering he endured
during the war which, according to him, meant a breakthrough in my interior life, because they
were used to live closely with our Founder" [295].
The more than two years that he spent hiding in the capital of Spain can be further divided into
three phases. The first covers the first eight months of the war, during which he lived in seven
different places and spent time in prison. The next corresponds to almost a year and a half
when he was granted asylum in the Legation of Honduras together with the Father and 3 others.
The third and final stage, much shorter than the rest, consists of the months since he left the
Honduran embassy until he made it into the National Zone through the war front. This chapter
focuses on these three periods.
1. Pursued in Madrid
In the afternoon of July 19, a day after the military uprising, Alvaro went to the DYA Residence.
St. Josemara, who was there with several members of the Work, urged him to return early to
his parents home, because the situation on the streets had become more dangerous by the
hour. [296]
76

On his way home, he was stopped by a patrol of militiamen who frisked him, and discovered
that he had a small crucifix in his pocket. At the time, that circumstance was enough for one to
be sent to jail or killed. Inexplicably, they didnt bother him further, and simply told him to go on
his way. [297]
Opposite The DYA Residence in Ferraz Street was the Montaa Barracks, a military
establishment which had resisted the claims of the militia to hand over their weapons until that
time. In the morning of the 20th, militants stormed the barracks. The fight was intense. Many
bullets coming from the barracks struck the facade and balconies of the Residence. St.
Josemaria and his companions had to leave the building because their lives were in serious
peril. Five days later, in the presence of the powerless Juan Jimenez Vargas, the Residence
was seized by the CNT anarchist union [298].
During the first weeks of war Alvaro continued to live with his parents, and until July 26 he
managed to attend Mass and receive Communion daily. "Today - we read in the diary of Ferraz
- is the first day that lvaro has not been able to receive Communion. He had been the only one
among us who had been able to arrange for Communion every day." [299] As the days passed,
it became the usual practice to close the churches or use them only for non-liturgical purposes.
In the morning of August 13, 1936, members of the militia stormed the building where the del
Portillo family lived. Their intention was to arrest the army captain Cristino Bermdez de Castro,
who lived in the same building, and was the son of a known general who had died the previous
year. At that time he was not there. His wife fled to the floor of the del Portillos. The assailants
came running in pursuit and entered the house with guns pointed at the residents. Doa
Clementina was at home with her children lvaro, ngel, Pilar, Teresa, and Carlos. Ramon,
Francisco, and Jose Maria, had left days before to hide in safer areas. [300]
The militants threatened the family with their weapons. Then they entered a room where lvaro
was and upon seeing them, he put something into his mouth and began chewing. Perhaps it
was a list of his friends with whom he had apostolic dealings. And you, what are you chewing?
they shouted. Paper, he said, with such aplomb and calmness, as if he was doing the most
normal thing, that the militants decided to ignore him." [301]
They then began to destroy the religious images they found, and made a list of the furniture
present. Alvaro remained serene and helped everyone remain calm. The detention lasted
throughout the morning as the militants decided to await the return of Captain Bermudez. He
was caught at noon. They also detained Ramon del Portillo when he returned home [302]. The
army captain was executed on the same day he was arrested, convicted by a "kangaroo court";
of Don Ramon, there was no news. [303]
Forced by circumstances, Doa Clementina made use of her Mexican citizenship to seek
asylum in the Mexican Embassy, where she was received with her young children. A few days
later they were transferred, with other families to the top floor of a house that was under
diplomatic protection in Velzquez Street [304].

77

Alvaro, however, could not stay with his mother and brothers because he was of military age.
Moreover, he had already decided that he could not work with those who were persecuting the
Church and trampled on the most basic human rights. Thus, he did not enlist in the army, and
he stopped going to work in the Headquarters of Bridges and Foundations [305]. These
decisions, motivated primarily by religious reasons, forced him to move from one place to
another. In the end he was arrested and interned in one of the common prisons that proliferated
in Madrid in those days.
a. A fugitive for three and a half months
With Don Ramon detained, the family home was no more secure. Alvaro moved to a small hotel
in Serrano Street, belonging to some acquaintances of his who were not there at the moment,
and in order to avoid inspections, he placed the Argentinian flag outside, as if the building
enjoyed diplomatic protection. There his brother Pepe and Juan Jimenez Vargas found refuge
[306].
After three or four weeks of hiding, it occurred to him to go to the offices of the Tagus River
Basin to ask if he was still on the payroll of the Ministry of Public Works. Not only was the
answer in the affirmative, they even gave him his back pay.
When he was done with his plan, he stopped to have a drink in La Mezquita, a famous bar in
the neighborhood. It was an absurd thing to do, because any militia patrol could stop by to ask
anyone for some documentation and arrest him right there. Later on, lvaro attributed this
decision to the Guardian Angels. "The fact is, that while there, he met Don Alvaro Gonzlez
Valds, the father of Jose Maria Gonzalez Barredo [307], who said: Thank God, Ive found you!
Do you know whos in my house? The Father! He asked me to let him rest for a moment
because can go no further; he is very tired. But the doorkeeper is not very trustworthy. Its all too
clear: we are all in danger. Well, come with me, Alvaro said. And that's how the Father went to
the Hotel Serrano, along with Alvaro and Pepe." [308] They spent the rest of September in that
hideout. [309]
In that lodging, lvaro could attend what the Founder of Opus Dei called "dry masses,"
moments which were recorded in his soul deeply. St. Josemara "followed all the rubrics of the
Mass over a small mechanical piano (a pianola), using a rosarys cross because there was
nothing else. Religious symbols were missing everywhere because those caught with them
were put in a list and stamped, and having a stamp was reason to be shot. (...) It was not really
a Mass because there was neither bread nor wine consecrated; nevertheless it was done out of
devotion. When the moment of consecration came, he simply omitted that part out of respect,
and when he got to the part of the Communion, he said a spiritual communion. The prayers that
he recited were a prayer requesting for vocations recited on the eve of the feast of St. Joseph,
which he repeated three times. The Gospel was the call of the Apostles, which he knew by
heart. That was how the dry Mass was done." [310].
During the weeks of confinement in that small hotel, the Founder of Opus Dei also found ways
for the young fellows in his company to take advantage of time. He wanted to distract them from
the tensions of those days, and form them in human virtues at the same time. Don Alvaro
78

recounted in 1976: "The Father preached a meditation and helped us to keep our day very
busy. Since we could not read or study because we lacked books, he invented things to distract
us and occupy our leisure time, which was very little anyway. For example, he taught us to play
triplet [311]. It was very sobering. Neither my brother nor John nor I knew the rules. The Father
had learned the game from his father [312]. He taught us that game, but he laid really
mischievous traps for us! He did this for two reasons: to distract us a bit, and so that we realize
that even in playing - you will have proven it in football and many other sports - self-love can
overcome us. With those traps, we learned that winning or losing didnt matter." [313]
In late September, Ramn del Portillo told them that militants were taking down detailed records
of the homes of the owners of that property they were in, and those of their relatives and
acquaintances. Hiding there, therefore, was no longer safe, and they had to leave as soon as
possible.
It was in this state of affairs that, on October 1, another event
occurred that also made a deep impression on Alvaro. He
himself recounts it to us: "The Father then told Juan Jimenez
Vargas to look for another place to hide. As my brother Pepe
and I did not know what to do, he advised us to tarry one more
day to see what would become of the situation. Meanwhile,
after several phone calls, he managed to talk to Jose Maria
Gonzalez Barredo who assured him that he could go to another
hiding place." [314]
St. Josemara left the hotel in Serrano Street to check out the
refuge offered by Gonzalez Barredo. Upon returning, he was
distraught and it showed on his face. "He greeted me and
Figure 22: Fr. Pedro Poveda,
began to mourn. Father, why are you crying? I asked. ( )
Photo credits: pedropoveda.org
I've heard that they have killed Don Lino, he said, and he told
me that in those hours, when he had wandered through the streets of Madrid, he had learned of
the murder of that priest friend, Don Lino Vea-Murguia, as well as new details about the
martyrdom of Fr Pedro Poveda [315], the founder of the Teresian Institute, a good friend of his."
[316]
But the reason that he had returned was another matter. Indeed, he had met with Jos Maria
Gonzalez Barredo at the agreed location, on the Paseo de la Castellana. Jos Mara, after
greeting him with filial affection and joy, took from his pocket a small key and gave an address
while saying, You go to that house, and stay there meanwhile. It belongs to a family friend of
mine; its located outside Madrid. The doorkeeper is someone you can trust. But how am I
going to be in that remote place? If other people come or call, what do I say? replied the Father.
That son of his, without thinking much, replied, Do not worry. There is a maid servant, a
woman who is very reliable, and can assist you in whatever you need. How old is she? Well,
twenty-two or twenty-three. So our Founder thought for a while and said: I cannot, nor want, to
stay inside that house with a young woman, day and night. I have a commitment to God, which

79

is the most important thing. I would rather die than offend God and falter in this commitment of
love. And he went to a sewer drain and dropped the key into it." [317]
On October 2, they left the little hotel [318], and for several days they moved from house to
house: first, that of Juan Jimenez Vargas, then that of Herrero Fontana, until they arrived at the
house of an old friend of the Founder, Professor Eugenio Sells. They roamed the streets of
Madrid as fugitives, without definite means of subsistence or shelter. Their only luggage was a
pajama which they wore wrapped around their waist, under their shirt and a toothbrush.
[319]
On October 6, St. Josemara became a "patient" in the clinic of Dr. Angel Suils [320] and Alvaro
returned to his parents home. While in his parents' home, on several occasions, he was visited
by Isidoro Zorzano an industrial engineer, one of the first members of Opus Dei who,
because of his Argentinian nationality, had some freedom of movement. [321] Isidoro also went
to see Juan Jimenez Vargas [322].
Shortly after, Alvaro moved to the Embassy of Finland, located on Velzquez St., three blocks
from his old school of Pilar [323]. His stay in this place was a little longer than in the others, but
it was not more than two months.
In November 1936, the army of the rebels had reached the outskirts of Madrid and the
Republican government moved to Valencia. In the capital, some groups and unions insisted that
the refugees hiding in the embassies constituted a potential danger to the Republic, a "fifth
column [324] - and they raided some of these places of refuge [325].
Specifically, on December 3 and 4, the Assault Guards besieged the Embassy of Finland, and
on the 5th entered two annex buildings [326]. All refugees were arrested and locked up in the
prison of San Antn. Among them was Alvaro del Portillo [327].
b. A prisoner in San Antn
The prison of San Antn, or "Provincial Prison No. 2 for Men", was located in the former College
of San Antn - until then run by the Escolapio Fathers - which had been confiscated by the
authorities. There hundreds of prisoners were crammed in inhumane conditions, many of whom
were killed in Paracuellos de Jarama6 in the months of November and December of that year:
these episodes are known as the "the killings of Paracuellos."
Alvaro del Portillo almost never mentioned the sufferings he endured in the civil war. One of the
rare times that he did so was in 1987, during a pastoral visit to the Philippines. He was giving a
talk to priests in the island of Cebu, and the question of one of those in the audience led him to
dwell on the Christian duty to forgive injuries. It was in this context that he described the
situation of that prison. "There was a chapel where 400 prisoners were locked in. Once, a
communist militiaman went up to the altar, kicked it, and put a cigarette butt between the lips of

Paracuellos de Jarama is a small town northeast of Madrid and very close to the Barajas International Airport
(Wikipedia).

80

a holy statue. One of those who were with me went up to the altar and removed the cigarette
butt. He was killed immediately for doing that. It was an amazing hatred of religion.
He added: "I had not been involved in any political activity (...) and they put me in jail just for
coming from a Catholic family. At that time, I was wearing glasses and one of the guards
approached me one time - his name was Petrof - and put a gun to my head and said, You're a
priest, because you wear glasses. He could have killed me at any time." [328]
During his stay in San
Anton he suffered hunger,
abuse, mental and
physical torture, and
humiliation of all kinds.
They made him eat - as
St. Josemaria would
shortly after recount to his
children in Valencia "poor son of my soul,
among all" [329], even
human excrement. His
mother and sister Pilar
Figure 23: San Anton prison where Alvaro was locked up during the civil war.
Photo credits: Saxum - Remembering Alvaro del Portillo

tried to alleviate his


condition, but it was
useless: "I brought food, which in those terrible circumstances we found very difficult to come
by: my mother had to queue for hours to buy it. And then, there in prison they acted with
complete arbitrariness. For example, one day I took a tortilla and asked a militiaman to give it to
Alvaro; instead, he ate it in front of us. When the war ended, he told us that they never delivered
what we had intended for him." [330]
On those times that they went to visit him he almost could not speak with them, "because of the
disorder in that jail and the obstacles that they placed between us. Alvaro instructed us to walk
down Fuencarral Street because the windows of his cell opened up to the sidewalk. He was
happy to see us, although he made sure that that we didnt look into his window. And he
repeated that we were not to worry about him. He lived that situation with great serenity, with
that inner peace that characterized him." [331]
Proof of that peace is a letter - the only surviving one - sent from jail to his mother, in which he
wrote: "Dear Mom: I'm in San Anton; Im fine. Theyre giving us a lot of attention. (...) The food is
very filling; I usually take two or three servings of ranch." [332]
Some have also testified how, in those difficult circumstances, he concerned himself with others
and forgot himself. An anecdote that speaks of this involves a professor in the School of
Engineering, Domingo Fernndez Mendizabal. He was taken to San Anton and one of the first
people he met upon his arrival was his student, Alvaro del Portillo. The granddaughter of
Professor Fernndez Mendizabal narrates that Alvaro asked him if he had brought his mattress,
81

"to the surprise of my grandfather who was not expecting such a question. Don Alvaro
explained that if you do not bring the mattress, you have to sleep on the floor. Very naturally
and simply, he gave my grandfather the mattress he was using until that time in prison." [333]
On January 28, 1937, he was tried and released the next day without the benefit of any
explanation, as happened when he was arrested. He had been imprisoned unjustly for two
months without any proper indictment, due process, or actual sentence. [334]
c. Under the Mexican flag
On leaving prison, he went to the premises of the Embassy of Mexico in #98 Velzquez St.,
where his mother and siblings were staying. He stayed there for a little over a month. His sister
Pilar recalls that he made use of those days to give some lessons to his younger siblings [335].
And his brother Carlos adds that "theyhelped to discipline us a little." [336]
That was when he found out that Don Ramn del Portillo was a prisoner in the jail of San Antn.
Father and son had coincided there for quite some time without seeing each other. Immediately,
Doa Clementina began negotiations with diplomatic representatives of her country to try to
have her husband released. [337] But before she could do it, lvaro was forced by the
ambassador to leave the embassy. His status as a Spanish citizen of military age made his
presence there illegal. [338]
On March 6, he moved to a small pension house, and from there sought other potential places
of refuge. Isidoro wrote in his diary that within a short time lvaro had already gone through
"eight temporary lodgings [339]. On the afternoon of March 13, through a friend of Jose Maria
Gonzalez Barredo, he was welcomed to the Legation of Honduras, located at #51 Paseo de la
Castellana. [340] Two days earlier, he had turned 23 years old.
2. The Legation of Honduras
The "Legation of Honduras" was not, properly speaking, the seat of a diplomatic mission, but
only a consular office. It was actually the home of Don Pedro Jaime de Matheu, a Salvadoran
diplomat who acted as Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Honduras. He offered,
therefore, only a "second class" diplomatic protection [341].
The day after his arrival, Alvaro had the immense joy of embracing St. Josemaria [342] who had
found refuge in this building along with some members of Opus Dei - Juan Jimenez Vargas,
Jos Mara Gonzlez Barredo and Eduardo Alastru - and his brother Santiago. They had
welcomed this protection with the hope of being evacuated from the capital within a short time
[343].
It is estimated that in Madrid at that time, there were over 13,000 refugees in the embassies and
their attachments or dependencies [344]. Two weeks after the arrival of lvaro to the Legation
of Honduras, the Republican administration gave general conditions for the evacuation of the
refugees under the commitment that these diplomatic representations would not admit, under all
circumstances, any new guests from then onwards. As a consequence the heads of the

82

different international delegations, as agreed, had to request corresponding passes for those in
their closed and detailed lists, which also had photographs of each one in them [345].
However, in the case of St. Josemara, Alvaro and his other companions, all the efforts which
they under took to be evacuated failed systematically. Hence their stay at the Legation lasted
until they were able to travel around Madrid with minimum guarantees of security. The Founder
of Opus Dei spent five and a half months locked up; lvaro was confined for a year and four
months.
a. Five and a half months with Saint Josemara
On the occasion of his 75th birthday, Bishop del Portillo recalled the first part of his stay in the
Legation of Honduras with the following words: "For several months, (...) we stayed with our
Father in a small room, and remained there all day, day after day. During that period, I saw our
Father immersed in God, serene, full of peace and confidence, knowing that the Lord does not
lose battles. At the same time, he had put his life in God's hands. And I saw him suffer, and I
saw him joyful." [346]
Pain and joy were likewise stranded together in Alvaros life during that period. He suffered
because the conditions in which he found himself were objectively hard. The Legation building
along the Paseo de la Castellana where they stayed, although spacious for a single family, was
clearly inadequate to house the nearly hundred clandestine refugees who were there [347].
Men, women, and children were forced to live within a few square meters. There were no beds;
one used mattresses spread on the pavement. Since there was only a single bathroom, each
one had to follow the strict schedule assigned to ones turn in the toilet early in the morning
[348].
Until mid-May, the founder of Opus Dei and his five companions were not given their own room.
They were then allocated a room at the end of the hallway, by the door of the back stairs. It had
probably been used in the past as a coal bunker. It was narrow, and its floor was tiled. At night
they slept on a couple of mattresses stretched out across the entire floor. During the day, they
conveniently wound them up and brought them closer to the wall; these same mattresses then
served as seats. A narrow window overlooked an inner patio so gloomy that even during the day
it was necessary to leave a lighted bulb hanging from the ceiling: weak, naked, and alone [349].
Well-preserved pencil drawings, made by Alvaro in June 1937, show the layout of that room
during the day and evening. One sketch shows the four matresses folded and placed along the
walls serving as seats in the daytime [350]. A second one shows how they arranged themselves
for sleeping on the unfolded matresses. There was another matress that was not used because
the tiny floor space left (by the other matresses) made it impossible for it to be unfolded. So a
note is jokingly written on the sketch pad that said that the matress was not as small as drawn.
[351]

83

The food shortage was


even more oppressive than
the lack of space. The only
two portions that were given
them - at noon and at night
- were extremely scarce
due to supply problems. In
many cases, they were
eating below the
subsistence level. In 1979,
in a family get-together,
Don lvaro explained that
"the food was a dish of
Figure 24: A sketch of the area in the Honduras legation where St. Josemaria and his locust beans - food that is
sons stayed. Photo credits: Saxum - Remembering Alvaro del Portillo
usually given to animals.
Aside from being soggy, they were we joked full of protein because mixed with the beans
were bugs of all colors: red, brown..." [352] Suffice it to say that in those months, the Founder of
Opus Dei lost so much weight that his mother, the first time she went to visit him, did not
recognize him if not for his voice. [353]
To these pathetic material circumstances were added the inevitable difficulties that came with
living in an overcrowded building. One of the biographers of St. Josemara has outlined an
insightful portrait of the circumstances: "The life of the refugees lacked any motivation, as they
had no idea whether or not what they were hoping for would ever come: evacuation or the end
of the war. Consequently, discouragement sapped out the energies of many until they fell into a
deep apathy. In that atmosphere they lacked even the strength needed to kill time that passed
with inexorable slowness, leaving spirits the lasting impression of boredom and emptiness. (...)
Social relations in this forced coexistence were neither pleasant nor quiet. Disagreements
occurred constantly, as well as bursts of grief or recriminations." [354]
On the contrary, for those accompanying the founder of Opus Dei, those few months were an
occasion of special intensity. St. Josemaria set up "heroically a rhythm of human and spiritual
normalcy to those days of forced confinement, which for the rest of the refugees were a cause
for distress." [355] Pilar del Portillo wrote something in this regard: "Despite the situation, they
were living in an atmosphere of serenity, supernatural sense, and joy. I remember, sometimes
my sister Tere was asked to sing them some Mexican songs quite famous at that time and
often, the Father would sing along with everyone."[356]
Indeed, Teresa and Carlos, Alvaros siblings, often came to the Legation of Honduras. Isidoro
Zorzano, who provided, when possible, for the most basic needs of the members of Opus Dei
locked up in the Consulate and their families, was in contact del Portillo. As he had been forced
to space his visits, to maintain regular contact with St. Josemara, he arranged things so that on
Tuesdays and Saturdays the youngest siblings of Alvaro could go with a message for the
Founder hidden in their shoes. The Legation of Honduras was only six hundred meters from the
premises of the Embassy of Mexico, where the children were living with their mother. Their
84

young age, eleven and nine respectively, allowed them to enter the Consulate without arousing
suspicion, and therefore, doing so posed no risk to them. [357]
Teresa says that "those visits to the Legation were enjoyable and amusing. The Father did
everything possible to entertain us, and organized, for example, races with the cockroaches
going up the pipes. Let's do races, he told us! Lets see which wins, the red or the black! He
also encouraged us to sing. I sang a Mexican song that amused him so much. Carlos
remembers that there was one among them who sang Asturian songs." [358]
The presence of St. Josemara, his supernatural faith, optimism, and good humor, transformed
that hell into a haven of peace and serenity. His example and words were an unparalleled
support for Alvaro to deepen in his life of prayer and his practice of the spirit of Opus Dei. [359]
The Founder urged them to live out a demanding plan of piety and study. In the early morning,
when other refugees had not yet awoken, he preached a meditation. As the confinement made
it impossible for them to carry their usual jobs, he exhorted them to "grow on the inside." [360]
"Maybe there comes to our minds the idea that using the talents we have received from God
always implies activity, movement. And now my life is so monotonous! How do I get the fruits of
the gifts of God in this forced break, in this darkness where I find myself? Do not forget you can
be like the snow-capped volcanoes whose ice outside starkly contrasts with the fire that devours
its entrails. Outside, yes, you can be covered with the ice of monotony, of darkness; externally
you'll look all bundled up. But inside, the fire will not cease to keep you burning, nor will you get
tired of compensating the lack of external action with an intense inner activity. Thinking about
me and all your brothers, how fruitful our inactivity will turn out to be! From this work of ours - so
poor in appearance - will arise, through the centuries, a wonderful building. [361]
St. Josemaria commented on the Gospel, speaking to them of the person and life of Christ. "His
words one of the listeners recalls sometimes serene, sometimes powerful and full of
emotion, always enlightening, descended on us and seemed to settle on our soul." [362]
After preaching a meditation the Founder of Opus Dei would celebrate Mass. He hung a crucifix
on a wall and unfolded a corporal on a suitcase. lvaro also drew that makeshift "altar" [363].
Afterwards, the unconsumed sacred species were either kept in a notecase7, which each day
each one took turns to keep so that others could take communion, or given to Isidoro Zorzano
so that that he could give Communion to members of the Work who were outside the Consulate.
[364]
lvaro was deeply edified by the spirit of penance the Founder manifested in countless acts of
service and concern for others, and in the practice of corporal mortification. "In these
circumstances, anyone - even those very generous in the service of God - would have thought
that the constant danger of death, discomfort, hungerwas enough penance to offer the Lord
(...) For anyone, even the very mortified, all that would have been enough. But the love of our
Father was more demanding; it needed to make amends, to make reparation." [365] He never
forgot the day he was shivering from fever and lying on a mattress, and Saint Josemara asked
him to cover his face with the blanket because he wanted to use the disciplines. He began to
7

The original Spanish is cartera which could mean briefcase, bag, file, notecase, pocketbook, wallet, etc.

85

hear the lashes, strong and rhythmic. Upon hearing them, he began counting them and, years
later, he said: "I was curious, and I counted the strokes. I will never forget the number: a
thousand were very strong lashes. The floor was covered with blood, but he cleaned it well
before the others entered."[366]
Its hardly surprising that during those months his sense of filiation to the Founder - which he
understood as a fundamental part of his vocation - grew further. After many years, and already
as the Prelate of Opus Dei, he confided to some of his children that in those circumstances in
which they slept huddled together in that little room, if he woke up during the night, he used to
spontaneously kiss the feet of St. Josemara, who was asleep, as a sign of obedience and
humility. [367] The holiness which he saw in the Father led him to carry out this action.
In those circumstances, he
manifested an equanimity
deeply rooted in supernatural
outlook by doing acts of
service for others and
lavishing attention to them, all
the while forgetting himself.
He faced hunger and cold
with genuine elegance and
sincere joy. He was content
with what little they had,
never complaining about the
shortage. [368]

Figure 25: Part of a sketch drawn by Alvaro del Portillo, this time showing how
they all fit in the small space allotted to them.
Photo credits: Saxum - Remembering Alvaro del Portillo

He also offered to help the


consul keep records of the
Legation [369]. The appreciation of Matheu family to Alvaro was immense, and when the
founder of Opus Dei went to Heaven, he was given the golden cup that on some occasions St.
Josemaria used as a chalice in the months that he remained hidden in that place.[370]
In that forced confinement, he strove to make the best use of time, as if they were in normal
circumstances. Following the advice of the Founder, lvaro tried to learn Japanese [371]
because he cherished the dream of one day bringing the Gospel and the spirit of Opus Dei to
the Land of the Rising Sun. He also studied German, and came to memorize all the words of a
German - Spanish [372] dictionary: I read the German with the same speed as Spanish. When
there was a word I did not know, it was useless to go look in the dictionary, because it wasnt
there. In that dictionary there were more than 30,000 words. I mean, I knew more than 30,000
words. And I did all this, because our Father urged me on. If not, I would not have done it." [373]
That commitment to learn a new language was an act of faith since - considering that it was
then impossible to even move freely in the city itself - it was without apparent basis.
The fifteen letters written by Alvaro in those months, full of good humor, are an unquestionable
testament to his inner growth at that time. For example, near the end of May, addressing the
86

members of Opus Dei who were in Valencia, he stressed on the need to stay very close to each
other and the Founder to effectively fulfill God's will. [374]
In June, he sent to Isidoro Zorzano a few lines full of supernatural outlook, of rectitude of
intention, and of abandonment to divine providence as regards the possibility of leaving the
Legation [375]. Also in June, he wrote a long letter again to Valencia which highlights his desire
to help everyone to be faithful, the need to live the communion of saints, and the importance of
caring for little things. The letter also reveals a great zeal for souls. [376]
In July, he once again addresses himself to those in Valencia, telling them about the insomnia
of the Founder, but, as always, in masked language to circumvent the wartime censorship. "At
night, when others are still awake, while lying on mattresses spread out on the floor, the
grandfather [St. Josemara] and I chat about things of the family [Opus Dei]. Indeed,
circumstances impede the progress of our undertaking [apostolate]. Everything seems to be a
drawback. The lack of financial resources, of personnel everything. However, despite his age,
Grandpa is not giving in to pessimism. He feels the pinch from the scarcity of money, just like all
of us, but he doesnt worry too much. He tells us that everything depends on how much love we
put into our work. This love, along with the faith in the success of our enterprise, dissolves all
discouragement. This is what the poor man says. But what he regrets - a concern compatible
with the hope that keeps him afloat - is the lack of personnel. We depend on everyone in the
family. We are few, we know. What could be worse than that - among the few -someone dies or
rendered useless for the company! Indeed, these possibilities, such as death, can very well be
considered also for the good of the business. [377]
In mid-June 1937, the Consul of Honduras informed St Josemaria that they could not be
evacuated through diplomatic channels. The negotiations had failed and nothing else could be
done [378]. It was a difficult setback for everyone because the confinement was increasingly
getting harder to endure.
In the following weeks, the troops belonging to the National Zone began to occupy the
Cantabrian coast and, once Santander was conquered, they expelled the Republican forces
from Asturias, incorporating the northern fringe of the peninsula to the National Zone. The
socialist government of Negrin, who in May had replaced that of Largo Caballero, lost military
superiority in terms of troops. With the two opposing forces now matched, the civil war loomed
to be a long one: the battles of Jarama (February), Guadalajara (March) and Brunete (July), had
not appreciably tilted the balance toward any one of the contenders. On July 11, the Spanish
bishops sent a collective letter to bishops around the world, which explained what had been
happening in the country since the establishment of the republic. "The invasion of churches was
sudden, almost simultaneous in all regions, and coincided with the killing of priests. Churches
were burned because they were houses of God, and priests were slaughtered because they
were ministers of God." [379]
Against this background, and driven by his desire to help anyone he could with his priestly
ministry, St. Josemara obtained documentation that identified him as an officer of the Legation
of Honduras. On August 31 he left his hiding place [380]; his brother Santiago had already done
so in the middle of the previous month [381]. A few days after St Josemaria left, Juan Jimenez
87

Vargas also moved out [382] and, finally, in late October, Eduardo Alastru [383]. Alvaro and
Jose Maria Gonzalez Barredo, however, had to remain in the Legation.
b. The death of his father
When Ramn del Portillo left the prison of San Anton - thanks to the efforts of Doa Clementina
at the Embassy of Mexico - he was in a rather precarious physical condition. "He was very ill,
haggard, emaciated: a consequence of the hardships he had gone through in prison. He must
have suffered unspeakably. (...) Quite possibly he was released because they saw he was very
sick"[384].
He developed laryngeal tuberculosis, which worsened day by day, and to which no treatment
was possible at that time [385]. Doa Clementina sent his daughters Tere and Pilar to the
Legation of Honduras, to communicate to lvaro that his father could die anytime. [386]
Meanwhile, when the founder of Opus Dei heard of the severity of the illness of Alvaros father,
he began to come regularly to the house in Velzquez Street to attend spiritually to Don Ramon
[387]. When the sick mans situation became critical, he administered the Anointing of the Sick.
The anti-religious persecution was still at its height, however, so in order to attend to the sick
man St. Josemaria had to pose as a medical assistant as he passed by the doorkeeper. Pilar
del Portillo recalls that "he wore a sort of shopkeepers overalls and brought the Holy Oils
stuffed into a syringe. He heard my fathers confession, administered Extreme Unction and gave
him Holy Communion with such piety and unction that impressed us: both for the manner he
was doing it and the situation in which he did it. It was a really heroic thing to do in those
circumstances. My father was much comforted." [388]
lvaro wanted to visit his father, but St. Josemara advised him not to because he would put
himself in a very risky situation, and "it was enough that one of the two had been exposed. This
must have been very hard for lvaro, but what the Father said - says Pilar - was the untainted
reality: anyone could betray us. For example, the cook who assisted us in the Legation of
Mexico was a politically radicalized woman, an extremist. She had a daughter named Butter,
and we always reminded the children not to tell anything about our conversations to that girl
when they played with her, because there was a real danger that she would relay anything she
heard to her mother who would then denounce us." [389]
A few weeks later, on October 8, bowing to the insistent pressure of his spiritual sons, the
Founder left Madrid and went to Barcelona, where they would try to smuggle themselves to
France through the border of Andorra, and then settle in Burgos. There they could freely resume
their apostolic activity [390]. Isidoro Zorzano decided to stay on in the capital to attend to the
other members of Opus Dei and their families.
Ramn del Portillo died on October 14. [391] Isidoro accompanied him in his last moments. We
read in his diary: "I was present in the last moments of his father's life. Not having been with his
mother will be a pain to lvaro in addition to all other trials he is experiencing; but it is not wise
to leave the Consulate." [392] Soon after, he wrote to Alvaro: "You will know through your

88

mother that I was with your father in his last moments; it was providential. At least I kept him
company in those moments. Be assured that he died a holy death."[393]
A week after the death of her husband, Doa Clementina left Madrid with her younger children.
[394] Some weeks before, the older ones - Ramn, Pilar, Jos Maria, and Angel - had already
done so, as well as their aunts Carmen and Pilar [395]. Before 1937 ended they were already all
in Burgos and at first settled in the house of Clementina sister, Lola. [396]
c. The hardest stage
Since October 1937, Alvaro del Portillo and Jose Maria Gonzalez Barredo were the only two of
the former group left in the diplomatic shelter. It is hard to imagine how trying it must have been
for Alvaro to remain in the Legation of Honduras what with his father's very recent death and
his separation from St. Josemara, his mother, and siblings. The confinement lasted for nine
months more, during which time Alvaro further purified his faith, hope, and adherence to the will
of God, especially through the exercise of the virtue of obedience.
Later that month, the government moved from
Valencia to Barcelona. Perhaps the powers in Madrid
deemed that step crucial to their success in the war. In
any case, it was an evident sign that the balance was
now tipping in favor of the "National" army. Alvaro
asked Isidoro Zorzanos approval to leave the
Legation, join the Republican army, and try to escape
to the other zone of Spain through the war front.
Isidoro's response was a resounding no. He thought it
more prudent to wait. The reasons were clear: first,
because it was known that some young people had
recently died in similar attempts [397]; in addition, after
the conquest of Bilbao, Santander, and Gijon, it was
rumored that Franco's troops were launching the final
attack in Madrid by mid- December. It then appeared
that the end of the conflict was near.
Figure 26: Isidoro Zorzano was the member of
Opus Dei left by St. Josemaria in Madrid to direct
the other members. Photo credits: alexiagb.pl

Despite impatience over his confinement, lvaro


meekly accepted the advice of Isidoro, though - as
apparent in the correspondence between the two
during those weeks - he found their isolation and physical separation from the other members of
the Work very difficult. "Dear Isidoro: Do please send an honest-to-goodness letter, one filled
with the warmth of our home. Its something which we occasionally badly need over here. Give
us close and detailed accounts of everything if not now, then some other day."[398]
In early December, Isidoro received a postcard from St. Josemaria sent from Andorra. He and
other members of the Work had successfully escaped to France through the Pyrenees. The
Founder, after a brief period in Pamplona, settled in Burgos and resumed his intense apostolic
89

work. [399] We can assume that these news, aside from giving him joy, also increased lvaros
impatience to leave Madrid to contribute his share in the expansion of Opus Dei.
That Christmas was especially difficult, and not just from the cold which, in some places in
Spain, reached as low as 20 degrees below zero. On December 15, the Republican government
attempted to change the course of the war with a major offensive in Teruel. They employed
90,000 men with strong air support, but it ended in defeat on February 22, 1938. There were
many casualties among both soldiers and civilians. It is estimated that more than 14,000
soldiers were taken prisoner.
lvaro followed these events from the Legation, and sometimes felt tempted to think that his
forced inactivity was desertion on his part. He thought that he should do more to personally
contribute to the expansion of Opus Dei and the good of the others. We surmise this feeling in a
letter in early February, in response to one that St. Josemara had written him from Burgos: "My
Father [God, our Lord], far from being offended - as would have been any other in his place - by
my inexplicable desertion and neglect, is encouraging me. With his help I'm returning to the
small struggles that remove the humdrum monotony of the kind of life I live here. See to it then,
please, that you and your children get in touch with my Father and thus, with his influence,
everything will happen as I hope. But this is not right! In what I have written, I am only talking
about myself." [400]
So, he resumed anew his efforts to leave the Legation through
diplomatic channels, this time through the French and British
embassies [401]; still he failed. The spirit with which he faced
setbacks and persevered in his efforts is well reflected in a
note to Isidoro. "Our undertaking is very difficult, but were
doing everything we can. Even though nothing is being
achieved, it cannot be said that we have wasted our time. We
entrust this concern to the A.A. [the Guardian Angels] all over
the world and to D. Pedro P. [St. Pedro Poveda]. We'll see
some success, for sure. Of course, as everything is being
done to help the P. [St. Josemara], by the mere fact that we
are exerting effort to do what we need to do, we have already
succeeded. So, whatever happens, we are happy."[402]
Figure 27: Eduardo Alastrue. Photo
Two significant events took place on March 1938. The first
credits: Saxum Remembering Alvaro
was the return of Eduardo Alastru to the Legation. Besides
del Portillo
being a source of great joy for Alvaro, the reunion meant a
new spur for his life of prayer and good use of time [403]. He explained it in a letter to Isidoro.
"The gust of fresh air that he (Eduardo) brought with his return was a welcome remedy to the
monotony that seemed to fill our days routine. Of course, with constant struggle, albeit only in
little things, our lives will never be monotonous. We have reorganized our days, extending the
hours of study. From day one, following your example, we are beginning to read the story of
Matthew [Gospel of Matthew]. The three of us chat about what we read, and keep you all very
much in mind. (...) How much there is to do; and we will be able to complain about our blissful

90

inactivity! How clearly I realize now that the one who really wants in fact does more than the one
who merely can! Even when it seems that every action is impossible to us, what we want at
present is to carry out an immense activity. Everything is done in love. Of course you are not in
the same situation as ours, but you have to understand ours perfectly and, therefore, I ask you
bring it up often to D. Manuel [the Lord]." [404]
The second event of the month was the failure yet again of the steps taken to safely leave
the Legation. [405] But with his usual confidence in God, lvaro never lost his cool, and went
about looking for new ways to expedite their departure from the hiding place. Nevertheless, his
burning desire to leave Madrid was yoked to the conviction that his forced confinement could yet
help the founder of Opus Dei, if he faithfully fulfilled his regular duties. Therefore, he continued
with the demanding spiritual program he had set for that time, the study of languages, and
prayer for all members of the Work.
In the document Madrid to Burgos passing through Guadalajara [406], he summarized his
attitude during those months. "It is true that I was trying to make good use of time by intensively
studying German. We knew that the hours we spent hunched over our books, served as a
support for the Work (...) [which] was undergoing expansion in the National Zone. But we
understood that it was not enough. It was necessary for us to do what we could so that aside
from the aid which is derived from the Communion of Saints, we could add our direct
participation, our personal collaboration to the matters that the Father wanted to entrust
us."[407]
Therefore, not surprisingly, in April and May he would attempt once more to flee from Madrid.
Apologizing for his insistence, he confided again to Isidoro that he would like to join the
Republican Army and try to escape to the other zone through the war front. The letter of April
ended with these words: "Of course, if D. Manuel [Jesus Christ] would like me to stay here, I'd
be happy, but I ask you to allow me to leave." [408] And the one of May: "We lack nothing
except one thing: to get out of here. And if we dont, well lead exactly the life were supposed to
lead." [409]
Zorzano also wanted Alvaro to escape, and he spared no efforts to make the flight happen. But
after careful consideration in the presence of God, he again responded in the negative on these
two occasions. Isidoro noted in his diary: "I advised them against their plans for the same
reasons as last time. Things have worsened even more." [410]
In June, lvaro stubbornly undertook new efforts through diplomatic channels and failed again
[411]. Once more, he brought up with Isidoro an escape plan for the war front. This time he
argued that another guest of the consulate, called Manuel Marn, had recently succeeded [412].
His comment about the escape of this person showed that the intentions that moved him were
spiritual and apostolic. "His ideals - we read in Madrid to Burgos via Guadalajara - were
undoubtedly very strong, but merely patriotic. It was already too much. Considering that our
commitments came from much higher ideals we could not remain hidden, hoping for imaginary
solutions that would come, as it were, floating through the air, yet not putting the slightest effort
to look for them. It would be very nice, but also very comfortable." [413].

91

Finally, he got the approval. In his diary, Isidoro wrote the reason that had moved him to give his
assent: "New developments have transpired in the Legation this week. For the second time,
lvaro has insisted on his desire to go see P. [St. Josemara] via Ricardo [passing through the
war front]. And now the circumstances are more favorable than before, and attempts can be
made more safely, as proven by specific cases. Furthermore, the diplomatic solution has fallen
through. I believe that those concerned have no intention of doing it, because weve invested a
lot of money, and still we are not seeing the prompt solution to the general problem. Hence,
counting on D. Manuel [the Lord], I have told him that he can go ahead with his undertaking."
[414]
In this note, he highlighted the phrase counting on D. Manuel. It later emerged that, at that
time, by a special grace, Isidoro Zorzano received an interior assurance that Alvaro would make
it through the front on October 12, the feast of Our Lady of Pilar. "Many times we had requested
permission from Isidoro to allow us to leave the Legation, but he always responded in the
negative. One day, however, while doing his prayer in his office, he came to know we would
pass across the front on a precise date: October 12, 1938. It was a light from God, supernatural
and extraordinary, which left him no room for doubt. Our Father came to know it likewise in the
same manner. He was already living in Burgos, and he immediately told my mother, who was
also in that city: her son Alvaro he assured her would pass through in mid-October. [415]
So after two weeks of preparation to try to enlist in the army, with few minimum guarantees of
not being immediately arrested, on July 2, 1938, then feast of the Visitation of Our Lady, after a
year and four months in forced confinement, Alvaro finally left the Legation of Honduras [416].
3. Crossing the war front
After the defeat in Teruel, the Republican government took great pains to reorganize its troops:
it recruited more soldiers and acquired large amounts of military supplies. In July, it had
managed to muster enough superiority over their opponents, both in terms of troops and
equipment [417]. With these supplies, they launched a new offensive later that month, which
would be known as the Battle of the Ebro and which lasted until mid-November to end in
subsequent defeat. It was a grueling episode for both sides, perhaps the bloodiest phase of the
civil war. From then on, the troops of General Franco had free access to Catalonia.
Upon leaving the Legation of Honduras, Alvaro stayed in an apartment in #6 Goya Street, where
Jose Maria Gonzalez Barredo had also taken refuge [418]. Immediately he began the
paperwork to join the army. To escape through the battlefront, it was absolutely necessary to be
assigned to a unit at the frontline and be there at the right moment.
Since in April they had called to the ranks young men eighteen years of age, lvaro had to
obtain a document certifying that he was of that age. But he was 24, and his appearance
betrayed him: it was clear that he had joined the army previously. In the end, he got an ID card
from an anarchist union under the name of his brother Jose Maria (Pepe). After he made the
necessary modifications on the document, he showed up to ask for his assignment, trusting in
God's help. Up to three times, he went to the draft board to obtain a military job conducive to the

92

planned escape. The first time he went he pretended to be 18; in the succeeding ones, he was
31, and then 30 [419].
These were dangerous weeks, and he sought his strength in prayer and closeness to the other
four members of the Work residing in Madrid at the time. "In the evening we meet either in the
home of Eduardo or in ours and we do the prayer, usually dwelling on notes taken from
meditations of the Father. We read slowly and afterwards comment on them. In this way, all our
spirits are united in the Work. It is an exchange of views that we believe does us a lot of good.
Afterwards, we eat dinner together and then, its off to the barracks." [420]
His confidence in the help of the Guardian Angels, a legacy
of St. Josemaria, is striking. The notes that recount his
second incorporation to the ranks reveal this. "Since I have
an ID card in my name [421], what I do is change it a bit, I
mean, the last initial. Now I am known as lvaro Rostillo. I
dont ask anyone to protect me as I present myself. Rather, I
charge the Guardian Angels with the job of making sure that
no one recognizes me. Indeed, everything goes well without
a hitch. [422]
Seeing that the first two attempts to obtain their desired
destination ended up in failure, they decided to abandon
themselves entirely to Divine Providence. "Given that all
means we have put are failing, we conclude that the Lord
wants us completely in His hands (...). As we can neither put
nor see the human means, we can only hope that He who
knows best would put His own, and take us by the hand because we are blind - to where it pleases Him. Thats what
we are doing."[423]
Figure 28: Vicente Rodriguez Casado.
Photo credits: Saxum Remembering
Alvaro del Portillo

With this firm decision, on August 18 he presented himself


for the third time to enlist - now with the name Juan Alvaro
Cortillo [424] -, and was immediately assigned to a company that would leave for the front six
days later. On August 24, after attending Mass and receiving Communion secretly in the house
of a Cuban family, he departed from the Maria Cristina Headquarters to a place unknown by
recruits. In the evening he found out that, providentially, Vicente Rodriguez Casado had been
assigned to the same unit.
Their interior dispositions to leave Madrid were very clear. "Through the presence of God, we
are resolving to keep in mind that this exterior act of crossing the border is nothing but an
immediate and logical consequence of our interior life. It must always be such in the Work, and
it is necessary that we keep on training." [425]
lvaro and the other members of Opus Dei were not "miracle workers." They had fully realized
that their attempted escape was extremely risky, and they were aware that others had died in
similar circumstances. So, he would write: "We learned that Archelaus (...) has died, shot by the
93

Reds as they were trying to make a run for the other side. There were more who died in this
attempt than those who made it." [426]
However it must emphasized that they had absolute faith in Divine Providence. This was why
they reasoned as follows: Along the way, people are doing a lot of guessing as to the exact
destination of the expedition. Levante? Extremadura? Guadalajara? We hardly joined the
discussion. We really couldnt care less, knowing that wherever they lead us would be the best
point along the whole front where we will make our escape." [427]
On August 29 the Brigade was
moved to Chiloeches, a town
south of Guadalajara, where
Alvaro was ordered to change
his unit and move to the 4th
Rifle Company. There he again
coincided with Vicente
Rodriguez Casado [428]. In
these "coincidences" he saw
the hand of God continuously
guiding them.
From Chiloeches they traveled
to Fontanar on foot. This was
Figure 29: Through some providential circumstances, Alvaro and his friends were how he described it: "It is the
assigned to the same squad that moved to Guadalajara.
first march that were doing with
Photo credits: Saxum Remembering Alvaro del Portillo
the rifle on our shoulder, but
this is not, nor will it be, the last we are doing it on an empty stomach. Many believe that, finally,
we are going to the front. We went around nightfall and with many precautions, but we are very
far from the battle lines. Everyone is terrified, so theyre making men walk some distance apart
from each other, forming a single file on each side of the road. This arrangement allows us to
pray the entire Rosary and the prayers of the Work, and do the mental prayer. That is how we
are spending a good part of our way."[429]
In Fontanar they underwent a training period that lasted for six weeks. On September 19, and
again in a providential way, they were joined by Eduardo Alastru, one of those with them in the
Legation of Honduras and with whom they had planned the escape.
The coincidence of the three in Fontanar doesnt admit of easy human explanations. Despite the
army being composed of many thousands of men, and despite the abundant possibilities of
different assignments, the three had met by chance in the same platoon of the 4th Company of
the 81st Battalion of the 21st Brigade. It was obvious that God had directed these events,
because "the logical thing - lvaro would recount years later - would have been that each one of
us was assigned to different places; instead they sent us to the same regiment, the same
battalion, same company, and the same squad: it's incredible! [430]

94

The mood in the military unit was clearly anti-Christian. lvaro made generous reparation for the
blasphemies that came with the military orders and troop movements. He likewise lived the
virtue of chastity with refinement, and avoided all occasions against it. His behavior revealed a
deep aversion for deliberate venial sin, and a determined struggle to take care of his dealing
with God in such circumstances [431]. The four letters he wrote from Fontanar are a good
testimony to his spiritual finesse. [432]
On October 2, 1938, the tenth anniversary of the founding of Opus Dei, lvaro asked
permission from the military authorities to travel to Madrid, for personal reasons. Actually, he
wanted to go to the capital to receive Holy Communion and to receive some consecrated hosts
from Isidoro, so that he and his companions could continue taking Communion until the day
they traversed the front. Isidoro informed him that the Lord had made him understand that on
the feast day of Our Lady of Pilar (October 12) they would all cross over to the other side [433].
The presence of the Blessed Sacrament set a new rhythm in the military life of the three friends,
who took turns carrying and guarding it. Its in my notecase as its my turn. During the day,
between instructions of one kind or another, we hardly talk to all the others for fear of exposing
Our Lord to disrespect. We gather and withdraw from the rest, at the same time making sure
that they dont notice the closeness of our friendship. At night, while the other three in the group
eat dinner, we do the Visit8 while taking a walk. We are living intensely the strength and truth of
the Gospel story of the disciples of Emmaus: Were not our hearts burning as we walked with
Him? Then, were off to bed. But right now since the number of men is increasing, theres
greater danger. Thus, only until everyone is asleep does the one whos carrying D. Manuel [the
Lord] actually come into the sleeping quarters; its only then that Hes not exposed to possible
profanity or blasphemy." [434]
On October 9 the company began the march to Campillo de Rajas, where the front seemed to
have stabilized. It was a tough walk of over forty miles through Razbona and Tamajn,
sometimes under enemy fire. "Uphill and downhill slopes, turns to one side or other, canyons,
stream, small ports, paths that lead nowhere, bushes that conceal men, shouting, wind,
profanity, night noises, worn-out shoes. A Roman bridge? More. And even more. Stops, soldiers
who are lost, boys who swear not to continue... And D. Manuel [the Lord] with us; affection,
trust, appreciation, mutual words of encouragement... What a long walk for the others! Yet how
short for us!" [435]
On the 10th they reached the front line. At that time, Alvaro, Vicente and Eduardo had already
won the trust of the authorities, and they all received the mission to do some shopping in a
nearby town. This was the opportunity they were waiting for. With the pretext of carrying out
their orders, they left the 11th military unit at 7:30 a.m. and began their escape. After passing
the crest of Mount Ocejn they followed the course of the river Sonsaz to the ford of Sorbe; they
spent the night in a cave. [436]

The Visit = is short for visit to the Blessed Sacrament, a norm of piety which Opus Dei members do at least
once daily

95

On October 12 they entered


Cantalojas, a village of the national
zone, just as the bells were ringing in
the parish church for Mass at 9 a.m.:
it was the feast of Our Lady of Pilar.
It had been less than two days on
the front line, and they did not even
fire a single shot [437]. The things
that Isidoro had foretold were fulfilled
to the letter.
The testimony of some residents of
this town concerning the passage of
the three fugitives deserves
recounting. Some people recall
Figure 30: The village of Cantalojas where Alvaro and his friends finally
made the crossing to the National Zone. The church bells were ringing for having heard the anecdote from
Holy Mass. Photo credits: Saxum Remembering Alvaro del Portillo
deceased relatives. It is said that on
that morning, along the border area between the two zones, two men were herding their cattle
and were watching the strangers pass. The cattleherders who saw these young men were
actually armed guards, and they had strict orders to shoot any stranger who came from the
enemy side and yet, they did not. Yes, they commented afterwards, they both felt "something"
inside that urged them to let the strangers go on their way unharmed. [438]
As soon as Doa Clementina learned Alvaro had crossed the front [439] she immediately set
out to see his son. Thanks to her brother-in-law, Luis, who had been mayor of Burgos, and the
father of Vicente Rodriguez Casado, who was a colonel in the national army, control and
endorsement procedures for these three soldiers were expedited, and on October 14 lvaro
could embrace his loved ones in Burgos [440]. Pilar del Portillo describes the meeting in the
following words: "On the 14th, in the afternoon, from the Soria headquarters they called the
husband of my Aunt Lola, to ask if he could verify the identity of a militiaman who claimed to be
his nephew named Alvaro del Portillo. Upon hearing that, we immediately went there, my
mother, my uncle Luis, and my aunt Lola, and me. We came too late because when we arrived
at Soria, Alvaro had already left for Burgos. But that night we could finally embrace him. He was
very thin, with extremely dirty clothes: so dirty that our mother took and burned them. That night,
to celebrate, we all went to the Hotel Sabadell [441]. We put two tables together and we had
dinner with the Father; the parents of Vicentn [Vicente Rodriguez Casado] and his sister
Amparito also came."[442]
FOOTNOTES:
[289] The figures are debated; some people estimated between 500,000 and one million deaths,
although historians have been reducing these figures to fix around half a million victims cf.
Thomas , H. , The Spanish Civil War ( 2001) , p. 899-901 .
[290] The literature on the Spanish civil war is extensive. An explanation of the development of
the war can be found at Salas Larrazabal , R. and J. M., General History of the war in Spain ,
96

Madrid, Ignatius Press, 1986 , pp 435 . For the situation of the Church in this period , vid.
Redondo , G. , History of the Church in Spain . From 1931 to 1939 . Volume II. The Civil War
(1936-1939) , Madrid 1993 ; Carcel Orti , V. , The Great Persecution . Spain , 1931-1939 , op.
cit. , pp . 126-146 . Montero , A. , History of the religious persecution in Spain (1936-1939) , ed.
BAC , Madrid , 2004 , p . 263 . Alfaya , J. L. , Like a river of fire, ed. EIUNSA , Barcelona 1998,
p. 59-77 .
[291] In these pages we only refer to religious persecution, because it is the most important
aspect of the life of Alvaro del Portillo in the civil war. We do not address, however, the social
and political, national and international implications of the conflict.
[292] Antonio Montero Moreno, in his History of the religious persecution in Spain . 1936-1939 ,
BAC , 2nd edition , Madrid , p. 762, believes that in the history of the Church, including the time
of the Roman persecutions, there has never been a period in which, in a little over a semester,
as many as twelve bishops, four thousand priests and more than two thousand religious have
been killed. Cf also Payne , S. G. , Spanish Catholicism , Barcelona, 1984 , p. 214 and De Meer
, F., Some aspects of the religious issue in the Civil War (1936-1939 ) , in Annals of
Contemporary History , n . 7 [ 1988-1989 ] , p. 111-125 .
[293] Cf Carcel Orti , V. , Spanish Martyrs of the twentieth century , op. cit. , p. 74 . The first
bishop victim of religious persecution was Bishop Eustaquio Martin Nieto , executed on July 27,
1936 , who conferred the Sacrament of Confirmation on Alvaro cf. Montero , A. , History of the
religious persecution in Spain , 1936-1939 , op. cit. , pp . 364-368 .
[294] Carcel Orti , V. , Martyrs ... , op. cit. , p. 74 .
[295] Del Portillo, . , Homily on the occasion of his 75th birthday , 11 -III- 1989 , cit. , P. 287 .
[296] See Diary of downtown Ferraz Street , Entry 19 -VII- 1936 : AGP, D- 17121 APD .
[297] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 386 .
[298 Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , Scepter , Madrid, 2002 , p.
18-23 .
[299] Diary of downtown Ferraz Street , Entry 27-VII- 1936 : AGP, D- 17121 APD .
[300 See Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0609 , pp . 9-10.
[301] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p. 17 .
[302] See ibid. , Pp . 18-19 .
[303] See ibid.
[304] See Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0609 , pp . 11-12 .
[305] See Office of the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Public Works separating Alvaro from
the service (Barcelona , 1- VII- 1938) , copy in AGP, D -6148 APD -8, and Office of the Chief
97

Engineer to Deputy Burgos Ministry of Public Works , communicating the administrative


presentation ( for re-entry into the Department of Assistants for Public Works) of Alvaro on
Public Works Headquarters Burgos, and accompanying affidavit (Burgos , 4 -XI- 1938) , copy in
AGP APD D- 6148-9 .
[306] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p. 19 .
[307] As we know, they had met in the summers spent in Asturias.
[308] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p. 19 .
[309] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 36 .
[310] Del Portillo, ., Remarks at a family get-together , 13 -VI- 1976 , AGP, B.1.4 T- 760613
series .
[311] Card game in which three people participate, each of whom receives nine cards.
[312] This refers to Jos Escriv y Corzan ( 1867-1924 ), father of St. Josemara.
[313] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together . AGP , Library, 760613 B.1.4 T- series .
[314] Del Portillo, . , Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei , op. cit. , pp . 115-116 .
[315] San Pedro Poveda was a great friend of the founder of Opus Dei , and was killed on the
morning of July 28, 1936 : cf. Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit.,
p. 38, note 68 .
[316] Del Portillo, . , Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei , op. cit. , pp . 115-116 .
[317] Ibid.
[318] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 37 .
[319] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 747.
[320] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 40 . Dr. Suils
was a friend of the founder since the days of his childhood in Logroo. His father, Angel Suils
Otto, also a doctor, had attended to the mother of St Josemaria in the birth of her last child .
[321] For a detailed biography of Isidoro , vid. But Elorz -Sanz , J. M., Isidoro Zorzano Ledesma.
Industrial Engineer (Buenos Aires 1902 - Madrid 1943) , Word , 5th ed , Madrid, 2009. .
[322] See Diary of Juan Jimenez Vargas ( 6-15 October 1936) , AGP, RHF , D- 15347 .
[323] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , pp . 19-20.
[324] Cf The term "fifth column", which is now part of everyday language, is attributed to
General Emilio Mola, of the national army. In 1936, during a broadcast, he said he was heading
to Madrid with four columns of soldiers, but also had a fifth column within the capital, which
98

consists of people eager for Franco's victory and which at once would also rise against the
Republican government.
[325] Cf Salas Larrazabal , R. and J. M. , General History of the War , op. cit. , p. 162 .
[326] See ibid. and Rubio, J. , Asylum and exchanges during the Spanish Civil War , Barcelona
1979 , p. 79-82 . In the Archive of the Prelature an invitation from the "Committee of ex refugees in the Finnish Legation in Madrid" to take part in the ceremony commemorating the
tenth anniversary of the event ( cf. AGP, D- 18809 APD ) is preserved.
[327] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , pp . 19-20.
[328] Del Portillo, . , Remarks at a family get-together , 28 -I- 1987 , AGP, B.1.4 T- 870128
series .
[329] St. Josemara , Letter 6 -IV- 1937 AGP series A.3.4 , leg. 253 , carp. 5, letter 370406-01 .
[330] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p. 20 .
[331] Ibid.
[332] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Clementina Diez de Sollano, AGP, C- 361210 APD .
[333] Testimony of Paloma Bertran Mendizabal, AGP, APD T -1278 , p. 1.
[334] See Petition of the decision for which he was released from Prison San Antn (Madrid, 11
-III- 1937) , original National Historical Archive , Territorial Court of Madrid , Serie: criminal , file
752 / 2; transcription AGP, D- 6119 APD .
[335] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p. 21 .
[336] Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0609 , p. 12.
[337] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p. 22 .
[338] See Diary of Isidoro , entry 3 -III- 1937 : AGP, IZL D- 1122. "AGP, IZL" is the initial of the
provisional section of the General Archive of the Prelature of Opus Dei that contains documents
concerning the Servant of God Isidoro Zorzano Ledesma.
[339] Ibid. , Entry 14 -III- 1937.
[340] See ibid.
[341] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 62-63 .
[342] It had been over five months since he had not seen him.
[343] See ibid. , P. 77 .

99

[344] On this subject , vid. Cervera , J. , Madrid at war. The underground city, 1936-1939 ,
Madrid, 1998, p. 339-374 .
[345] Cf Rubio, J. , Asylum and exchanges during the Spanish Civil War. Humanitarian aspects
of a fratricidal war, op. cit. , p. 476 .
[346] Del Portillo, . , Homily on the occasion of his 75th birthday , 11 -III- 1989 , cit. , P. 288 .
Regarding the months of St. Josemara in the Legation of Honduras : cf. Vazquez de Prada , A.
, The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 96-106 .
[347] Cf Vazquez de Prada, The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 79 .
[348] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP , P12 , 1997 , p. 14 .
[349] See ibid. , Pp . 77-78 .
[350] Vid . Documentary Appendix , Document 6 , a) .
[351] Vid . Documentary Appendix , Document 6 , b).
[352] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together , 11 -III- 1979 . AGP , Library, P02 ,
1979, 268.
[353] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 64 .
[354] Ibid. , P. 79 .
[355] Del Portillo, . , Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei , op. cit. , p. 114 .
[356] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , pp . 21-22 .
[357] See Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0609 , p. 13 and
Testimony of Mara Teresa del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T-1000 , pp . 6-7 .
[358] Testimony of Mara Teresa del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T-1000 , p. 7.
[359] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 307 .
[360] It was an ascetical theme that the Founder insisted on many times, in various ways, during
those months of confinement, and then led to the point n. 294 of The Way "The plants lay
hidden under the snow. And the farmer, the owner of the land, observed with satisfaction: 'Now
they are growing on the inside.' I thought of you: of your forced inactivity...Tell me: are you too
growing 'on the inside'?"
[361] St. Josemara , Meditation 6 -VII- 1937 , collected the compilation of meditations, Growing
on the inside, p. 189 ( AGP , Library , P12 ) . This book contains transcripts of some of the
meditations that St. Josemara preached during the months of internment in the Legation of
Honduras.

100

[362] Testimony of Eduardo Castillo Alastru on St. Josemara , cit. in Vzquez de Prada, A. ,
The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 80 .
[363] Vid . Documentary Appendix , Document 6 , c).
[364] See Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, Growing on the Inside, p. 14 ( AGP , Library ,
P12 ) . Using a grant from the Holy See at wartime, Isidoro reserved the Blessed Sacrament in
a secure place in his own home, and distributed Communion to people he trusted.
[365] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together , 11 -III- 1979 . AGP , Library, P02 , 1979
, 268.
[366] Del Portillo, . , Remarks at a family get-together , ibid. He also noted that St. Josemara
"among the few items that was there was that box of bitter herbs," which had so impressed him
when they met in 1935 (Del Portillo, . , Interview of the Founder of Opus Dei , op. cit. , p. 201) .
[367] See Testimony of Carlos Mara Gonzlez Saracho , AGP, APD T- 19284 , p. 6.
[368] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez ( AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 886887), who heard it from the lips of St. Josemaria and Opus Dei members who spent that period
in the Legation Honduras .
[369] This fact we know from a letter of St. Josemara to the faithful of Opus Dei who were in
Valencia at the time: cf. St. Josemara , Letter 28-VIII-1937 , AGP series A.3.4 , leg. 254 , carp.
3 letter 3708025-01 .
[370] "I was present - Bishop Echevarra has written when that very endearing object which
Saint Josemara had used during the period of the Spanish civil War arrived. It filled Don Alvaro
with joy and gratitude as it also reminded him of the people he had lived with at the time. He
established that it ought to be placed among the Eucharistic relics."(Testimony of Bishop Javier
Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 50).
[371] "What if I told you that, amid the Marxist tyranny, in this very same Madrid, there is a friend
of yours whos studying Japanese, intending to bring our way to Tokyo University!" (St.
Josemaria Escriva "News" , Burgos, March 1938 : AGP , Library, P01 ) .
[372] See Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0609 , p. 12
Testimony of Mara Teresa del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T-1000 , p. 7.
[373] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together , 1- XI- 1993 . AGP , Library, 931101
B.1.4 T- series .
[374] "It is the only method of doing anything: all of us to be very united to Grandpa [St.
Josemara ] and his good friends: D. Manuel [the Lord], his mother [the Blessed Virgin] ... "( Del
Portillo, . , Letter to some members of Opus Dei who were in Valencia, AGP, APD C- 370530).
[375] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter to Isidoro Zorzano Ledesma , AGP, C- 370607 APD .

101

[376] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter to some members of Opus Dei who were in Valencia, AGP, C370624 APD .
[377] Del Portillo, . , Letter to some members of Opus Dei who were in Valencia, AGP, APD C370707-01 . Alongside these spiritual considerations, the letters are, furthermore, full of
information and details on efforts to help friends and acquaintances, who were scattered by war.
[378] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 75 .
[379 ] Joint Letter of the Spanish bishops to the bishops around the world on the occasion of the
war in Spain, the Espasa- Calpe, supplement 1936-1939 pp Encyclopedia bishops. From 1553
to 1555. "The Collective Letter of 1937 is considered by some as a serious document that
sanctioned the collaboration between the hierarchy and the Republican government. However
the letter was hardly effective in stopping the persecution, because it denounced to everyone
the atrocities committed by Republicans in their territory in just one year and exposed the falsity
of the Republican propaganda, which had managed to give a false picture of what was
happening in Spain."( Carcel Orti , V. , Church History in Contemporary Spain , ed. word,
Madrid 2002 , p. 179).
[380] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 123 .
[381] Thanks to the efforts of Isidoro, he got a CNT union card that allowed him to leave the
Legation of Honduras and moved to Caracas Street home with his mother and sister : cf. Diary
of Isidoro , Entry 17-VII-1937 : AGP, IZL D- 1122.
[382] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 127 .
[383] He had gotten a pass from the Austrian Legation. Cf Diary of Isidoro , entry 1-X - 1937 :
AGP, IZL D- 1122.
[384] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p. 23 .
[385] See ibid.
[386] See ibid.
[387] See Diary of Isidoro , entry for October 8, 1937 : AGP, IZL D- 1122.
[388] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p. 23 .
[389] Ibid.
[390] On November 19, he started crossing the Pyrenees and, after a risky and grueling march,
arrived on Dec. 2 in the Principality of Andorra. After a short break in Lourdes - to thank Our
Lady for the happy outcome of that undertaking and in Pamplona, where he took advantage to
make a retreat, he provisionally settled in Burgos, which served as the capital of the zone free
from religious persecution ( cf. Vzquez de Prada , A. , the Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit.
, pp . 158-227 ) .
102

[391] Cf Souvenir of the death of Ramn del Portillo and Pardo, father of Alvaro (Madrid , 14 -X1937) , AGP, D -6032 APD .
[392] See Diary of Isidoro , Entry 14 -X- 1937 : AGP, IZL D- 1122.
[393] Cit . in Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0609 , p. 15 .
[394] As a Mexican citizen, she had no difficulty in obtaining the necessary permits. She went to
Valencia, where she embarked for Marseilles and from there moved to Burgos, where her other
children Ramn, Jos Mara, Angel and Pilar were ( cf. Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de
Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 lived , p . 25 ).
[395] See Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0609 , p. 16 .
[396] See ibid.
[397] Cf Zorzano , I., Letter Alvaro del Portillo , AGP, IZL C- 371102 .
[398] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Isidoro Zorzano Ledesma , AGP, C- 371120 APD .
[399] See Diary of Isidoro , entry 7- XII- 1937 : AGP, IZL D- 1122.
[400] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 380201 APD .
[401] See Diary of Isidoro , entries 2 and 23 -I- 1938 : AGP, IZL D- 1122.
[402] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Isidoro Zorzano Ledesma, AGP, C- 380331 APD .
[403] See Diary of Isidoro , entries 6 and 3 -III -IV- 1938 : AGP, IZL D- 1122.
[404] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Isidoro Zorzano Ledesma, AGP, C- 380300 APD .
[405] See Diary of Isidoro , Entry 27 -III- 1938 : AGP, IZL D- 1122.
[406] In the succeeding pages we will see how lvaro could leave Madrid and go to the National
Zone through the front of Guadalajara. Later on once he got to Burgos, at the direction of Saint
Josemara, he recalled all the events he experienced since leaving the Legation of Honduras
until his arrival in the Spanish city, in a paper entitled Madrid to Burgos via Guadalajara which
was used for the training of young members of the Work in the years after the war. For example,
Professor Ponz recounted the impact that the reading of the accounts made on him: "The sober
and simple wording of this narration belied the certainly heroic human and supernatural virtues
displayed by lvaro and his two escape companions. The story revealed a strong faith in God,
obedience rendered to the indications of Isidoro had been left as the head in Madrid, a courage
with supernatural roots that led them to perform with so much naturalness actions that involved
very serious risks to their lives; a sure hope that the undertaking would end well, abandoning
themselves in God's hands and following the indications of the director (...). The reading of that
text showed that, immersed in an extremely dangerous situation, Alvaro and his companions
took great care of their union with God, the fulfillment of the plan of spiritual life, fraternity, and
they did everything full of confidence in the Lord and in his Most Holy Mother, going to the aid of
103

the Holy Guardian Angels. They lived the Christian virtues in simplicity, without human boasting,
as something which divine grace had made natural in them."(Testimony of Francisco Ponz
Piedrafita , AGP, APD T -0755 , p. 6-7).
[407] Del Portillo, . , Madrid to Burgos via Guadalajara , Burgos I- 1939 , AGP, D- 19114 APD ,
p. Two .
[408] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Isidoro Zorzano Ledesma, AGP, C- 380416 APD .
[409] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Isidoro Zorzano Ledesma, AGP, C- 380503 APD .
[410] Diary of Isidoro , entries 8 - V - 1938 and 17 -IV- 1938 : AGP, IZL D- 1122.
[411] See ibid. , Scoring 12 -VI- 1938 , AGP, IZL D- 1122.
[412] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter to Isidoro Zorzano Ledesma, AGP, C- 380 613 APD .
[413] Del Portillo, . , Madrid to Burgos via Guadalajara , AGP, D- 19114 APD , pp . 2-3.
[414] Diary of Isidoro , Entry 19 -VI- 1938 : AGP, IZL D- 1122.
[415] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together , 31 -X- 1976 . AGP , Library, B.1.4 T761 031 series .
[416] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letters to Isidoro Zorzano Ledesma, AGP, APD C- 380614 , C- 380621
and C- 380624 .
[417] Cf Salas Larrazabal , R. and J. M. , General History of the War , op. cit. , p. 342 .
[418] See Diary of Isidoro, ENTRY 2 -VII- 1938 : AGP, IZL D- 1122. After enlisting, Jos Mara
found a good place to stay in Madrid thanks to a brother, and did not attempt to escape to the
other zone (cf. Del Portillo, . , Madrid to Burgos via Guadalajara , Burgos I- 1939 , AGP, APD
D- 19114 , p. 6-7).
[419] Cf Del Portillo, . , Madrid to Burgos via Guadalajara , AGP, D- 19114 APD , pp . 4-12.
[420] Ibid. , P. 7.
[421] It is a document other than the one of the anarchist union, mentioned earlier. The first
documentation obtained was for Vicente Rodriguez Casado, another member of the Work, who
had been holed up in the Embassy of Norway, and was able to join the daring escape (cf. ibid. ,
P. 8-9).
[422] Ibid. , P. 7.
[423] Ibid. , Pp . 11-12 .
[424] See ibid. , P. 12.
[425] Ibid.
104

[426] Ibid. , P. Three . Archelaus was a student of Philosophy, who had coincided with them in
Consulate of Honduras.
[427] Ibid. , P. 14 .
[428] See ibid. , Pp . 18-19 .
[429] Ibid. , Pp . 19-20.
[430] Bernal , S., Memories of Alvaro del Portillo , op. cit. , p. 59 .
[431] Cf Del Portillo, . , Madrid to Burgos via Guadalajara , AGP, D- 19114 APD , p. 20 .
[432] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letters to Jose Maria Gonzalez Barredo , AGP, APD C- 380907-01 ,
and Isidoro (three) , AGP, APD C- 380913-01 , AGP, APD - C- 380 919 01 and AGP, APD C380928-01 .
[433] See Diary of Isidoro , entry 2-X - 1938 : AGP, IZL D- 1122.
[434] Del Portillo, . , Madrid to Burgos via Guadalajara , AGP, D- 19114 APD , p. 27 .
[435] Ibid. , P. 30 .
[436] See ibid. , Pp . 33-41 .
[437] See Office of the Chief Engineer in Burgos to Deputy Minister of Public Works ,
communicating the administrative presentation ( for re-entry into the Department of Assistants
for Public Works) of Alvaro del Portillo to the Head of Public Works of Burgos, and
accompanying affidavit (Burgos , 4 -XI- 1938) : copy in AGP, D- APD 6148-9 .
[438] See Testimony of Jos Serrano Belinchon , AGP, APD T- 19519 , p. 1. "Those shepherds
watching were neighbors from Cantalojas. Their names were Rafael Molinero Cerezo , 36 or 38
years old at the time, and Juan Jos Molinero Redondo, 18 '( ibid.).
[439] St. Josemara had announced earlier this month: "On the 12th your son will get through,"
he had said (Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p 26. ) .
[440] Cf Del Portillo, . , Madrid to Burgos via Guadalajara , AGP, D- 19114 APD , p. 45 .
[441] The Founder of Opus Dei was staying there.
[442] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , pp . 26-27 .

105

Chapter 6: A Soldier in the Military


Engineers Unit
1.
2.
3.
4.

An interlude in and around Burgos


The provisional second lieutenant
Closing stages of the war
A few months in Catalonia

Since January 1938, St. Josemara had been in Burgos, the Spanish city that was the seat of
the government led by General Franco. As well, until the end of the war, it was a place that
soldiers, who were on various fronts and assignments, had to pass through. For these reasons,
it was the best place for the apostolic expansion that the Founder of Opus Dei was doing at the
time. From March of that year, the focal point of all that work was a room at the Hotel Sabadell:
a modest but dignified hostel in #32 Merced Street, facing the Arlanzn River. He lived there
with some members of the Work until the end of the war. [443]

Figure 31: #1 Plaza Sta. Maria, where Alvaro's mother, Dona Clementina
stayed in Burgos. Photo credits: La epoca de Burgos de San Josemaria
(Lugares)

lvaros mother and some of his


siblings lived in #1 Plaza de Santa
Maria, near the Hotel Sabadell
[444]. Pilar del Portillo, who in
those months working as a nurse
for those wounded in the war [445],
notes that St. Josemara often
visited their family and showed
them a lot of care: "I cannot forget
the care and love that the Father
showered on us, especially on
mom, when she was sick. She had
previously suffered a stroke from
which, thank God, she recovered
well. The Father always dealt with
her with a special affection and
deference. [446].

Doa Clementina "went to spiritual direction with the Founder of Opus Dei, who attended to her
with total availability, guiding her wisely, even as regards their financial problems, so she could
overcome all their difficulties. (...), Together with other women, and encouraged by St.
Josemara, she took care of putting together some liturgical objects, specifically the sacred
linens, so that they could use these in the future, when the apostolic work would begin again in
Madrid after the civil war, the end of which did not seem far away."[447]

106

1. An interlude in and around Burgos


As we have seen, the main reason that pushed lvaro to leave the Legation of Honduras and
face the vicissitudes of the previous months was the desire to help St. Josemaria in the
expansion of Opus Dei. He was convinced that this was the purpose for which God had brought
him into the world. At the same time, he also felt it his duty to serve his country - at that time, in
the military. No wonder, therefore, that as soon as he got to Burgos he sought an assignment
that would allow him to remain in that city with the Founder. That way, he was going to combine
these two duties [448]. At the moment, he could stay until early November, when he would have
to join the Academy for provisional second lieutenants, located ten kilometers from the capital of
Burgos, in the town of Fuentes Blancas.
The diary kept by those who lived in the Hotel Sabadell recounts that Alvaro spent those weeks
with the Founder and other members of the Work. In the evening he would sleep in his mother's
house. [449] He himself wrote one entry in the diary: "In the afternoon the Father, Juan, Vicente,
and I took some snack around the bed of the Father whos not feeling so well. Despite his
condition, though, the Father gave us a talk and between the snack and the talk, the latter is
tastier. We prayed together and then we set off each to our homes." [450] Later on, he wrote:
"The Father and I did prayer walking in the Espoloncillo; these walks are great. One is left
greatly strengthened." [451]
During those days, he
attended meditations and
received talks on the
ascetical life given by St.
Josemaria himself; he also
attended a retreat [452].
He held long personal
conversations with the
Father that enriched his
relationship with God in a
very intense way. In 1985,
for example, he narrated
some of the spiritual
secrets that the Founder
confided to him: "I
Figure 32: The Arlanzon River along whose shoreline Alvaro would take walks with St.
remember many years ago
Josemaria. Photo credits: La epoca de Burgos de San Josemaria (Lugares)
- in 1938 I was walking
with our Father along the Arlanzn River. He said he had spent many days snuggled in the
wound of the right hand of the Lord. He would go there and felt the flow of Blood, and could feel
the Lord was purifying him, transforming him, and drawing him into the wound in his side. Those
considerations made a huge impact on me." [453]

107

During his stay in Burgos, St. Josemara spent time


preparing his doctoral thesis in Law, which consisted of a
canonical-historical study of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction
nullius dioecesis of the Abbess of Las Huelgas de Burgos
[454]. His research brought him a bit more frequently to
that famous Monastery founded in 1187 by King Alfonso
VIII of Castile and his wife, Dona Leonor de Plantagenet.
lvaro sometimes accompanied him, and his presence
did not go unnoticed among the nuns. The following
testimony of Dr. Sastre attests to this. "In 2002, the
centenary of the birth of the Founder, we placed a plaque
in the counter under of the Monastery of Las Huelgas de
Burgos (...). The two surviving religious from that time
[1938], told me that they brought some documents to St.
Josmaria and because of his refinement he did not go
alone. He was accompanied by Don Alvaro. I do not know
what they could have seen in him, who was then only
about 24 years old, which made one of them tell us:
Indeed he was a saint. This amazed me."[455]
Figure 33: Mother Rosario, one of the two
surviving religious from the Las Huelgas de
Burgos in the time of St. Josemaria. Photo
credits: La epoca de Burgos de San Josemaria
(Lugares)

lvaro used his spare time to write the account of his


passage through the war front (From Madrid to Burgos via
Guadalajara). He also helped writing newsletters for
members of the Work and friends scattered throughout
Spain. These newsletters, which updated everyone about
the goings-on of the others, were meant to accompany each one in those very tough times.
Alvaro also sent personal letters to many of them in which he highlighted the joy of coming
together as a family once again and of directly helping once more in the apostolic work of Opus
Dei. [456]
Another thing that kept him busy was the launch of a campaign for books for the university
residence in Madrid [457]. As well, he applied for re-entry into the Department of Assistants of
Public Works, from which he resigned a few months previously for reasons we already know
[458].
Arriving on November 10, he joined the Academy for provisional second lieutenants of the
Military Engineers Unit situated in Fuentes Blancas [459]. Among the new students was
Eduardo Alastru, with whom he had made that memorable escape.
2. The provisional second lieutenant
The army of the National Zone had urgent need of young officers, and for this to be filled
quickly, short two-month courses were organized for volunteers, usually college students. These
training courses made them eligible for employment as provisional second lieutenants. These
courses were quick-paced and required from the students an intense amount of work, which
didnt allow for much free time [460].
108

In these circumstances, Alvaro knew


how to take care of his life of piety as
well as help his peers in the spiritual
and human plane. Shortly after arriving
Fuentes Blancas, he wrote: "Every
day, we receive Holy Communion at
the Carthusian monastery and fulfill
well our plan of life." [461] However, it
was not a simple matter, at least in
regard to attending Holy Mass and
receiving Communion. Mass was early
in the day, and the Carthusian
monastery was located several miles
away. It was necessary, therefore, to
rise considerably early and to confront
the freezing cold typical of the Burgos
winter. To make matters worse, there
was a risk of encountering rabid or wild
dogs, which made it necessary for him to carry a gun. [462]

Figure 34: The Carthusian monastery where Alvaro would go very early
to Mass together with his companions with whom he did apostolate.
Photo credits: La epoca de Burgos de San Josemaria (Lugares)

He suggested to many of his classmates to come to that early Mass with him, and his efforts
paid off. "Today (we read in another one of his letters) we had to endure pretty strong rains and
winds on the way.Mmoreover, as we left while it was still dark, and I'm pretty clumsy, I fell a
number of times, and made a mess of myself with all the water and mud. Weve been trying to
get people, and today, despite the bad weather, we were five. [463] By the end of the short
course, there were already 30 classmates accompanying him for Mass [464].
One of these, whom he apparently did not succeed in convincing, was Rafael Termes, a
Catalanonian engineering student. He later testified how much he admired seeing Alvaro and
his companions up before reveille to attend Mass and able to return at the time of the formation
[465]. One first Friday of the month, Rafael asked Alvaro to wake him because he wanted to join
them. But the experience seemed too hard, and his first was his last. Rafael would seek
admission to Opus Dei a few months after the war ended.
Felix Peig Plans, another fellow soldier at the Academy and a future textile engineer, also
remembers how he was invited by lvaro and what they would talk about. "One day, between
classes, (...) he called me to invite me, together with a few more, to attend Mass which was
celebrated daily very early in the morning in the nearby Monastery of Las Huelgas. Attending
those masses in the Monastery left me with great peace and a vague feeling in the soul. I
attribute this to Alvaro, who impressed me with his fortitude. We would talk about my studies
and I was somewhat surprised by the many things I didnt know in my own field of specialization
(textile engineering). I felt I needed to clarify them. Don Alvaro asked me several questions, and
in the end - simply and without condescension - he explained to me the importance of engineers
in the near future. As engineers we were needed by society to build back whatever the war had
destroyed with our honest and high-quality work, each of us in our own field of specialization.
109

(...) I realized that I was standing before a person of great intellectual stature and technical
knowhow." [466]
Another aspiring second lieutenant, Basilio Rada Martnez, spoke of how lvaro helped him
prepare for the exams that would get him into the officers course. "I asked him to review me on
some topics to help me pass the exams. I had a friend who had been with me in the front and
was in a similar situation. With extreme kindness, Alvaro agreed to my request, and gave me
and my friend brief yet very comprehensive classes. It was because of these that we both
passed the test."[467] Failure in the test would have meant being sent back immediately to the
trenches as mere privates.
It was obvious that he enjoyed professional prestige among other university students: "In
addition to classes and training Felix recounted , our instructors put us all into groups and
gave each one a military operation project which was had to be completely operational within a
short time. This meant we had to do overtime. But it was soon evident that the lvaros group
was making the most progress and, moreover, was putting a lot of attention to details. It was
obvious they were going to win the top spot for promotion." [468]
In Fuentes Blancas he also found time to send lively letters written with an "engineering"
literary style to the members of the Work and his friends. In each of these he expressed a
desire to focus on restarting the work of Opus Dei: "Let's see if God wills that we can finally
meet and work together more calmly. And afterwards, its off to expanding the business [the
apostolic expansion]! Where will each of us end up? Wherever it is, we do not care because we
know that there is where each of us should be; thats our purpose." [469]
One of those who received these letters testified: "I remember a letter he wrote me in 1938
during the civil war, when I was passing through very difficult moments. The letter contained
strong and encouraging words yet exuded a lot of humility. He knew that although I was
younger than him in age, I had known and lived the spirit of the Work before him; thus, he made
me see that I was older than him." [470]
In these letters he never failed to include a request for prayers and sacrifices for the Founder.
"Remember the Father in a very special way as he has to carry on such an immense work.
Those of us, who are beside him, for whatever reason, are required to help him in every way we
can. And the first thing to do is this: to pray and to fast, things you do better than me."[471]
His spiritual closeness to St Josemaria was also shown in his efforts to go to Burgos as often as
possible. Logically, in those times he never failed to visit his mother and siblings, as his sister
Pilar recalls [472]. Doing so meant stealing time from his moments of rest, since nighttime was
his only available time to study and work on requirements demanded by the Academy (for
provisional second lieutenants). For example, one can read in the diary: "They spent the
afternoon with the Father, Alvaro and Eduardo. Alvaro, who arrived exhausted after a sleepless
night finishing his design, is now sleeping on the Fathers bed." [473]

110

These visits were very


frequent throughout the
month of December. [474]
As often happened, St.
Josemaria suggested walks
along the Arlanzn River so
that they could talk calmly.
"As we walked - Bishop del
Portillo recounted years
later - he asked me a
question that shows his
heroic and absolute
detachment in Gods
service. He asked if it
seemed appropriate to ask
his mother and sister to take
over the domestic
administration of our
centers, i.e., to keep the
house in order, clean, cook, Figure 35: The Besson Bridge. It was in one of those walks along this bridge that St.
Josemaria asked Alvaro his opinion about making Dona Dolores and Carmen
etc. It was an irreplaceable
service for our supernatural organize the administration of the center. Photo credits: La epoca de Burgos de San
Josemaria (Lugares)
family, so I said I thought it
was a great idea. It was a thoughtless response, because I didnt realize then that it meant
keeping our Founders mother, sister, and younger brother - who had a home of their own living just in a corner of a residence for students, and moreover, trying to go unnoticed. Our
Founder, after having carefully meditated about it in God's presence, asked Dolores and
Carmen (her mother and sister, respectively) to render this service to the Lord, despite
everything it would cost them." [475]
On 1 January 1939 he was appointed provisional second lieutenant [476]. Twenty-four hours
later he was assigned to a regiment of the military engineers unit being organized in Valladolid,
to which he had to report within ten days [477]. In the previous days, he had accompanied St.
Josemara in Burgos and also traveled to Salamanca to activate his readmission into the
Department of Assistants for Public Works [478]. Afterwards, he traveled to Alhama, Calatayud,
and Zaragoza to visit the other members of the Work who were on their own in these locations
[479]. Referring to this journey, he wrote in a letter to Juan Jimenez Vargas: "When I write down
this word (travel), I imagine so many places... Paris, London, Tokyo the skys the limit! Indeed
it would be great to go all over the world. But at this point, theres a need to keep on looking for
the means and equipment needed (precisely for that travel). [480]
3. Closing stages of the war
The war reached its final phase. On December 23 the offensive in Catalonia began and
between late January and early February, Francos army entered Barcelona and Gerona. When
111

he reported for duty as 2nd Lieutenant of the engineers unit in Valladolid, the end of the war
seemed very close, and Alvaro fostered the desire and hope to remain stationed in that city so
that he could start a center of the Work there [481]. Nevertheless, as he explained in a letter to
Juan Jimenez Vargas, he was also aware that he could be called any time to "some village in
the province." [482]
In fact, this was what happened [483]. He began a period of nearly seven months, during which
his military commanders sent him to various places for his assignments. The destruction of
bridges and other infrastructure had been considerable throughout Spain, and regiments were
being organized to carry out an initial reconstruction. Thus, from January to March he was
stationed in Cigales, a town near Valladolid, and from April onwards in Olot (Girona). Only at the
end of July 1939, did he get himself moved to Madrid, where he spent his last phase as an army
officer.
On January 12 the day following his arrival in Valladolid the military authorities informed him
that he should proceed to Cigales, five miles away, where his company was stationed. One of
the members of Opus Dei, who lived in Burgos with the Founder, wrote: "Today we received a
letter from Alvaro. It says nothing new: he has ended up in a place that leaves much to be
desired, although he said it was the best possible." [484]
Obviously, that position cut short the hopes of opening a center of Opus Dei in Valladolid, the
city that gave birth to Philip II and was the capital Spain for a few years. He was left alone again,
in circumstances that prevented him from working directly with the Founder and other members
of the Work. But in him there was no room for discouragement. So, from the outset, he
organized his schedule such that he made compatible his military obligations he was in
command of a company with his practices of piety. He soon found out that there was daily
Mass nearby which he could attend [485]. Whatever free time there was available he devoted to
the study of languages and some engineering subjects [486].
He had not yet been forty-eight hours in that town when he received a visit from St. Josemara.
The Father had traveled to Valladolid to resolve some issues with the Patronato de Santa Isabel
de Madrid, of which he was Rector [487].
The Founder of Opus Dei tried his best to write his spiritual children frequently. So, a few days
later, he wrote the following letter: "My dear Alvaro: I can barely hold up a pen, because my
hands are so cold. But I have planned to write you and now I am. Im keeping my promise: once
I arrive the first thing Ill do is to go and see you and bring you dictionaries. I do not know what
to tell you here: however, when I see you, I will tell you many things that you will like. There are
so many great things to do! We cant put barriers, with childishness inappropriate for grown
men. I assure you, Jesus expects a lot of good things from you and me. We will do them, no
doubt. These days Im ardently begging the Lord to restore to those of our family who do not
feel anything now that enthusiasm for the Family Business. Help me to beg for and obtain that.
Dont forget to write me. Write your brothers as well. Its all worth it. Have you received some
German and English magazines? Your Father Mariano blesses and embraces you." [488]

112

Alvaro replied by mail. He blamed himself for not having taken good care of his norms of piety in
his first days at Cigales: "Everything I have done I did at the wrong time and badly" [489]. But
then he continued with a lot of assurance: "I have now drawn up a plan of life that I think Ill be
able to do. Here it is: 6-7 prayer, 7:15 - 7:45 Communion [490]; I come home and read the
Gospel for 20 minutes and recite a part of the Rosary. At 8:25 I review the Company and the
surrounding vicinity; this is followed by training in the field until 9:30, at which time I'll be back for
breakfast. Training again until 12. From 12-1, a horseback ride, which is a great exercise. I
finish beaten to a pulp. At 1, I eat lunch with the troops and then Im off to training until 5. From
5-6 pm, prayer. From 6-8, English and German; occasionally, write letters or anything of the
sort. At 8, dinner with the troops. From 8-9, the 2nd and 3rd part of the Rosary. Supper, reading
time and from 11 to 11:30 at the latest, I go to bed." [491]
St. Josemara had put him in charge of writing the other members of the Work in order to
encourage them and strengthen their interior dispositions. So, lvaro confided to one of them:
"Well, I'm optimistic, even though I seem not, and I cant wait to take one of those massive
offensives to reassure myself and strengthen everyone. And that phrase which I just wrote - I do
not think that was pride at all: whatever I do, however small, can benefit, or hurt everyone else.
This is what I want to etch deep in my soul; thats how I will avoid a lot of nonsense and
contribute my part in running the business."[492] To another he wrote: "With this I finally desire
to do at each moment what Don Manuel [the Lord] wants me to do: Im going to shoot. In a town
like this, you cannot aim higher. And it's enough. More than enough, its everything! If I get used
to just doing what D. Manuel wants and no more, in the end, I would have achieved everything;
and this can be done right here, and in Chinchon, and everywhere." [493]
The impression he left among his companions in Cigales shows that he lived up to this
resolution. The chaplain of the regiment, Fr. Roman Sacristan Virseda, affirmed that during his
stay, Alvaro acted with exemplary conduct. He attended daily Mass and frequently went to
Confession. He lived intensely his practices of piety and also took advantage of many occasions
to deal with his fellow officers with great refinement and charity. He took advantage of his free
time to make hospital visits with his friends. I remember that he liked horse riding and we would
go out on walks. His conversation was quite entertaining, interesting and attractive and people
felt at ease around him. In his dealings with others he showed a deep humility and outstanding
intelligence." [494]
Those who knew him admired him for his good Christian conduct and his human virtues. For
example, whenever he went to bathe in the river or in the pools, he would plunge into the water
from a considerable height. This practice aroused a certain admiration among the rest that
moved them to follow the advice he gave them of behaving as authentic Christians.
An amusing and at the same time enlightening anecdote happened in this town that illustrates
the impact Alvaro made on others. The mayor of Cigales had a habit of giving a speech to the
people from the town hall balcony every time Franco's army conquered a city. When the army of
the National Zone finally entered Barcelona, the mayor was not around, nor any other local
authority. So the people asked Alvaro del Portillo to give the speech [495]. Known for his
unconditional service to all, Alvaro obliged, said a few words, and made such an impact with his
113

simplicity and amiability that, when he finished, some of those attending carried him on their
shoulders amidst unanimous cheers. [496]
Meanwhile, as far as the war was concerned, the campaign for Catalonia was well underway by
the end of January. The troops from the National Zone had entered Tarragona and the
Republican administration had moved to Gerona [497].
February brought other rewarding news for Alvaro. Vicente Rodriguez Casado, another
companion of his in the escape from Madrid, was also assigned to Cigales [498]. Soon, they
received another visit from St Josemaria [499]. The Founder preached a meditation which he
wrote down on a small sheet of paper that remains with us. The first point was this: "Tu es
Petrus, ... saxum you are stone ... rock! And you are, because God wants you so. Despite the
enemies around us,... in spite of you ... and me ... and the rest of the world who may oppose it.
Rock, foundation, support, strength,... Fatherhood!" [500]
It is precisely from that time that there begins to appear in the letters of the Founder the
nickname saxum, referring to lvaro: "Saxum: I trust in the strength of my rock," he wrote on
February 13. [501] And the next month, "May Jesus protect you for me, Saxum. And I know you
are. I see that the Lord is giving you strength, and making good my word: saxum! Thank Him
and be faithful." [502] The choice of this name saxum, rock - shows that St. Josemaria even at
that time already saw that this son of his would be a strong support in helping the consolidation
and expansion of Opus Dei [503].
A note written by Alvaro around that time in obedience to an indication made by St. Josemara,
shows how he understood his dealings with God. In two small sheets printed on both sides, he
wrote down some spiritual considerations, using military training as a metaphor for the
supernatural struggle. He also wrote about how unity and obedience make the action of the
Holy Spirit in the soul effective, the communion of saints, and perseverance in the face of
obstacles. It is worth quoting some paragraphs, because they show the depth of his spiritual life:
"The two essential foundations of the Army are discipline and the link. Clearly, if the first is not
carried out in a rigid, rigorous way, the army collapses and loses all its effectiveness. But even
despite the greatest discipline it is often necessary, in the midst of combat, that officers in
command make decisions without the express approval of their superior officer. The urgency of
the situation, together with their forced isolation, makes it necessary that the decision be taken
right there and then. Obviously, the ideal is that this decision is always precisely what the
superior officer would have taken. This is called following the link [504], which is, according to
military vocabulary, what makes different individuals placed in similar situations, take similar
decisions. (...)
And what about the Work? (...) If you really fulfill the norms (the plan of the spiritual and ascetic
life), if we read the Gospel trying to live it with intensity, making ourselves another character in
its scenes, if we pray the rosary fervently, if we keep a habitual presence of God not minding the
struggle that it may require, then we who form one body in Christ, come to resemble Him more
and more, at each moment feeling with greater intensity the same feelings of His divine Heart.
And the more we shed ourselves through constant prayer and mortification in the little things,
114

the more effectively the infusion of the Holy Spirit transforms us, bringing about the deification of
Gods children in the Work. We welcome Him not only as the Giver of Life - and with the unity of
life He possesses, He brings with Himself that sufficient guarantee for the link -, but also as
Lord, Who has every right to dominate us, guide us, and govern us. This means that He assures
us that at all times we will solve the problems we face in exactly the way it was meant to be
solved had we consulted our directors even if it was physically impossible for us to do so. But
for this to happen it is necessary that we get used to always listening to His voice, and to giving
Him what He asks of us even as we extend our hands to beg for small favors. We must
therefore apply this fidelity to the norms and the constant mortification in ordinary things,
primarily, of course, because of love. But when we're in one of those stages of reluctance and
coldness, have to put certain strategies into play so that we continue to do what we have
resolved. We will consider that, apart from the actual and present help that our mortification and
loyalty to the promptings of the Spirit of Love bring to the advancement of the Work in general,
and to each of our brothers in particular, they likewise ensure that in the future each of us
individually will fulfill well our duties in the Work."[505]
In mid-February the campaign in Catalonia ended. The President of the Republic, Manuel
Azaa, and most of his government, had left Spain shortly before, and the official talks for the
surrender of the Republican army began. [506] On the 27th of February, France and Britain
recognized the government of General Franco. The end of the war was a matter of a few weeks.
In this period, lvaro went to Burgos seven times [507]. In those moments of intense dealings
with the Founder he further consolidated his profound filiation. "The supernatural and human
trust with which St Josemara treated everyone including him powerfully called his attention. (...)
He saw that the Father was very faithful to the Lord, taking care of the small things - in the
spiritual life as well as in the professional work -, convinced that he who cares for the very small
things, as the Lord says, is faithful in great." [508]
It was also probably during that month that another story, which Bishop del Portillo recounted
after the death of St Josemara, took place. It is clear that from this story he also drew lessons
for his own spiritual life. To understand it, one needs to recall that it was a time of great financial
difficulty: food was scarce and whatever food there was was of poor quality.
The story goes that the barber in Cigales, who had befriended lvaro, invited St. Josemara to a
snack. This man stated in his business card that his profession was "barber and minor
surgeon," the latter referring to the trade of tooth-pulling, which he carried out in the same
barbershop. He fancied himself a learned man, and tried to imitate the language of army officers
who lived in the village, without realizing that he was sometimes saying meaningless phrases.
When the founder of Opus Dei arrived, he found that the snack, which the barber prepared as
best as he could, was a meat dish. Unfortunately, however, it was a day of abstinence. It was
clear that St. Josemaria would not take even a bite. The other guests objected that
ecclesiastical law did not require this of him at that time. St. Josemaria was not convinced, and
told the others that, according to the standards set by the Holy See, they were exempt from
such an observance and could eat whatever they wanted, but as he was a priest he was not
included in the exemption. They insisted anew, but it was useless. "Then - Bishop del Portillo
115

said in 1991 - this man [the barber], in his effort to be extremely refined, addressed us with what
turned out to be totally improper: Dont insist, any of you, because I'm used to dealing with
people of this sort, and I can tell you, when they say no, its no. [509]
Through this anecdote one sees clearly how lvaro
took note of all the practical lessons he could learn
from St. Josemaria as an exemplary priest, and
tried to integrate them into his daily conduct. As a
result, he cultivated a persevering spirit of penance
which he carried out with joy, because he was
convinced that the prayer of the soul is
complemented by the prayer of the body.

Figure 36: Visiting the ruins of the DYA. Photo


credits: josemariaescriva.info

On March 28, Alvaro was moved to Madrid. The


next morning, together with St. Josemara, Isidoro,
Jose Maria Gonzalez Barredo, and Ricardo
Fernndez Vallespn, he visited the ruins of what
had been the residence DYA [510]. In the
afternoon, they had to evict a soldier who had
illegally occupied the rectory of the Patronato de
Santa Isabel. Thanks to his army officer uniform, it
was easier to do. The Patronato was where Saint
Josemara had lived until the beginning of the civil
war, and where he intended to stay again. They
spent the following days fixing the place so that the
Founder could stay there with his mother and
siblings [511].

But Alvaros homecoming would not last very long,


because on April 9 that year, Easter Sunday, he had to leave the capital to begin his new
military assignment [512].
4. A few months in Catalonia
The civil war had officially ended on April 1, 1939, but that did not mean the complete
demobilization of troops. Specifically, the regiment of Alvaro was transferred to Olot (Girona),
near the border with France, to repair roads and bridges, as Catalonia took the worst beating
from the air during the war. [513] As providence would arrange, Alvaro was again assigned to
the same unit as Eduardo Alastru and Vicente Rodriguez Casado, his companions in the
escape from Madrid.
From the moment of his arrival, lvaro did everything in his power to expedite his discharge
from the army, or at least get himself moved back to Madrid. What urged him was the desire to
be at the Founders side, so that he could provide more direct assistance in the apostolic work
of Opus Dei. However, it would still be four months afterwards until he could write to a friend:
"Today I come home from Olot. I have been assigned at last to Madrid! And you can figure out
116

what this homecoming means for me: it's like the final closure of the war. Until now, it hasnt
been over for me."[514]
Indeed, he was not exaggerating: the months in Catalonia were in fact still "war" months. Clues
about some of the battles he had to fight at that time appear very subtly in the first letter which
has been preserved from this period: "here there are many Dolores" [515]9, he said. He was
referring to the lyrics of a popular song [516], famous at the time, indicating that there were a lot
of women in the town who, in their quest to find a husband, spared nothing to provoke and lay
traps for any eligible bachelor who might come their way.
He himself recounted on more than one occasion - always hiding the identity of the person
involved (himself) - an episode highlighting this particular concern just mentioned. He would use
the anecdote as well to testify to the supernatural gifts that God gave to the Founder of Opus
Dei, including his ability to perceive situations that were happening in distant places.
As was the custom among military commanders in those circumstances, lvaro was staying in
the house of a family in that town. The lady of the house thought that the officer lodging with
them handsome and a future civil engineer - was certainly a "good match" for her daughter,
and wanted a romantic relationship to blossom between the two. So, at the end of the day,
when Alvaro arrived home tired, the mother and daughter were waiting for him with a few cups
of hot coco, ready to cheer him up with their conversation [517]. When he realized the
conspiracy they were up to he decided to leave that house before the lady of the house could
carry out her insidious plot of getting him to be alone with her daughter [518].
Meanwhile, in Madrid, St. Josemara - certainly inspired by something supernatural became
aware of the moral danger that was threatening his son, Alvaro, and he asked those who were
with him at that moment to pray with him the Memorare prayer of St. Bernard, for a person who
needed it at the time [519]. Immediately, lvaro left that house, foiling the plan of both mother
and daughter.
Afterwards the Founder of Opus Dei wrote points in his books Furrow and Way based on this
event, without mentioning its main character, "Son, how well you lived the communion of saints,
when you wrote : Yesterday I 'felt that you prayed for me ! [520]; "The communion of saints:
That young engineer put it well when he said: Father, on this day, at this hour, you were praying
for me >" [521]. Later, lvaro understood that that Memorare had helped him overcome the
perilous situation in which he found himself through no fault of his.
Since then, it has become a custom in Opus Dei to pray this prayer to the Virgin daily for that
faithful of the Work who needs it most [522]. It is no accident that St. Josemaria refers to this
prayer as "the saxum prayer." Many years after that event, on July 1, 1987, Bishop del Portillo
wrote a pastoral letter to the faithful of Opus Dei about this prayer, in which he talks about the
fraternal help we to give to Christians above all manifested through prayer. And this is
especially true when we pray the Memorare prayer, which our Father called saxum, rock,

Dolores here, Alvaro is playing with the word dolores which literally means sorrows but which, as a
proper noun, is a common name given to Spanish girls.

117

because it provides the strength of the hardest stone, in the task of our personal sanctification
and apostolic work." [523]

Figure 37: The very words written by St. Josemaria referring to Alvaro as Saxum.
Photo credits: Saxum: Remembering Alvaro del Portillo

In the midst of this forced


separation, in a letter of May
18, the Founder reminded
him in an almost prophetic
tone of the mission that lay
ahead : "Saxum: how clear
the way I see a long one
that lies ahead of you! White
and full, like a rich field.
Blessed fertility of an apostle,
more beautiful than all the
beauties of the earth!
Saxum!" [524]

Meanwhile, lvaro never


missed any opportunity to be with St Josemaria to continue in his spiritual formation, even if it
meant making trips that were not at all comfortable. Specifically, in the second week of June he
filed for a military leave and went to Burjassot (Valencia), where the Founder was preaching a
retreat for college students.
He recalled years later: "I managed to get a permit and left for Valencia, where our Father was.
There were no communication facilities; bridges were destroyed by the war, as well as the
railways. Getting from where I was - in Olot, Gerona - to Valencia took me forty-eight hours
using the auto-stop method. That means the following: first, I rode a truck that took me to a
place where the road stopped; then I proceeded on foot until I got back on to another road, and
there I took other means of locomotion... In all it took me forty-eight hours, during which I did not
sleep. I arrived very tired, and the Father told me: As for you, what you have to do is sleep. I
said, Father, if you are preaching a retreat, let me attend it, for its been many months since I
attended one. The Father replied: Well, do whatever you want. And I went into the meditation. I
was still dressed in my military uniform. No sooner than the light went out and our Father began
to speak, that I began to snore so loud to the great indignation of everyone who was trying to
listen to our Founder. They must have asked themselves who this was who came to break the
peace of their retreat. But my snoring did not bother our Father." [525]
Bishop Echevarra filled in the gaps of the anecdote noting that "St. Josemara always
remembered that event, without omitting lvaro's insistence to attend the meditation. He used to
add kindly that while the rest were surprised by Alvaros outright sleeping, an act of thanksgiving
to God broke forth from his heart and soul which was that of both father and mother for the
uprightness of this man who genuinely wanted to form himself. He further added that he did not
doubt that Alvaros half hour of sleep in the oratory had gone up to heaven as prayer." [526] On
the morning of June 13 Alvaro returned to Olot [527].

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Between July 8 and 11 he filed for another military leave to go to Vitoria, where Saint Josemara
was preaching another retreat, to accompany the Founder to Navarre for business reasons
[528]. Upon his return to Olot, he sent the following letter to St. Josemaria: "I believe that
everything will always be fine. And with what you told me regarding the obligation I have to push
the Work forward, especially now, more things will happen. Both the Lord and I desire that, [529]
and I hope, despite everything, you can have confidence in this man who, rather than being
rock, is mud without any consistency. But how good the Lord is!" [530]
Throughout these weeks he wrote to St. Josemara, the other members of Opus Dei, and
different friends almost daily. As always, his letters were full of optimism and supernatural
affection, and his desire to faithfully take care of his Christian life and improve the moral
standards of his surroundings showed through. [531]
His apostolic zeal did not remain simply as desires. As commanding officer of his unit, he made
sure that the soldiers who had families got permission to go home as often as possible in order
to facilitate their living family life with each ones wife and children [532]. Moreover, as he had
done in his previous military assignments, he got several companions to intensify their Christian
life. One of them was Lieutenant Fernando Delapuente, an industrial engineer and painter, who
in 1940 decided to give himself to the service of God in Opus Dei. [533]
This is the same Delapuente involved in another extraordinary event that was told about St.
Josemaria. Bishop del Portillo narrated the following in 1992: "One day I received a letter from
our Founder in which he said, more or less: Tell your companion, Delapuente, that what
happened today was due to this and that. I was astonished: I had not spoken to the Father of
even the existence of that friend of mine. Moreover in the immediate postwar period, because of
the bad state of the roads, moving from Olot to Madrid was a real feat that required several
days, and Fernando had not been in Madrid, nor did he know the Founder. I decided to invite
my friend for a horse ride out of town, where we could be more relaxed. Thus, I could tell him
everything in stride. He was so surprised that he fell off his rocker. He said he had been through
a really difficult time and he explained the details; and he added that until then he had not told
anyone. Naturally, quite pleased, he followed the advice of the Father." [534]
With courage and strength lvaro insisted on helping his comrades and subordinates to behave
according to moral standards. Unfortunately, it was not uncommon in that military environment
for some to live a rather disorderly life. In some case, soldiers made plans going to brothels in
his presence and 2nd Lieutenant del Portillo always cut these conversations that offended the
Lord with kindness and firmness. He even tried to dissuade these people when they looked like
they were going to carry out their lewd plans. He never failed to immediately talk with these
colleagues, urging them to flee from occasions of impurity, or to stop unchaste
conversations."[535]
And he didnt content himself just with words. "Sometimes when he realized that his colleagues
went ahead with their evil intentions, unhesitatingly, he would stand out in a street corner and
fire several pistol shots into the air. In this confusion, these men who were already in the
process of carry out their evil plan, thinking that something serious was going on, would then
scurry back to the barracks."[536]
119

In that same post, he acquired a lot of prestige among the other officers and subordinates for
his honesty. An eloquent testimony to the mark he left on his military unit was painted by an
unknown hand on the wall of one of the barracks of the troops when the news of his move to
Madrid broke out: "Soldiers, do not weep for 2nd Lieutenant del Portillos departure. What a good
father we have lost!" [537]
On July 18, 1939, the Tajo Hydrographic Offices in
Madrid officially put del Portillo in its list of
Assistants for Public Works, and the transfer was
made on July 28 [538 ]. The joy of lvaro was
reflected in the letter quoted at the beginning of
this section: "Today I come home from Olot. I have
been assigned at last to Madrid!" [539] At the
same time , he did not stop thinking about Eduardo
- who had been waiting in Olot for an imminent
reassignment - and the others who continued to be
in active service. He continued to write them
frequently to encourage them [540].
The move to the capital was for him a major
change. Nevertheless, he continued to be
governed by military rules, wore the uniform, and
was doing a lot of work for the Army: "Most of the
day I have to go about 30 kms from Madrid
because they have appointed me to a
Commission. Together with a commander my task
is to design and build camps and maneuver
Figure 38: St. Josemaria and Alvaro in 1939. Photo
training centers for the 1st Region. Now Im starting
credits: La epoca de Burgos de San Josemaria
a design for the water supply from Madrid to the
area around Valdemoro." [541] At the same time, he could now work directly with St. Josemaria
in the expansion of Opus Dei, and specifically in setting up a residence for university students
which would open its doors at the beginning of the academic year. [542] The property was in
Jenner Street, and Alvaro went to live there.
On September 3 he could definitively say, "I have graduated, at last! I can now wear civilian
clothes." [543] During the war, years of suffering and above all of prayer, of self-giving to others,
and of loyalty to the Founder in difficult circumstances, Alvaro del Portillo had matured inwardly.
The moment he had been awaiting since 1935 to employ all his energies to the service of God
and neighbor, without external constraints, amid his ordinary occupations had finally arrived. A
new phase in his life had begun.
But the desires of apostolic expansion of Opus Dei to the five continents would again be
hampered by the violence of men. On September 1, 1939, after signing the so-called "Pact of
Steel" with Italy and of non-aggression with the Soviet Union, Hitler invaded Poland. He had
started the Second World War.
120

It is beyond the scope of this book to explain the causes and circumstances that led to the
conflict, much less, its progress. It suffices to mention that the battle lines spread across many
countries in Europe, Africa, and Asia and that the enlisted men came from all five continents. As
well, the war yielded worldwide an estimated 61 million deaths - military and civilian - or more. In
addition, we should consider the millions of wounded, deportations to concentration camps,
massacres, and untold violence produced by invading armies in different countries, the use of
weapons of mass destruction that were hitherto unimaginable and razed whole cities the
atomic bomb, explosives based on white phosphorus, etc. -, the destruction of social
infrastructures in Europe and large areas of Asia, etc. No doubt it was the greatest tragedy in
the history of mankind.
From a political and philosophical point of view that catastrophe had much to do with two
ideologies which over the past century had trampled on the dignity and freedom of man in a
manner until then unheard of: Nazism - with its little cousin, Fascism - and Communism in its
various manifestations. The systems put up by Hitler and Mussolini ended in 1945. MarxismLeninism, however, spread throughout many countries around the world, and found its way into
broad intellectual circles, until near the end of the twentieth century. In both cases it can be said
that the State had never persecuted its own citizens in a more systematic and egregious
fashion.
FOOTNOTES:
[443 ] For this period of the life of St. Josemara , vid. Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of
Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , chap. XI , "The time of Burgos" (1938-1939) . "
[444 ] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p. 25 .
[ 445 ] See Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0609 , p. 17 .
[446 ] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p. 25 .
[447 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 9 and 10 .
[448 ] "Eduardo, Vicente and [Read lvaro] we went in the morning, Colonel Rodriguez, Soria,
to try to definitively resolve the issue of our stay in Burgos " (Diario de Burgos, Entry 17 -X1938 : AGP, D- 17123 APD ) .
[449 ] See ibid. , Notes 14 , 26 and 29 -X- 1938. Alvaro wrote daily from 15 to 19 October and
from 26 October to 3 November.
[450 ] Ibid. , Entry 26 -X- 1938.
[451 ] Ibid. , Entry 3 -XI- 1938.
[452 ] See ibid. , 15 Entrys and 9 -X -XI- 1938.
[453 ] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together , 7 -IV- 1985, . AGP , Library, B.1.4 T850 407 series .
121

[454 ] See Rodriguez, P., The doctorate of Saint Josemara at the University of Madrid, Studia
et Documenta , 2 ( 2008) , p. 78-79 .
[455 ] Testimony of Ana Maria Sastre Gallego , author of Walking time . Biographical Sketch of
Bishop Josemaria Escriva (ed. Scepter, Madrid 1991).
[456 ] Cf Del Portillo, . Letters AGP, APD C- 380115 and C- 380118 .
[457 ] See Diary of Burgos, Entry 31 -X- 1938 : AGP, D- 17123 APD .
[458 ] See Office of the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Public Works separating Alvaro del
Portillo from service (Barcelona , 1- VII- 1938) , copy in AGP, D -6148 APD -8, and Office of the
Chief Engineer to Burgos Deputy Minister of Public Works , communicating administrative
presentation ( for re-entry into the body of Assistants of Public Works) Alvaro del Portillo to the
Head of Public Works of Burgos, and accompanying affidavit (Burgos , 4 -XI- 1938) : copy AGP,
D- APD 6148-9 .
[459 ] See Official Gazette, n . 119, 27 - 1938 -X , AGP copy , D- 6025 APD .
[ 460] See Testimony of Felix Peig Plans, AGP, APD T -0403 , p. 1.
[461 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Jose Ramon Herrero Fontana , AGP, C- 381121 APD .
[ 462 ] Cf Bernal , S., Memories of Alvaro del Portillo , op. cit. , p. 61 .
[463 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Jose Ramon Herrero Fontana , AGP, C- 381121 APD .
[464 ] Cf Bernal , S., Memories of Alvaro del Portillo , op. cit. , p. 61 .
[465 ] See Testimony of Rafael Termes Carrer , AGP, APD T- 1051, p. 1.
[466 ] Testimony of Felix Peig Plans, AGP, APD T- 0403, pp . 1 and 2 .
[467 ] Testimony of Rada Basilio Martinez , AGP, APD T -1219 , p. 1.
[468 ] Testimony of Felix Peig Plans, AGP, APD T -0403 , p. Two .
[469 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Jose Ramon Herrero Fontana , AGP, C- 381121 APD .
[470 ] Testimony of Jose Ramon Herrero Fontana , AGP, APD T -1252 , p. 1.
[471 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Manuel Snchez Prez , AGP, C- 381210 APD .
[472 ] See Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p. 27 .
[473 ] Ibid. , Entry 17 -XII- 1938.
[474 ] See Diary of Burgos, entries 14 to 31 -XI -XII- 1938 : AGP, D- 17123 APD .
[475 ] Del Portillo, . , Interview of the Founder of Opus Dei , op. cit. , p. 91 .

122

[476 ] Cf Appointment as provisional second lieutenant ( Burgos, 1 -I- 1939) , AGP, D -6023
APD .
[477 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter to Juan Jimenez Vargas , AGP, C- 390105 APD .
[478 ] See Office of the Delegation of the Tajo Water Services , the Assistant Secretary for
Public Works, announcing the appointment of lvaro ( Salamanca , 4 -I- 1939) , copy in AGP, D
-6148 APD -22.
[479 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter to Juan Jimenez Vargas , AGP, C- 390105 APD .
[ 480 ] Ibid.
[481 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letters to Juan Jimenez Vargas and Ricardo Fernndez Vallespn ,
AGP, C- 390102 APD .
[482 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Juan Jimenez Vargas , AGP, C- 390105 APD .
[483 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter Radun Francisco Botella , AGP, C- 390112 APD .
[484 ] Diary of Burgos, Entry 25 -I- 1939 : AGP, D- 17123 APD .
[485 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter Radun Francisco Botella , AGP, C- 390112 APD .
[ 486 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 390122 APD .
[487 ] See Diary of Burgos, Entry 14 -I- 1939 : AGP, D- 17123 APD .
[ 488] St. Josemara , Letter to Alvaro del Portillo , Burgos 19 -I- 1939 AGP series A.3.4 , leg.
256 , carp. 2 letter 390119-01 . It is known that, in their family correspondence, St. Josemara
used to sign with the name "Mariano," a name which was also given to him in Baptism.
[489 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 390122 APD .
[490 ] It seems that it refers to the Mass, rather than the actual Communion.
[491 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 390122 APD .
[ 492 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Miguel Serna Fisac , AGP, C- 390129 APD .
[493 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter Casciaro Ramirez , AGP, C- 390129 APD .
[494 ] Testimony of Roman Sacristan Virseda , AGP, APD T- 0025, p. 1.
[495 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter Radun Francisco Botella , AGP, C- 390126 APD .
[496 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 57 .
Bishop Echevarra said that he did not know this fact until many years later, which reveals how
lvaro gave no importance to the success he had achieved, although they were events like the
one just mentioned" ( ibid.).
123

[497 ] Cf Salas Larrazabal , R. and J. M. , General History of the War , op. cit. , pp . 373-388 .
[498 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter Alastru Eduardo Castillo, AGP, C- 390218 APD .
[499 ] Cf Diario de Burgos , entry 9- II- 1939 : AGP, D- 17123 APD .
[ 500] Bernal , S., Memories of Alvaro del Portillo , op. cit. , p. 67 .
[ 501] St. Josemara , Letter to Alvaro del Portillo , Burgos, 13-II - 1939 AGP series A.3.4 , leg.
256 , carp. 2 letter 390213-04 .
[502 ] Ibid. , AGP series A.3.4 , leg. 256 , carp. 2 letter 390323-05 .
[ 503] See Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 10.
[504 ] " Link " means a person who acts as an intermediary between other . At that time , in
military language it was used to designate the one who decides according to the mind of the
superior office, when one could not receive direct orders.
[505 ] Del Portillo, . , Note on the apostolic effectiveness of the work ( probably 1939 ) , AGP,
D- 10154 APD , pp . 2-3.
[506 ] Cf Salas Larrazabal , R. and J. M. , General History of the War , op. cit. , pp . 389-395 .
[ 507 ] See Diary of Burgos, entries 15 -II , 27 -II , III - 1 , III - 5 , 11 -III, 18 -III and 25 -III- 1939 :
AGP, D- 17124 APD .
[508 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 58-59 .
[509 ] Del Portillo, . , Remarks at a family get-together , 8 -IX- 1991 , AGP , Library, 910908
B.1.4 T- series .
[510 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 350 .
[511 ] Cf Bernal , S., Memories of Alvaro del Portillo , op. cit. , p. 63 .
[512 ] Cf Diario de Burgos , entry 9- IV- 1939 : AGP, D- 17123 APD .
[513 ] The data is provided Fernando Delapuente Rodriguez ( AGP, APD T -0050 , p. 1)
engineer, who was also served as a lieutenant in that regiment .
[ 514] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Miguel Sotomayor and Muro, AGP, C- 390728 APD .
[515 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter Casciaro Ramirez , AGP, C- 390519 APD .
[516 ] The song was part of the zarzuela of T. Breton , La Dolores, and began: " If you're going
to Calatayud , ask for Dolores ... "
[517 ] Cf Bernal , S., Memories of Alvaro del Portillo , op. cit. , pp . 64-65 .

124

[518 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 66-67
and p. 841 .
[519 ] The prayer reads: "Remember ,O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that
anyone who fled to your protection , implored your assistance or sought your intercession, has
been forsaken. Inspired by this confidence, I come to Thee also ,O Mother , Virgin of virgins ! ,
And though groaning under the weight of my sins I dare appear before your sovereign presence
. O Mother of God, despise not my humble petitions, but , graciously hear and answer me .
Amen. "
[520 ] St. Josemara , The Way, op. cit. , n . 546 .
[521 ] St. Josemara , Surco , Scepter , Madrid 1986 , n . 472 .
[522 ] "Thus was born among the members of Opus Dei the habit of praying at least once a day,
this prayer that the Father called oratio saxum, because he considered it a secure support for
that member of the Work who would need it at the time "( Del Portillo, . , Interview about
Founder , op. cit. , p. 220).
[523 ] Del Portillo, . , ... Letters , vol. 1, n . 308 , for details one can read the continuation of the
same letter : cf. ibid . , n . 309 .
[524 ] St. Josemara , Letter to Alvaro del Portillo , Madrid, 18 - V - 1939 AGP series A.3.4 , leg.
256 , carp. 3 letter 390518-05 .
[525 ] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together , 13 - V - 1979 . AGP , Library, 790513
B.1.4 T- series .
[526 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 66 .
[527 ] See Diary of Burgos, Entry 13 -VI- 1939 : AGP, D- 17123 APD .
[528 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 390712 APD .
[529 ] In this case, the expression "two " refers to the Lord and lvaro: it means that he counted
on God's grace , and that his firmly desired to want to do the Will of God.
[530 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 390712 APD .
[531 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 390 714 APD .
[532 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 57 .
[533 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 390719 APD .
[ 534] Del Portillo, . , Interview of the Founder of Opus Dei , op. cit. , p. 220 .
[ 535 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 56-57 .
[536 ] Ibid.
125

[537 ] Testimony of Fernando Valenciano Polack , AGP, APD T- 18489 , p. 17 . He heard it from
Fernando Delapuente himself .
[538 ] See Office of the Ministry of Public Works, the Ministry of National Defense , requesting
that Alvaro join their posts in the Government of Water Services Tajo ( Madrid, 12 -VII- 1939) ,
copy in AGP, APD D -6148 to 24 .
[ 539] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Miguel Sotomayor and Muro, AGP, C- 390728 APD .
[540 ] Cf Del Portillo, . Letters AGP, APD C- 390727 , C- 390728 , C- 390729 , C- 390800 , C390807 , C- 390818 and C- 390821 .
[ 541] Del Portillo, . , Letter Alastru Eduardo Castillo, AGP, C- 390821 APD .
[542 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 402 .
[543 ] Del Portillo, , Diary of Santa Isabel / Jenner, Entry 3 -VIII - 1939 . AGP, D- 17130 APD .

126

Part 2: Beside St. Josemaria

(1939 1975)
127

Chapter 7: Supporting St. Josemaria


1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

A fairly busy student


Expansion of Opus Dei in Spain
Secretary General of Opus Dei
Tasks of spiritual formation
The "contradiction of the good "
Attention to his mother and siblings

After the Spanish Civil War, St. Josemara undertook the task of spreading the Christian
message that God had entrusted to him with a strong sense of urgency. In early 1939 he wrote
to his family a letter stating that the supernatural undertaking of Opus Dei had suffered an
unavoidable setback because of the war. However, that was only apparent because,
supernaturally speaking, in those three years the Work had "grown from the inside." [1]
He continued: "Before anything else, I want to summarize in one word what is in my mind after
having considered things well in the presence of the Lord. And this word - which should be the
characteristic of your way of thinking as you go about recovering your ordinary apostolic
activities - is optimism." [2]
Indeed, with a lot of serenity, he recovered the time and pace for his regular apostolic
activities. The word "recovery" was well known in Spain after the war: there was a State
"Recovery Service", which sought to return furniture or appliances seized during the war to their
rightful owners. St. Josemaria attributed a new meaning to that term: the desire to make the
best use of time to regain the seemingly lost apostolic fruits of the previous years. [3]
The sure and indispensable means to achieve this goal were also identified by the Founder:
"The means? Interior life: He and we." This path demanded authentic personal generosity: "We
will have the means, and there will be no obstacle, if everyone in the Work says yes to God
through total, genuine, operative, and effective self-giving." [4]
Desire for holiness: this was the main point that St Josemaria wished to highlight when he
recalled an indication of the Lord to his disciples of all time - Porro unum est necessarium [5],
"only one thing is needed." To spread Christianity, today as yesterday, the follower of Christ has
only one way: seeking to fulfill the Will of God, through ones gift of self.
The biography of Alvaro del Portillo is an example of this spirit of giving. Over the next two
years, he will complete his Civil Engineering studies and at the same time develop the
apostolate, helping St Josemara in the governance of Opus Dei and its expansion throughout
Spain. All this he would do while also attending to the needs of his mother and younger siblings.
The following story provides a good summary of how he lived through that period. In 1967, the
Spanish government granted to then-Fr. Alvaro the Grand Cross of St. Raymond of Peafort, in
recognition of his achievements in the field of Law, especially in the service of the Holy See. His

128

Civil Engineering classmates took advantage of his trip to Madrid to give him an award in a
simple and heartfelt ceremony.
It was a gathering of friends with a simple ceremony. The head of that batch, Antonio Ingles,
took the floor and, after expressing some amazement that an engineer would have received
recognition in the field of Law, he went on to recall his days as a student. At one point in his
speech, he said: "Alvaro, in those years, you were studying Civil Engineering, you traveled on
weekends to various cities in Spain to extend the apostolate of the Work - and so, on some
Mondays, when you arrived at class, exhausted from the trip, you slept -, and above all that, you
were also helping the Father in the governance of the Work." [6]
The honoree thanked him for his affectionate words, but in his reply he stated: "Youve said
some exaggerations and a great truth, because in those years, I was helping the Father in the
governance of the Work, I made trips to extend the work of Opus Dei, and moreover, I also
studied Civil Engineering." [7] With adeptness, he modified the order of priority of the tasks
which the head of his class had attributed to him earlier in order to clarify the actual order of
precedence by which he did things.
However, to simplify things, this chapter will begin with the culmination of his engineering
studies. It will then continue following his apostolic journeys within the Iberian Peninsula and,
afterwards move on the period when he was assisting St. Josemaria in the governance of the
Work. A fourth section will complete this chapter, illustrating another very important reason for
Alvaros sleepless nights: his fulfillment of duties to his blood family. In fact, these four aspects
his studies, his personal apostolate, his support for St. Josemaria in the governance of Opus
Dei, and his fulfillment of filial duties were like strands of fiber twisted together to form a single
rope.
1. A fairly busy student
There was much more to the disasters caused by the Civil War than the material losses that
came in its train. The greater and, indeed, irreparable losses were human: the thousands of
dead in the war fronts and those murdered in Spanish cities and towns, not counting prisoners
and exiles. The wounds gashed into Spains social fabric would take a long time to heal, and in
some sectors of the population one felt a cloud of bitterness floating around exacerbated by a
heightened desire for retaliation.
Amid this environment, in response to the demands of Christian doctrine and, more specifically,
the calls for reconciliation repeated by Pope Pius XII [8], Alvaro followed the example offered by
St. Josemara: to forgive and forget, to pray for those on one side and those in the other, and to
contribute to the common good with ones personal work. Moreover, if during his life as a
fugitive in revolutionary Madrid he forgave everyone, avoiding any tendency to categorize
people as good and bad, now he insisted on generously helping those who were around him.
His objective was to bring them closer to God and, if appropriate, to help them overcome
feelings of revenge.

129

Material losses were easier to repair, but


still it would take many years to achieve
it. Spain was badly damaged: bridges,
roads, homes and factories, agriculture
and industry seemed all in ruins. There
were shortages of everything, including
staple food. Ration cards were the order
of the day. It was necessary to rebuild
vital infrastructure as soon as possible.
Among the measures the government
decreed to achieve this goal was a
special program that allowed young
college students to complete their
degrees within a shorter time than usual,
Figure 39: Human losses and damage to infrastructure caused by the
civil war are difficult to fully assess. It would take decades before
Spain would recover from these. Photo credits: Helian Bound.

and so make up for the three years of


academic inactivity that the war had
caused.

Taking advantage of this policy, in September 1939, Alvaro began his third year of engineering,
which ended in the middle of March 1940. [9] In these circumstances one might be tempted to
assume that the requirements of this course were attenuated; this was hardly the case. Indeed
the course length was reduced, but the number of subjects remained the same, and there were
four: "Computation of Structures and Reinforced Concrete", "Hydraulics and Hydrology",
"Applied Thermodynamics", and "Electricity." [10]
Moreover, for lvaro difficulties were multiplied because in the following years he had to go on
most weekends to other Spanish cities, to expand the apostolate with college students. He
would begin these trips on Saturday after school, and then take a train back to Madrid on
Sunday night, always using the cheapest fares. He often arrived late at night, and on Monday
went to school having slept very little. Clearly, it was impossible not to fall asleep in class
sometimes. [11]
Although not very often, these weekend trips even prevented him from attending school
altogether, which would have caused problems, as most teachers immediately failed students
who were absent in a few classes and did not present valid excuses. In these cases, these
students were not allowed to take exams [12]. His colleagues remember the serenity with which
Alvaro faced these circumstances [13]. Such was his reputation for seriousness among the
teachers that he was always allowed to take their exams despite his absences. For the most
part, he did his assignments at night and while traveling [14]. By the end of the term, he
received a grade of "Good" [15].
The States intensive curriculum also implied a drastic reduction of the number of vacation days.
This meant that, within a few days of finishing his third year, Alvaro began his fourth year of Civil
Engineering, which lasted from April to September 1940 [16].

130

It was around that time that he told St. Josemara that he was making himself available to
become a priest, if the latter saw it fit. The Founder, who even before the war had become
convinced that priests were needed in Opus Dei, and that they should come from the faithful
laity, accepted the offer of his son, and on June 1, 1940 he noted in his Personal Notes: "My
God, inflame the heart of Alvaro that he may be a holy priest!" [17]
Summer was no time to rest - on the contrary. A letter of his, written in the hot August summer
in Madrid, offers a passing reference to what he did in these months, "I go around, indeed quite
busy with exams, designs, etc." [18]. Thus it is striking that, in the midst of that tight schedule,
he was able to find time to help others in their studies. In an entry for the month of July of that
year in the diary of the Jenner Residence, we read: "Alvaro is working hard on the thesis of
Vicente." [19]
In October, he passed all the six subjects that (Fourth) year with the grade of "Good" [20].
These were "Applied Hydraulics", "Foundations and masonry bridges Construction", "Roads I",
"Architecture", "Political Economy I", and "Aerodynamics and its industrial application" [21]. At
this point he only lacked one more year to achieve the dream of his youth of becoming a Civil
Engineer. Nevertheless, he did not hesitate to affirm to the Founder that he was willing to drop
everything without finishing this degree to engage himself more fully in the concerns of the Work
and preparation for Holy Orders, if it suited the latter. St Josemaria, however, encouraged him
to finish his degree despite the sacrifices it entailed [22].
So he did. In November 1940 he wrote to St. Josemara, who was out of Madrid: I already
started classes" [23], referring to his Fifth year [24]. Only eight subjects and a final project stood
between him and his degree. [25] In this last academic year he made a trip to Valencia and
Alicante to do his practicum with his classmates, and he took advantage of this to help people of
the Work living in the city of Valencia. He did a lot of apostolate among his colleagues [26].
To more or less complete the picture painted above, his work as Assistant for Public Works
must be briefly mentioned. In September 1939, he had gone back to the Hydrographic Division
of the Tagus (River). In February 1940 he was appointed First Assistant to the Department of
Assistants for Public Works, with an annual salary of 6,000 pesetas. Two months later, he left
his previous work and joined the Headquarters of Bridges and Structures [27]. The following
year, he was appointed, on secondment, to the Jefatura de Clculo de Puentes de Altura
Estricta.10 [28] His work schedule had to be made compatible with his attendance to classes
because the Ministry of Public Works as mandated by the rules of the State had expressly
warned school authorities that the fact that a student Assistant was working did not exempt him
from meeting his school requirements [29]. No exceptions were made.
10

The Spanish is written because there doesnt seem to be any English equivalent for such a department. Consider
its literal English translation Headquarters for the Computation of Bridges of Strict Height. The Spanish
Wikipedia suggests that this classification of bridges in Spain was begun by the architect Fernando Casado. While
the word strict in this classification more ostensible refers to the objective of minimizing the height of the bridge,
what it probably intends to signify more are the principles advocated by Casado: strict use of materials (as is
proper of any engineering activity), formal minimalism (recalling the tenets of architectural rationalism), and
minimal impact on the landscape (preceding by decades the issues tackled by the Environmentalist Movement).
(http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlos_Fern%C3%A1ndez_Casado#Puentes_de_altura_estricta)

131

Moreover, lvaro needed to


do some "moonlighting" for
financial reasons; at that time
there were few members of
Opus Dei who could contribute
to the financial sustainability of
the apostolic work: most were
students and thus nonearning.
In July 1941 he passed his
final exam and finished his
final project. It received the
grade of "Good" and ranked
#16 in his graduating batch
[30].
On the 15th of that month
Figure 40: Alvaro was involved in the very serious work of rebuilding Spain's
infrastructure after the civil war. Above is a snippet of a scholarly journal
he was appointed Third
dedicated to such work around the time. Photo credits: ropdigital.ciccp.es
Engineer of the Bureau of
Roads, Canals, and Ports, and
a week later he was assigned to the Head Office of the Ministry of Public Works for the Segura
River basin [31]. In August he journeyed to Murcia to report to his assignment [32] and
immediately applied for supernumerary status11, which was granted [33]. He applied for this
status so that he could devote as much time as possible to his preparation for the priesthood,
and collaborate with St. Josemaria in the governance of Opus Dei. Thereafter he would rarely
be professionally engaged in engineering [34], but for the rest of his life he would retain the
professional mindset and the standards of methodical order, rigor, and precision in his work that
he had acquired during his years of study [35].
2. Expansion of Opus Dei in Spain
On September 1, 1939 German army invaded Poland and the Second World War began. The
conflict, which would bring many evils to the world, meant a new interruption to Opus Deis
desired apostolic expansion across the five continents. The Spanish civil war had prevented the
start of the Work in France; now, the possibility of bringing the seed of the apostolic work to
other countries diminished even further. But that fact did not reduce lvaros desire to learn
foreign languages: concretely, he continued to study Japanese [36].
At the time, the expansion of the Work would be limited within the borders of a battered Spain.
To this end, the Founder began to travel to provincial capitals that had universities during the
weekends, to bring the spirit that God had entrusted to him to those places. [37]
The sufferings and hardship of Spanish Catholics in a persecution akin to that of the early
Christians deepened their religious fervor. Just after the war, with help from the State, they
11

In the military, this means that one is not enumerated among the regular components of (the)organization.
(Merriam-Websters dictionary)

132

began to rebuild the churches and convents. Men came once again to fill the seminaries.
Religious practice grew once more. In direct contrast to the anti-Catholic cruelty that was the
hallmark of the Republican regime, the protection of the Church was one of the characteristic
aspects of the Franco government. At the same time, it should be pointed out that, for many at
that time, it was not easy to distinguish truly religious values from what were merely political.
St. Josemaria always shunned any sign of partisanship, defending the freedom of the Christian
faithful in social, scientific, or political matters that the Church leaves to the free choice of men.
His preaching and the formation that he imparted were exclusively spiritual in character, and the
doors of the apostolic work of Opus Dei were open to everyone [38]. Later he would explain
countless times: "I have not tired of repeating since 1928, that the diversity of views and actions
in the temporal sphere and in opinable theological matters, do not pose a problem to the Work:
the diversity that exists and will always exist among the members of Opus Dei, on the contrary,
are a sign of good spirit, of a clean life, and of respect for the legitimate choices of each." [39]
The Founder undertook many of his apostolic journeys with
lvaro, and he soon found that this son of his, because of his
intelligence, moral virtues, and good spirit, could go on his
behalf to the various cities where the apostolic work was
thriving. Thus, they shared between them this daunting task
that had to be done. In February 1940, he sent Alvaro to
Zaragoza, where the latter visited the Vicar of the diocese
[40], and then to Valencia [41]. In June, Alvaro went to
Barcelona [42] and in December, to Valladolid [43]. In total,
between the months of September 1939 and 1941, lvaro
went at least five times to Barcelona and Valencia, twice to
Murcia, four times to Valladolid, once to Vitoria, and ten times
to Zaragoza [44]. A total of more than two hundred days were
spent journeying within these two years. Only if one keeps in
mind the challenging academic curriculum and professional
Figure 41: The Father and Alvaro in a trip
to Lleida (Catalonia) April 29, 1943. Photo
credits: Opus Dei (Information Office)

work that occupied him in Madrid during this period, can he or


she truly gauge the sacrifice it took for Alvaro to do all these.

He had a grueling schedule. He traveled on Saturday night to get to his destination, and he
journeyed back on Sunday night because he had to attend class on Monday morning. Trains
were slow and cumbersome, and as has been said, he could only afford the cheapest fare. The
railroad network, moreover, was in poor condition.
Jos Luis Mzquiz recalls that "in all these trips Alvaro gave us an example of self-forgetfulness,
of apostolic zeal, and fidelity to the instructions of our Father." [45]. And Amadeo de Fuenmayor
notes that "at the time, the Communion fast was absolute and one could not even drink water
12 hours before receiving Communion. So if the destination was one where there was no mass
when we arrived, we had to look for means to be able to receive Holy Communion. Sometimes
we took advantage of some stops between destinations (they usually lasted only several
minutes), and we approached a village church and asked for a priest to give us Communion.
133

Alvaro never missed receiving Communion on those trips. At other times, he reached his
destination on time, but keeping his fast still had a lot of merit because it was hard to sleep in
those trains where there was always some activity; and especially in hot weather, thirst was
nearly unbearable."[46]
According to the Christian spirit, a spirit of penance means offering up setbacks and hardships
for love of God, and doing so with human elegance, without calling attention or upsetting others.
Francisco Ponz, after stressing that "those journeys involved a strong mortification due to the
poor material conditions and extreme poverty that had to be borne," added that when lvaro
returned "he looked always cheerful, very happy with the work that he was doing; he never
whined or made negative comments about anything. He also used to spend many hours
studying in the train, despite the bad lighting. And without any more rest than the little he had
while traveling, he resumed his usual tasks." [47]
Alvaro met many students - those who wrote about these
journeys often appears under the expression "many people"
[48] - , to whom he spoke of dealing with Christ in prayer,
study and work; of the universal calling to holiness and the
obligation to spread the Christian message in their own
environment. They met anywhere: in the room of a hotel or a
pension, in a caf, or in a public park. For many, these
meetings proved to be "a final push to conversion. [49]
Teodoro Ruiz met Alvaro in Valladolid in January 1940. [50]
Fifty-five years later, in 1995, he wrote: "I remember quite
well that first meeting we had; it was a conversation that
lasted nearly six hours, almost all afternoon that day. He
pleasantly struck me then as an intelligent, outgoing, and
friendly young man who would be a worthy friend. (...) It was
truly amazing to hear a Civil Engineering student talk with
such ease and naturalness, and yet so accurately and
Figure 42: Teodoro Ruiz (left) became a
precisely, of matters such as prayer and the sacraments. He priest and began Opus Dei in Colombia.
insisted especially that piety ought not to consist of simple
Photo credits: opusdei.org.co
gestures or superficial actions; rather, true piety had to be
something solid and deep, rooted in a genuine affective and effective union with God. (...) You
could see that he was a man of strong faith and practiced what he believed. His was a faith fed
with a strong piety, much prayer, the reception of the sacraments, and a tender devotion to the
Blessed Virgin." [51]

134

Florencio Snchez- Bella also joined


Opus Dei at that time [52]. His first
encounter with lvaro happened in
Valencia on 19 July 1940. He recalls:
We took a walk, and as it was very hot,
he invited me out for ice cream in the
Cafe de la Paz. There were quite a
number of people, some of whom playing
were dominoes at tables of white marble.
Amid the noise of the dominoes, rumors
and shouts Alvaro told me the spirit of
Opus Dei, which he had learned directly
from the Founder with whom he lived
daily. I remember the things he
Figure 43: Florencio Sanchez-Bella became Councilor of Opus Dei in mentioned and how he clearly and
Spain and Vice-Grand Chancellor of the University of Navarre for
patiently said them so that I would not
many years since 1960. Here he is shown beside Don Alvaro in one
miss a point. Before my eyes appeared,
of the Universitys academic rites. Photo credits: Obras
thanks to lvaro, a horizon of self-giving I
didnt even suspect existed. [53]. Stories in this vein abound: those of Alberto Taboada del Rio
[54], Juan Bautista Torello [55], Rafael Termes [56], etc.
As a result of his intense apostolic work, Opus Dei spread rapidly throughout much of Spain. In
September 1939 a Center was erected in Valencia; in April 1940, one in Valladolid; and in July
1940, in Barcelona [57]. Several university students also asked for admission to the Work in
Zaragoza, Granada, Bilbao, and other cities of the Iberian Peninsula.
While journeying in those ramshackle railways, lvaro also dreamt of the Works expansion
across the continents. In July 1940, while returning by train to Madrid, he coincided with the
Archbishop of Verpolis (India) in one compartment, and the latter gave him the names of some
university students in his country. When he wrote about this meeting in his account of the trip,
he added: "When will the worldwide expansion happen!" [58]
3. Secretary General of Opus Dei
Study, work, and apostolic trips filled most of lvaros time; but, as expected, his main activity
was helping St. Josemaria in the governance of the Work. In October 1939, when he was 25,
the Founder appointed him Secretary General of Opus Dei. [59] Thus began an even closer
collaboration that would last until the end of the life of St. Josemara. Occasionally the Founder
said, "Ive searched among your brothers, but God has given me Don Alvaro." [60] For more
than 35 years afterwards, Alvaro would be manifesting that extreme reverence, respect, and
spiritual identification with the Founder, always showing the greatest availability. He put his
qualities in the service of the mission he received. His strength, his wisdom, and his readiness
to obey were a support that never diminished.
His role as Secretary General entailed, among other things, being in-charge of the faithful of
Opus Dei in Madrid when the Founder was not in the capital. To put this task in the proper
135

context, it should be noted that, after the war, many Spanish bishops asked St. Josemaria to
preach retreats for priests and seminarians in their specific dioceses. This service to the
Spanish clergy meant that he had to travel to other cities very often [61]. In fact, during the
academic year 1939-1940, St. Josemara was away from Madrid for more than a hundred days,
and the figure rose to one hundred and forty the following year [62]. In addition, since June
1940, he increased the number of his visits to the Spanish bishops in order to introduce them to
the Work.
These quick notes also
suggest the broad support
lvaro had to provide the
Founder in the daily
governance of the Work. He
undertook this task with an
exquisite humility. Jos Luis
Mzquiz writes, Despite being
the Secretary General and the
confidence our Father had in
him, he never took it upon
himself to decide on issues
alone. Very simply, when we
consulted him about
Figure 44: Jose Luiz Muzquiz with Alvaro in Rome. Fr. Muzquiz was sent by
something, he would say: I will St. Josemaria to start Opus Dei in the U.S. Photo credits: josephmuzquiz.org.
get back to you, I will ask the
Father." [63] This was neither indecision nor timidity; it was humility. He was aware that St.
Josemaria had a special grace proper to his being Founder. He lived this virtue in all dimensions
of their collaboration: in the work of governance, in his efforts to provide spiritual help to the
members of Opus Dei, and in his relationship with ecclesiastical authorities.
Apart from the usual chores of the Secretary General, St. Josemaria also asked him to take
charge of tasks connected to economic administration [64]. Specifically, he was on top of
installing new Centers of Opus Dei that were opened in Madrid and other cities of Spain over
the years [65]. One piece of information that that highlights just how much work he did is that in
September 1941, two years after he completed his military service, five centers were opened in
the capital and three other cities. [66]
Nor was putting up these Centers easy for they were done in the midst of great financial
shortage. The following lines from one of the letters of Alvaro to the Founder illustrate the
situation. "The house is running fine but the costs are incredible. We have already exhausted
everything in the bank, which means theres no more money. For one (among many, at least)
we have to pay rent and 7,100 pesetas to Donado [building owner], plus monthly rent and other
expenses. Ricardo will pay the Chamartin (7,500) and we will collect some 4,000 from salaries;
we have received most of these already. With Trueba we will have to settle about 6,000 or
7,000 pesetas, but only within a few months. We will overcome this momentary trouble, but
things are very hard. [67]
136

As a result of this lack of money, they could not fix the heating installation, and the students
living in the Lagasca Street Residence spent the winter of 1940-1941quite cold. For the same
reason, completing the furnishing of the Residence proceeded very slowly. Although there were
others who helped out on the decoration, Alvaro - who had to add to the already many other
hats he was wearing that of being the director of the center [68] - often accompanied Saint
Josemara in his visits to the Madrid flea market and shops to find cheap, secondhand pieces of
furniture (suitably restored) that would contribute to a more dignified and pleasant family
atmosphere. Thus, he learned from the Founder how to find practical solutions to problems of
furnishing the Centers in poverty of spirit but in good taste. He learned as well how to put much
love of God and loving care in the material aspects, such as in the preservation of doors,
windows, flooring and walls, curtains, and so on. [69]
Obviously, to be able to perform all tasks assigned to him simultaneously it was not enough for
him to be endowed with a particular ability to multiply his time - through order, intensity, etc. He
likewise needed a spirit of sacrifice, which meant, for example, reducing his hours spent in
sleep. Referring to lvaro, St. Josemara wrote on October 5, 1939: "He slept only a few hours.
And it cannot be. [70] The Founder asked him repeatedly to take care of his rest, and Alvaro
tried to follow his requests, but it was not always possible. We find in the following entry of
October 1941 an example of his effort to obey: "Today I will have to sleep an hour and a half
less than I should, so I need to apologize to the Father. I end this diary entry." [71]
Because of this pile of obligations health problems soon appeared, and this fact was sometimes
written in the diary of the centers where he lived [72]. Thus, in December 1939 we read: "lvaro
went to the dentist for a minor operation in his gums. For a month now, some part of it has been
suppurating, but he has been ignoring it."[73] In February 1940: "(...) that Alvaro could not get
up because every time he stood up he felt dizzy." [74] In January 1941, "After eating, Alvaro is
going with Pepe O. to see Dr. Salamanca, Dean of Medicine, to find the cause of kidney pains
which for some months now have been
particularly severe" [75 ]; and two
months later : "[lvaro ] is suffering
these days because of his mouth and,
although, as usual, he does not say it,
he must be in real pain." [76]
He was also affected by an
inflammation in the face. The doctor
advised him to apply hot compresses
which were prepared by Carmen
Escriv. Teodoro Ruiz recalls his
admiration upon seeing how he put
those scorching wet compresses
without complaining [77].

Figure 45: Francisco Ponz (extreme left) was later appointed Grand
Rector of the University of Navarre in June 1966 by St. Josemaria
himself. Photo credits: Manuel Castells (University of Navarre)

Francisco Ponz recounts a personal


recollection which shows what impression Alvaro made among the younger members of the
137

Work. "On February 10, 1940, I asked for admission to Opus Dei and on this occasion I had a
long conversation with the Founder. (...) At the end of that conversation, he suggested that from
then on I chat frequently with Alvaro del Portillo, who would teach me more closely the plan of
spiritual life, how to live the spirit of the Work and the various aspects of self-giving. As well, I
was told I could count on his fraternal help in difficulties of any kind that might arise as I lived my
vocation. (...) The differences between us beginning with my age and his (he was 5 or 6 years
older than me), and our professional achievements (he was very much advanced in his career,
while I was almost just beginning) were no obstacles at all to our chats quickly acquiring a
friendly and fraternal tone. They were simple and sincere conversations, which were in fact
moments of genuine spiritual direction ().
lvaro then appeared to me as an authentic person, humanly and supernaturally mature, who
was easy to respect and who easily inspired confidence. From a well-proportioned body,
somewhat-blonde hair, and a discreet mustache, to his glasses: he was neat and careful in
dress, but not flashy. He had a singular intelligence that possessed a great ability to go deep
into the issues, zero in on the most important point of problems, and perceive the personal
difficulties of others. At the same time, he had a big heart, wanted to genuinely help us all, and
was very interested in everything that mattered to us."[78]
Another trait of his was serenity. "Despite having so many different tasks and responsibilities,
one never saw in lvaro any sign of nervousness or anxiety, or gestures or actions that
betrayed precipitation or unwarranted hurrying. He knew how to put order and intensity in his
work, and to focus all his attention on what he was doing, moving from one activity to another
without wasting time, with simple naturalness, without others noticing that he was concerned
with so many things. When we came to him to consult anything, he attended to us as if he had
nothing else to do. He had such a friendly, welcoming attitude, and encouraged a lot of
confidence, security, and peace. These were not merely natural human qualities, but rather a
result of his deep inner life and supernatural sense and of his extraordinary faith in God, in the
Work, in St. Josemara. All these gave him strength of character, serenity and peace amidst
setbacks or events that could otherwise be disconcerting
and provoke anxiety." [79]

Figure 46: Pedro Casciaro (left) crossed the


Pyrenees with St. Josemaria. He later brought
his Josemaria (right) to Opus Dei. Photo
credits: josemariaexcriva.info.

Jos Mara Casciaro, who would become a renowned


Scripture scholar over the years, also recalls that "lvaro
always gave you that smile frank and full of love which
effectively communicated joy and peace." [80] The motor
that kept him going amidst such a prodigious amount of
work while keeping serenity and joy, and despite his
illnesses, was not intelligence or memory, or his youth or
his natural optimism. Rather it was his faith and love for
the Lord and his life of prayer that moved him to work,
seeking the glory of God and opportunities to serve
others.
The brief notes in which he summarized the resolutions of
138

a recollection in 1940 illustrate what was just discussed: "Not to carry more than one portfolio for
my life and a small sheet to write down resolutions, etc., which I must keep on working on. / Get
up when Isidoro (wakes), shower, and hour kneeling at prayer (6:15 to 6:45) and after 10
minutes of the Gospel. / Mass with missal, always. / Reading: 1:30 to 2:00 (...) / Afternoon
prayer: 5:30 to 6:00. (...) Schedule of things to work on immediately: / Professional, the bridge
and copy Chufas [81]. Study in the morning when I return from school. / For the Work, put in
order all the papers that are pending (all). () Every night, my expense account. / Regarding
my expense account, every penny / Transact the money I receive just like everyone. / Take note
of all expenses from today. /Exams! Writing and reading the next day. / Always here and now.
(...) To delegate responsibilities and demand. / Not to think of myself. / Read these resolution
notes regularly and ask God for help (...)."[82]
One understands even more the quality of his spiritual life, if one considers that the Founder
would open up his soul to him with absolute confidence, and disclosing to him in all sincerity the
toughest tests to which his soul was being subjected. We have a good example of one such
incident on September 25, 1941.
At the request of his children, who saw him physically exhausted because of his enormous
priestly work - and partly also perhaps because of the slanderous campaign unleashed against
him -, Saint Josemara spent a few days at La Granja de San Ildefonso (Segovia ) to rest. While
there, he experienced what he called a cruel test: there came to his mind the thought that
Opus Dei was a human invention of his, not God's.
As early as 1933 he had already gone through such a trial which he overcame through an act of
acceptance of God's will: "Lord, if the Work is not yours, destroy it; if it is, strengthen me."
Immediately, he was at peace. [83] Now, he reacted in similar fashion. Then he wrote a letter to
his son Alvaro, opening his entire heart: "Yesterday I celebrated Mass for the Bishop of this
place, and today I offered the Holy Sacrifice and my entire day for the Sovereign Pontiff and his
intentions. For some reason, after the Consecration, I felt an inner impulse (very sure, at once,
that the Work is to be beloved by the Pope) to do something that has cost me tears, tears that
burned my eyes looking at Jesus in the Eucharist; and with my heart, I said sincerely: "Lord, if
you would like, I accept the injustice." You already know what the injustice is: the destruction of
the entire Work of God. I know He was pleased with me. How would I refuse to do that act of
union with His Will, if He asked? (...) Alvarote: pray much and ask many to pray for your Father.
Look at how Jesus allows the enemy to make me see the outlandish enormity of that campaign
of unbelievable lies and insane slander, and the animalis homo reacts with such a human
reaction. By the grace of God, I always reject these natural reactions that seem, and perhaps
are, full of a sense of righteousness and justice; and in its place I affirm a joyful and filial "fiat"
(divine filiation: I am a child of God!) that fills me with peace, joy, and forgetfulness." [84]

4. Tasks of spiritual formation


One more aspect of the assistance that lvaro began providing St Josemaria involved the
spiritual direction of the faithful of the Work, which until then the Founder was doing almost
139

exclusively. He was the first member of Opus Dei to have been given this very sensitive task
[85]. lvaro was aware of the responsibility this entailed and "precisely to better accomplish this
task, in each of those chats he sought to counsel those who conversed with him to make an
effort to always improve in his spirit of union with the Founder: this was a point he never tired of
repeating. He was aware at that time that he was doing the duties of the Father, who had so
delicately led everyone, each one, through paths of greater self-giving with a radical fidelity to
the spirit that the Lord had inspired in him. All members of Opus Dei who received such
assistance from Alvaro recalled that it was not difficult to see St. Josemaria behind each of his
words, with the affection and delicacy with which he closely followed them." [86]
Jos Mara Casciaro, as has already been mentioned, was one of the people who benefited
from his spiritual direction. He brought me to have so much confidence in him and I opened my
soul to him. I remember those moments well. He gave me very practical indications on aspects
of self-giving in the Work (...). I was filled with joy and satisfaction with the way that Alvaro was
dealing with me: simple, friendly, practical, full of kindness and understanding. He took me very
seriously, despite my young age." [87].
Jos Luis Mzquiz, who was more than a year older than Alvaro, focuses on how he gave him
advice on his spiritual readings: "Aside from The Decenary to the Holy Spirit [88], he
recommended that I read The Soul of the Apostolate of Chautard [89 ], (...) the Story of a Soul
by St. Therese of the Child Jesus [90], The Mass and the Inner Life of Vasconcelos [91] and, in
general, the classic books of the Spanish mystics St. Teresa, St. Peter of Alcantara, etc."[92]
Along with this work of personal spiritual guidance, he gave many classes of ascetical and
doctrinal formation to students participating in the apostolates of Opus Dei. [93] One of those
who attended remarked that "he was a supernatural man, so in love with God and his vocation;
on the other hand he was always positive, encouraging, and cordial. He gave clear doctrine with
fortitude, and showed the spirit of the Work with the high standards with which our Founder did
them, without lowering in the least the goals of the struggle for holiness." [94]
He was also quite liberal with his visits to the centers of the Work, which began to multiply and
which everyone appreciated, as seen in this diary entry from Valladolid: "Alvaro arrived
unexpectedly, coming from Vitoria. As soon as we could, we all gathered at home and he gave
us the Circle (...). He thought of leaving for Madrid in the early afternoon, but we finally got him
to stay here until dawn. We have, therefore, spent the day at home and are very happy about
his visit as he brought us news of the Work." [95]
When distance prevented him from visiting the other members physically, he encouraged them
with letters, writing them, doing so whenever and wherever possible. He had resolved to himself
in November 1939: "From now on, the first thing I will do when I get back home from school is to
write to those outside [of Madrid]." [96] "These letters are written in the school, in between
classes, so they come off a bit disconnected" [97] he says, for example, in one of his letters.
The 53 letters that have been preserved from the academic year 1939-1940 in addition to the 42
of the next, speak for themselves on his dedication to this task of letter-writing. [98]

140

Some excerpts from the correspondence of those years show the vibration with which he
spurred the desire for holiness among the members of Opus Dei. In September 1939 he wrote
to Jose Orlandis, who was in Mallorca: "Each of us has a categorical duty to get to the top (...).
We must be as we should; that we get used to say no; to be faithful even in the smallest details
(...). Anyway, you have to push. In that quiet Mallorca you can do so much: will you?" [99]
And in another letter, in September 29, he wrote to Alberto Sols, "I am very pleased that you
yourself have seen that the yoke of the Lord is not only lightweight, but it also makes the one
who puts it on move faster, defying the laws of gravity. It detaches one from the earth, to live the
joy of the supernatural life, and, drunk in that celestial intoxication, one just thinks of the One
who chose him to gird him with His yoke. But the yoke must really be His. So those sorrows,
that feeling of loneliness, that complaint about that seeming contradiction, that habit of blaming
ones sicknesses, such and such detail: they are not right, and must be rejected. Is it that
perhaps that Jesus does not love us? In other words...everything is good, because everything is
from God. Therefore, joy, always! Joy that need not be a physical sensation, but an interior
peace that must always be reflected on the outside, for love of God and out of charity for those
around us." [100]
In December 1939, he wrote to Jose Orlandis once more: "It is
necessary to increase our work with young people much more
to get all of them to become men of conviction; men who know
how to face the challenges that confront them. Spain is a lot,
yes; but it's still so little! We have to see ourselves as fire
spread throughout the virgin forest of the world. India,
America, poor Europe thats too civilized for its own good,
China, Japan, Africa. So many souls! (...) So much to pray
about; so many motives to improve ones self, to do more
good works, to live presence of God and to make intense and
good use (...) of time - not one minute lost, not one chance to
please God and to put up with annoyance wasted." [101]
The following words are part of a letter to those who lived in
Figure 47: Jose Orlandis became the
Barcelona from March 12, 1941: "Dear Catalans; its been
University of Navarre's first Dean of
quite a while that I have not written. But do trust that I never
the Faculty of Canon Law and first
forget you. I follow everything you do with a lot of attention, I
director of the Institute of Church
History. Photo credits:
read your letters. All your concerns are my own. And if I say
diariodenavarra.es
this about myself, imagine what the Father would say! No joy,
no concern of anyone among you leaves him unaffected. This is the essence of the Work, and
the apostolate is based on this indestructible unity; fraternity well lived must be the foundation of
all our work, the basis of winning of new apostles, of our progress. That all may be one as we
are one!"[102]

141

5. The "contradiction of the good


Immediately after its foundation, when Opus Dei was only taking its first steps, between 1930
and 1936, St Josemaria already experienced misunderstandings within ecclesiastical circles.
Where did they come from? How did they begin? We can point to two sources.
First, we must consider "the theological root of the problem." As Bishop del Portillo later
explained, "in those years, the founder of Opus Dei saw so clearly in his soul, thanks to clear
divine illumination, the universal call to holiness. This was something that appeared incredibly
bold at the time. I heard him explain it many times. On one occasion, in the late sixties, he used
these words: When forty-odd years ago, more or less, a poor priest who was twenty-six, began
to say that holiness was not a thing only for friars, nuns, and priests, but that it was for all
Christians (because Our Lord Jesus Christ said to all to be holy as your heavenly Father is
holy...- it doesnt whether one is single, married, widowed: all can be saints ), they said that the
priest was a heretic." [103]
Unfortunately, the other cause was a rather petty one: jealousy. At the end of the civil war,
jealousy arose towards the apostolic fruits that the Lord brought forth in Opus Dei. People in
some ecclesiastical sectors began to spread slanderous comments about the teachings and
ministry of St. Josemara to try to hinder his work. At first the rumors were more or less discrete,
but then, from September 1940, the attacks became more intense and became real
harassment.
The persecution reached such extents that sometimes the Founder would ask: "lvaro where
will the insults come from tomorrow?" [104] Slanders against the doctrine preached by St.
Josemara, slurs against members of the Work, anonymous threats in writing, visits to parents
of members of Opus Dei from some religious to alert them that their children were being
misled and were in danger of excommunication and even eternal damnation if they continued in
their vocation [105]. "The Work was accused of heresy, secretly conspiring to get to the apex of
power, freemasonry, of being unpatriotic, etc. These were not isolated incidents, but a real
campaign. Those who promoted these calumnies did not hesitate to go to the highest levels of
the Church hierarchy, to sow distrust and suspicion regarding the Work and the Father." [106]
The Founder called this situation "the contradiction of the good." [107]
lvaro also experienced the attacks in his own family. His mother received such messages. A
religious even visited her home to insist on the danger hanging over her son. He further said
that they did not understand how a young man of such good qualities had been led astray by
those people [108]. Doa Clementina retorted that she knew very well the founder of Opus Dei
and her own son; she then dismissed him.
The difficulty of that moment once again highlighted some features of Alvaro, such as his love
for the truth, loyalty to the Founder, courage and fortitude in adversity, serenity and inner peace,
wisdom, and the ability to forgive [109]. Moved by deep filial feelings, he asked several
ecclesiastics, who had attended a retreat preached by St. Josemaria (bishops, priests, men and
women religious, seminarians and novices in various orders) to write testimonials about the
Founder of Opus Dei and the fruits they had obtained from those retreats. [110]
142

Meanwhile, the Bishop of Madrid-Alcala, Bishop Leopoldo Eijo and Garay, who had blessed and
encouraged the Founder from the very beginning, decided to make a formal act to publicly
signify the support of the hierarchy for Opus Dei, and so defend it from attacks. On March 19,
1941 [111] Opus Dei was granted Church approval in scriptis as a Pious Union, as established
in the Code of Canon Law then in force. [112]
Francisco Ponz recalled that St Josemaria told
them the news in the chapel of the Residence in
Lagasca Street, in front of the exposed Blessed
Sacrament. He adds an interesting detail: Alvaro,
who had helped the Father prepare the
documentation submitted to the Diocesan Curia,
was also there; but he was just one more. (...) After
the exposition and benediction with the Blessed
Sacrament, we left the chapel and lvaro declined
to say any comment or clarification. He simply
passed unnoticed, in no way attempting to appear
to us as someone special." [113]
It was a lesson in humility and the natural reserve
that should be kept in affairs of governance. Since
Figure 48: Bishop Leopoldo Eijo y Garay, who
the middle of 1940, he had helped the Founder in
supported Opus Dei from its inception, had a
the material preparation of the necessary
deference for Alvaro which he rarely gave to men of
documents for the diocesan approval of Opus Dei.
Alvaro's age. Photo credits: opusdei.org.br.
[114] Then he worked on transcribing the Statutes
of the Work, written by St. Josemara and approved by the Bishop. [115] On the night the
mother of St. Josemaria died in April 1941, he was typing precisely these.
The diocesan approval, however, did not put an end to the persecution and smear campaigns.
On the contrary, in the following months, these were compounded because additional
complaints were now made to civil authorities [116], and considering the authoritarian nature of
the political regime, it was quite likely that these could have had serious consequences. In fact,
in July 1941, St. Josemaria was charged in a court created for the suppression of freemasonry
and communism. [117]
It was in this context that Bishop Eijo y Garay also observed firsthand the qualities of the young
Secretary General of Opus Dei. The occasion was a day that the Founder was away from
Madrid, and an attack on the Work took place. lvaro phoned St. Josemaria to report the fact,
and the latter advised him to speak personally with Don Leopoldo and to inform the Bishop of
what he had told the Founder.
During the meeting, the bishop expressed concern that some members of Opus Dei, the
younger ones especially, would react to the persecution with less supernatural reactions such
as grudges or anger. But the concerned Bishop was completely pacified when he heard the
following response: Do not worry, Reverend Bishop. We see that this is something that God
allows so that, with the sacrifice that He asks from us, we become better. And we are happy,
143

because when a good surgeon wants to make sure thatn an operation successful, he chooses a
good instrument, and the Lord wanted to use a platinum scalpel (the best there is) for this
contradiction." [118] A few years later, Bishop Eijo y Garay said he had been very edified with
this reply, and added, "instead of me giving encouragement and advice, it was I who received a
lesson and was comforted." [119]
Bishop Eijo y Garay showed Alvaro a deference which, if any, must be described as unusual,
since the Bishop was a man of somewhat dour character and a little susceptible to praise. In
addition, he was a highly regarded authority and much older than the Secretary General of
Opus Dei. [120]
The bishop of Madrid was not the only member of the
Church hierarchy who appreciated Alvaros worth. There
were, as well, Bishop Santos Moro, Bishop of Avila [121];
Bishop Marcelino Olaechea, Bishop of Pamplona [122];
the Venerable Jos Mara Garca Lahiguera, then spiritual
director of the seminary of Madrid-Alcal, and confessor of
St. Josemara between 1940 and 1944 [123]; the Abbot of
Montserrat, Aurelio Maria Escarr Jan, OSB [124], etc.

Figure 49: The Venerable Jose Maria Garcia


Lahiguera was one of many important
ecclesiastical figures who were impressed
with the human and supernatural qualities of
Alvaro del Portillo. Photo credits: Analisis
digital

Of particular importance was his meeting with the Nuncio


in Spain, Archbishop Gaetano Cicognani, on July 28, 1941
[125]. Until then, this ecclesiastic had expressed
reservations about the approval given by the Bishop of
Madrid to Opus Dei. After that conversation, however, he
began to gradually understand and appreciate the Work,
aside from forming a relationship of trust and friendship
with Saint Josemara and Alvaro del Portillo.

Jos Luis Mzquiz recalls that on one occasion, the


Founder of Opus Dei invited Don Casimiro Morcillo, then
auxiliary Bishop and then Archbishop of Madrid, to the Jenner Residence. Alvaro was asked by
the Founder to give a talk to explain the Work. "That certainly did not come easy to lvaro as he
was then only an engineering student aside from being a bit shy and one who easily turned red
(...) [but] he overcame all that through great supernatural daring. And, with that same daring, he
explained the Work to ecclesiastical and civil authorities, saying things clearly and defending the
nature and spirit of the Work, which was then little known and sometimes misunderstood." [126]
One day, someone asked lvaro, "How do you manage to say things so clearly to such
authorities? Dont you get overwhelmed?" To which question, Alvaro replied simply: "I
remember the miraculous catch of fish and I try to do what St. Peter did: in nomine tuo laxabo
rete12. I remember what the Father has told me and I remember that Gospel scene. [127]

12

Latin for in your name, I will cast out the net.

144

6. Attention to his mother and siblings


In September 1939, when Alvaro returned to Madrid, already free from military obligations, he
decided to move to the Jenner Street University Residence. In those days, his mother who was
relatively young when she was widowed needed to start her life all over again. Most of her
children could not immediately help her: Ramon, had become independent; Paco and Pilar were
going to get married very soon; Angel and Pepe, were outside the capital for military service;
Tere and Carlos were still very young.
lvaro had a great love for his mother and brothers, and we can assume that it did cost him to
make that decision - but he was convinced that it was what God asked of him. In any case,
often he tried to go see them and helped them solve family problems [128]. Doa Clementina
worried about her youngest son, Carlos, because he was not focused at school: he had lost the
habit of study during the war and did not quite recover it afterwards. In 1941 he was in the 5th
year of high school and - as he himself wrote [129] - failed four subjects. The Colegio del Pilar
had to let him go. lvaro then took up the matter and, in agreement with his mother, arranged
for his brother to enter a boarding school run by the Capuchins in Lecroz, north of Navarra,
who were known for solving difficult cases. Carlos agreed to this move, and together with the
pieces of advice from lvaro who was following him closely, the school changed him completely
for the better. [130]
However, despite the fact that Alvaro lived close by and was always available to support her in
her day-to-day difficulties, Doa Clementina, who was a very good woman and valued his sons
self- surrender to God, still could not help to sometimes wish that lvaro lived with her: not less
because, among the children, he was her favorite.
What finally set her at rest was his son's decision to take the path to the priesthood. Tere tells
us, "I dont know exactly when Alvaro told my mother he was going to be ordained a priest. I
was then about to turn seventeen. (...) Mom was thrilled, especially when Alvaro said, I'd like
you to make me an alb. I'll send you the picture.[131] Pilar remembers that as soon as he sent
her the design, Dona Clementina devoted all her energies to finishing this sacred vestment.
"Suddenly - what Carlos and Tere told me, because I was not living with them anymore - she
was using embroidery, something she had not done since many years ago. - Why are you using
embroidery now, Mom?, Carlos asked, surprised. - It's just... I'm recalling old Mexican customs!
- Strange... But there was no one to take her out of it. Later, we found out what she was doing:
embroidering an alb for the ordination of Alvaro. My brother had told her several months before,
and only to her. He had not told us anything, because, precisely during that period, the
appropriate juridical form for the ordination of the members of the Work was yet to be found,
and no one knew how or when that dream of the Father would become a reality. [132]
The news filled Doa Clementina with immense joy, as Pilar del Portillo affirmed: "It was
certainly one of the great joys - I think the greatest - of her life: a priest son!" [133]
FOOTNOTES:
[1] As stated on p. 125, this thinking was reflected in the n. 249 The Way .
145

[2 ] St. Josemara , Circular Letter to the faithful of Opus Dei , cit. in Vzquez de Prada, A. , The
Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 337 .
[3 ] See Vzquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 354 .
[4 ] St. Josemara , Circular Letter to the faithful of Opus Dei , cit. in Vzquez de Prada, A. , The
Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 338-339 .
[5 ] Luke 10:42 .
[6 ] Testimony of Amadeo de Fuenmayor Champn ( AGP, APD S -2024 ) .
[7 ] Ibid.
[8 ] See Pius XII, Radio Message to the faithful of Spain , April 16, 1939 : AAS 31 (1939 ) 151154 ; speeches to members of the Sacred College and the Roman Curia for Christmas, in the
1939 and 1940 , in L' Osservatore Romano, 24 -XII- 1939 and 24 -XII- 1940.
[9 ] Cf Request to enroll in the 3rd year ( Madrid, 29 -IX- 1939) and Registration for the 3rd year
( Madrid, 30 -IX- 1939) : AGP, APD D -6009 -17 and 18.
[10 ] See Certificate of studies at the School of Civil Engineering , Channels and Ports, AGP, D 17025 APD .
[11 ] See Testimony of Edward Case Ridaura , AGP, APD T- 0361 , p. Two .
[ 12] " By then, he was a professor of the School of Civil Engineering, a demanding master: a
student who had missed during the course three times to class without justification, could not
take the exam, and was failed directly . Don Alvaro had not missed class three times , but many
more ; but he went to talk to the teacher and convinced him to consider: he passed, knowing the
subject. I have heard this story only once or twice from Don Alvaro, who added, "this does not
mean did not have to go to class; I did not go, because I could not." This comment, in its
simplicity , confirms complete self-giving of Bishop del Portillo to what God asked him: he did
not do what he would have liked, but what he had to do." (Testimony of Fernando Valenciano
Polack , AGP, T- 18489 APD , p . 3) .
[13 ] See Testimony of Ricardo Castelo Viedma, AGP, APD T -0140 , p. Two .
[14 ] Throughout these months we find in the diary references to the date of the beginning of
classes and exams, which sometimes had to be communicated to Alvaro because he was
outside Madrid. For example: "We phoned Valencia after dinner because has lvaro an exam at
7 " ( Diary Santa Isabel / Jenner , entry 4-I - 1940 : AGP, D- 17130 APD ) .
[15 ] Cf Qualification and classification Prom : AGP, D -6009 APD -18.
[16 ] See Receipt of the application form for the 4th year ( Madrid, 10 -IV- 1940) enrollment and
registration for the 4th year ( Madrid, 10 -IV- 1940) : cf. AGP, D- 16010 APD .

146

[17 ] St. Josemara , Personal Notes , n . 1616, 1 -VI- 1940 , in Vzquez de Prada , A. , The
Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 600 . And in a letter lvaro , dated the first of May
1940, one can read : " You know that among us, the priesthood will come as seasoned fruit, for
those whom God wills to call to that path; some , soon will be able to hold the Lord in their
hands."( Del Portillo, . , Letter to Jesus Larralde Berrio , AGP, APD C- 400501 ) . For the issue
of priests in Opus Dei at the time, cf. Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II ,
op. cit. , pp . 593-611 .
[18 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Alfonso Duchess Balcells , AGP, C- 400 924 APD .
[19 ] Diary of Jenner, entry of 15 -VII- 1940 : AGP, D- 17131 APD .
[20 ] Cf Qualification and classification Prom : AGP, D -6009 APD -20.
[21 ] See Certificate of studies at the School of Civil Engineering , Canals and Ports, AGP, D 17025 APD .
[ 22] "One day our Father told me something, making me understand the generous self-giving of
Don Alvaro , and I was impressed because I had finished my career and had that foolish pride
which civil engineers then had: lvaro has told me repeatedly that he is willing to abandon his
engineering studies, although I know you're thrilled to finish them, to devote himself exclusively
to the Work. But I told him no, it would be better to finish them to have professional prestige.'"(
Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 20).
[23 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 401105 APD .
[24 ] Cf Request to enroll in year 5 (Madrid , 8- XI- 1940) , AGP, APD D -6009 -22 and the
receipt of the application form for the 5th year ( Madrid, 4 -XI- 1940) , AGP, D- 19004 APD .
[25 ] The subjects of the 5th course were: "Sanitary Engineering", "Urban Planning", "Steel
structures", "Ports, Airports and maritime signals", "Roads II", "Political Economy II" , "Designs"
and "German" cf. Certificate of studies at the School of Civil Engineering , Channels and Ports :
AGP, D -17025 APD .
[ 26] " Today lvaro arrived from Madrid with all his classmates to make a field trip to Valencia
and Alicante. While hes in the city he will reside here. Today he did not eat at home because he
went out with his classmates. In the afternoon we finally got to embrace him ( Diary of
Samaniego , entry 5 -XII- 1940 : AGP, D- 17144 APD ) .
[27 ] Cf Request to the Secretary of Public Works, to be admitted to the official roster of Bureau
of Assistants for Public Works (Madrid , 8 -I- 1940 : AGP, D -6148 APD -25) and first
appointment as Assistant Public Works Management Officer 1st Class (Madrid , 24 -II- 1940 :
AGP, D -6148 APD -26) .
[28 ] See Office of the Ministry of Public Works to the Director General of Roads, on the
appointment , on Commission, to the Chief of Computation of Bridges of Strict Height (Madrid,
21 -IV- 1941) : AGP, D -6148 APD -35 .

147

[29 ] See Office of the Director of the Special School of Civil Engineering , Canals and Ports on
the compatibility of studies with the service as Assistant Public Works (Madrid , 20 -IX- 1940) :
AGP, D- APD 6009-21 .
[30 ] See Listing studies ( 1933-1941 ) : AGP, D -6009 APD -25.
[31 ] Cf Appointment as Engineer Bureau 3rd Roads, Canals and Ports ( Madrid, 15 -VII- 1941 :
AGP, D- 16011 APD ) office of the Ministry of Public Works of the target to the police station in
the River Basin Segura (Madrid , 22 -VII- 1941 : AGP, D -6147 APD -8) ; license from the
Ministry of Public Works ( Madrid, 30 -VII- 1941 : AGP, D- 16012 APD ) . To be assigned as
Engineer , one first needed to be a temporary employee in the Bureau of Assistants for Public
Works : cf. Resolution of the Ministry of Public Works by which Alvaro becomes a
supernumerary members of the Assistants for Public Works (Madrid , 19 -VIII - 1941 : AGP, D 6148 APD -38) .
[32 ] See Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Public Works in the Segura River Basin ,
communicating that lvaro del Portillo was reporting to that station and taking over as third
engineer (Murcia , 9- VIII- 1941 : AGP APD D -6147 -9) , and a statement that he had taken
office in the station of the Ministry of Public Works in the Segura River basin (Murcia , 9- VIII1941 : AGP, APD D -6147 -10) .
[33 ] Cf Request by Deputy Minister of Public Works, regarding the supernumerary status in the
service of the State (Murcia , 9- VIII- 1941 : AGP, D -6147 APD -11) and granting of
supernumerary status (Madrid , 20 -VIII - 1941 : AGP, D -6147 APD -14) . Since 1967, the
supernumerary status had unpaid leave (see Note s / f on the BOE 26 -III- 1965 and TS
Judgment of 2 -VI- 1967 , AGP, D -6147 APD -23) . One who had supernumerary status or, the
officer did not occupy a position in the state bureaucracy, but rather continued to rise through
the ranks, with no charge to the state; in addition, time is counted for the purposes of pension;
at any time one could re-enter State service, if there was an opening.
[ 34 ] In any case , Alvaro was not completely dissociated from engineering . The reason given
in his request for leave read: "to be working currently in the drafting of individual construction
projects in Madrid " ( Application, the Deputy Minister of Public Works, through the temporary
status in State service, Murcia, 9-VIII-1941 : AGP, D -6147 APD -11) . Between 1941 and 1946,
in the field of Technical Engineering Office which he organized with the engineer Jos Luis
Mzquiz, Alvaro carried out some projects. Cf Request by the title Doctor of Engineering (Rome,
24 -III- 1965) and curriculum vitae attached: AGP, APD D -6151 -2. In addition , in the mid-60s ,
he got a PhD in Civil Engineering by submitting a project above (cf. record for obtaining a PhD
in Engineering, original in the General Archives of the Polytechnic University of Madrid , attested
photocopies in AGP, APD D- 6151 ) and the Doctor of Civil Engineering (Madrid , 22 -IV- 1965 :
AGP, D- 17024 APD ) . After his appointment as President General of Opus Dei, he was
appointed Honorary Member of the Association of Civil Engineers: cf. AGP, D- 16035 APD .
[35 ] See Testimony of Edward Case Ridaura , AGP, APD T- 0361 , p. Two .

148

[36 ] " P. Lasaga prescribed a procedure to the Father for me to study , not German, but
Japanese, giving the techniques of his companion , a missionary in Japan, P. Escusell " ( his
entry in the Diary of Santa Isabel / Jenner, the 3-XII-1939 : AGP, D- 17130 APD ) .
[37 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 543 . An
an explanation of this apostolic expansion is in Vzquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus
Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 417-427 .
[38 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 387-390 .
[39 ] St. Josemara , Conversations ... , op. cit. , n . 38 .
[40 ] Cf Account of the journey of 18-21 -II- 1940 , AGP, D- 17133 APD .
[41 ] Cf Cubil center Diary , entry for 19 -VII- 1940 : Valencia , AGP, D- 17142 APD .
[42 ] Cf Account of the journey of 28 -VI 1- VII- 1940 , AGP, D- 17140 APD .
[43 ] See Diary of the center of Rincon , entry of 23-XII- 1940 : Valladolid , AGP, D- 17143 APD.
[44 ] Cf Account of the journey of 30 -XII- 1939 , AGP, APD D- 19115 ; Journey 2 31 -III -IV1940 , AGP, and AGP D-15204/11 APD , APD T- 16858 ; Account of the journey of 12-13 - V 1940 , AGP, APD D-15204/15 ; Account of the journey of 28 -VI VII- 1- 1940 , AGP, APD D17140 and Account of the journey of 27 to 29 - VI- 1941 , AGP, APD D- 17141 . Account of the
journey of 20-21 -VII- 1940 , AGP, APD D- 17140 and Office of the Commissioner of the
Ministry of Public Works in the Segura River Basin , communicating the reporting of Alvaro in
that police station and taking over as third engineer (Murcia , 9- VIII- 1941) , AGP, D- APD
6147-9 . Journey of 5-19 -IX- 1939 : cf. Diary Cubil center , Valencia, entry ofs 5 -IX- 1939 and
IX- 20 - 1939 : AGP, APD D- 17129 ; Journey of 31-XII - 1939 5 -I- 1940 , Diary of Cubil ,
Valencia , entry for 31-XII-1939 : AGP, APD D- 17129 and Diary of downtown Santa Isabel /
Jenner , entry 5-I- 1940 : AGP, APD D- 17130 ; Account of the journey of 2-7 -IV- 1940 , AGP,
RHF D- 15204/1 and Cubil Diary , Valencia, entry 7 -IV- 1940 : AGP, APD D- 17129 ; Journey of
18-20 -VII- 1940 , Diary of Cubil , Valencia, entry of 19-VII-1940 : AGP, APD D- 17142 journey
and 5-9 -XII- 1940 , Diary of Samaniego , Valencia, entries 5 and 9 -XII- 1940 : AGP, APD D17144 . Account of the journey of 27-29 -I- 1940 , AGP, RHF D- 15204/5 ; Journey 1 to 2 -IV1940 , AGP, RHF D-15204/13 ; Account of the journey of 8-9 -VI- 1940 , AGP, RHF D15204/18 ; Journey of 23-XII- 1940 , Diary of the center of Rincon , Valladolid, entry 23 -XII1940 : AGP, APD D- 17143 . Account of the journey of 25 -II- 1940 , AGP, APD D- 17134.
Account of the journey of 28-29 -XII- 1939 , AGP, D- 19115 APD ; Account of the journey of
18-21 -II- 1940 , AGP, APD D- 17133 ; Account of the journey of 25-26 -II- 1940 , AGP, APD D17134 ; Account of the journey of 3 -III- 1940 , AGP, D- 17135 APD ; Account of the journey of
29-30 -III- 1940 , AGP, APD D-15204/10 ; Account of the journey of 27 29 -IV- 1940 , APD D17137 ; Account of the journey of 11 - V - 1940 , AGP, RHF D-15204/14 ; Account of the
journey of 14-15 - V - 1940 , AGP, RHF D- 15204 / 16 Diary of downtown Zaragoza , AGP,
APD D- 17138 ; Account of the journey of 2 29 -VIII -IX- 1940 , Diary of Jenner , AGP, APD D17131 Account of the journey of 20-30 -VI- 1941 , AGP, D- 17141 APD .

149

[45 ] Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 14 .


[46 ] Testimony of Amadeo de Fuenmayor Champn ( AGP, APD S -2024 ) .
[47 ] Testimony of Francisco Ponz Piedrafita , AGP, APD T -0755 , p. 10.
[48 ] Cf Account of the journey of 8 to 9 -VI- 1940 , AGP, RHF D-15204/18 .
[49 ] Testimony of Francisco Ponz Piedrafita , AGP, APD T -0755 , p. 10.
[ 50] Years later, he would begin the work of Opus Dei in Colombia .
[51 ] Testimony of Teodoro Ruiz Jusu , AGP, APD T -0433 , p. Two .
[52 ] Over the years, would be regional vicar of Spain .
[53 ] Testimony of Florencio Sanchez Bella , AGP, APD T- 15512 , p. Three .
[54 ] See Testimony of Alberto River Taboada , AGP, APD T- 15743 , p. Two .
[55 ] See Testimony of John the Baptist Torello , AGP, APD T- 16269 , p. Two .
[56 ] See Testimony of Rafael Termes Carrer , AGP, APD T- 1051, p. 1.
[57 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 417-427 .
[58 ] Del Portillo, , Account of the journey of 28 -VI 1- VII- 1940 , AGP, D- 17140 APD and
Diary Jenner , ENTRIES OF 1 -VII -40 : AGP, D- 17131 APD .
[59 ] "The Father has appointed to each one his work ( ... ) , and I [ take care ] of the General
Secretariat of the Development and Administration " ( Diary Santa Isabel / Jenner, entry of 10-X
-1939 : AGP, D- 17130 APD ) . The legal status of Opus Dei in those years : cf. Fuenmayor , A.
Gomez -Iglesias, V. , Illanes , JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei , op. cit. , Chapter 3 .
[60 ] Testimony of Andrs Aterido Caadilla , AGP, APD T- 0678 , p. 11. For his part, Jos Luis
Mzquiz has written : " It must have been around 1940 , ( ... ) when our Father said in his room
in the Jenner Residence (...): Before I was thinking of ( he told me the name), but now I see
clearly that the one whom the Lord wanted to help me is Alvaro'"( Testimony of Jos Luis
Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 21-22).
[61 ] For example , in April 1940 , St. Josemara wrote: " The clergy of Valencia, Avila, Leon and
Pamplona are asking me for retreats. If I could, I would refuse. I am often not at home!
(Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. Cit. , P. 596).
[62 ] See ibid. , Pp . 723-732 .
[63 ] Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 23 .
[64 ] See Diary of Santa Isabel / Jenner, entry of 10-X - 1939 : AGP, D- 17130 APD .

150

[65 ] "The Father, J. Manuel , lvaro and Rafael went to see some houses for the future
residence [ Valencia ] " ( Diary of Cubil , Valencia , entry 4-I - 1940 : AGP, D- 17129 APD ) .
"We have seen a house in Martinez Campos ( ... ) . We went to see it - Chiqui , Alvaro and I " (
Diary of Jenner, entry of 24 -IV- 1940 AGP, D- 17131 APD ) . " After lunch Miguel and I [Pedro
Casciaro ] went with Alvaro to the House of Studies to see the works. We specify the color of
the paint in several rooms and showers , bathrooms and toilets "( Diary of downtown Martinez
Campos , entry 7- VIII- 1940 AGP, D- 17146 APD ) .
[66 ] The centers in Madrid were : Jenner, Martnez Campos, Lagasca, Marqus de Urquijo and
Villanueva. These last two were installed respectively in June and September 1941 (see Diary
of Marqus de Urquijo , AGP, D- 17154 APD and Diary of Villanueva , AGP, D- 17153 APD ) .
[67 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 401029 APD .
[68 ] The mother and siblings of the Founder, who continued to live in Martinez Campos also
moved to this house, although he often went to Lagasca to discuss things with lvaro: "Late in
the morning Father came home for a while to speak to lvaro "( Diary of Lagasca, entry of 14 XI- 1940 : AGP, D- 17132 APD ) .
[69 ] See Testimony of Francisco Ponz Piedrafita , AGP, APD T -0755 , p. 11.
[70 ] Diary of Santa Isabel / Jenner, entry 5 -X- 1939 : AGP, D- 17130 APD .
[71 ] Diary of Marqus de Urquijo, entry 5 -X- 1941 : AGP, D- 17154 APD .
[72 ] See Diary of Santa Isabel / Jenner, entries of 17 and 18 -XI- 1939 : AGP, D- 17130 APD .
[73 ] Ibid. , Entry 11 -XII- 1939.
[74 ] Ibid. , Entry 10 -II- 1940.
[75 ] Diary of Lagasca, entry of 22 -I- 1941 : AGP, D- 17132 APD .
[76 ] Ibid. , ENTRIES OF 5 -III- 1941.
[77 ] See Testimony of Teodoro Ruiz Jusu , AGP, APD T -0433 , p. April .
[78 ] Testimony of Francisco Ponz Piedrafita , AGP, APD T -0755 , pp . 1-2 .
[79 ] Ibid. , P. 14 .
[80 ] Testimony of Jos Mara Ramrez Casciaro , AGP, APD T- 0961 , p. Three .
[81 ] The affectionate nickname by which one of their teachers was known among the students
of the School of Engineers.
[82 ] Del Portillo, . , Notepad , 1940/1941 , AGP, D- 17062 APD .
[83 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. I, op. cit. , p. 500, where the
episode is narrated in detail.
151

[84 ] St. Josemara , Letter 25 -IX- 1941 , cited in Del Portillo, . , Interview on the Founder of
Opus Dei ... , op. cit. , pp . 190-191 .
[85 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 29-30 .
[86 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 29-30 .
[87 ] Testimony of Jos Mara Ramrez Casciaro , AGP, APD T- 0961 , p. Two .
[88 ] This refers to the book of the Servant of God, Francisca Javiera del Valle, Decenary of the
Holy Spirit , written as a prayer book with a consideration, a prayer and a purpose for each of
the ten days from Ascension to Pentecost. It helps to understand and deal with the Holy Spirit. It
is a simple yet profound and pious work .
[89 ] Chautard , J. B. , L' me de tout apostolat . The author , a Trappist monk , makes one see
the need for the inner life for effective apostolic activity.
[90 ] St. Therese of the Child Jesus (or De Lisieux ) , Histoire d'une me . The autobiography of
this well-known doctor of the Church consists of two parts : the first , mostly external events are
narrated , the second relates more directly her inner experience . It teaches the "life of spiritual
childhood " and helps simplify spiritual struggle and teach the value of small details.
[91 ] Vasconcelos , B. , The Mass and the inner life is a short treatise , which helps one see the
importance of the Holy Sacrifice in the Christian life .
[92 ] Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 9 bis and tris .
[93 ] " lvaro has given the class of St. Raphael " ( Diary of Santa Isabel / Jenner, entry of 30 XI- 1939 : AGP, D- 17130 APD ) . "lvaro has had the brief circle with the new fellows" ( ibid.,
note 25 -I- 1940). Notes that occur weekly in the Diary of Jenner , AGP, D- 17131 APD and in
the Diary of Martinez Campos, AGP, D- 17146 APD and the Diary of Lagasca , AGP, D- 17132
APD.
[94 ] Testimony of Francisco Ponz Piedrafita , AGP, APD T -0755 , p. May .
[ 95 ] Diary of Rincon , Valladolid, entry 23 -XII- 1940 : AGP, D- 17143 APD .
[96 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Salvador Senent , AGP, C- 391102 APD .
[97 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to some members of Opus Dei residing in Barcelona, AGP, C400422 APD .
[98 ] Cf Del Portillo, . Letters for the academic year 1939-40 in AGP, APD -39 C -40.
[99 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Joseph Orlandis Rovira , AGP, C- 390927 APD .
[100 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Alberto Sols Garcia , AGP, C- 390929 APD .
[101 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Joseph Orlandis Rovira , AGP, C- 391215 APD .
152

[102 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to some members of Opus Dei residing in Barcelona, AGP, C410312 APD .
[103 ] Del Portillo, . , Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei ... , op. cit. , pp . 117-118 .
[104 ] Postulation for the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God
Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer , priest, founder of Opus Dei , Articles of the Postulator , Rome,
1979 , n . 127 .
[105 ] "Almost always, the source of these problems seemed to be some religious who did not
hesitate to spread suspicion and mistrust: they did it from the confessional or by visiting families
to warn them. More than once the Father had to personally intervene to remedy the falsehoods
spread in homes : At the beginning of the Work , thirty-odd years ago , some outraged parents
came to me [St. Josemara]: because there was a smear campaign led by a certain religious ,
whom I love very much , and these poor families were influenced . I was then a young priest not even forty years old, and I let them talk. When they had finished, I said to them: with the
information that you have, I would think like you. So we agree. I will say more: there would be
three of us who would agree: The devil, you and I! Then I tried to clarify things and from then on
we became very good friends'"( Del Portillo, . , Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei ... , op.
Cit. , Pp . 119-120 ) .
[106 ] Ibid.
[107 ] See Testimony of Rafael Termes Carrer , AGP, APD T- 1051, p. Two . A more detailed
discussion of these events , in Vzquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op.
cit. , pp . 538-553 .
[108 ] Cf Bernal , S., Souvenir Alvaro del Portillo , op. cit. , p. 76 .
[109 ] Some of the efforts undertaken to defend Opus Dei and its founder , and in which one can
see these traits were collected from his own writings (see "Account of a visit to Juan Jos
Meadow, court of Freemasonry "in AGP, D- 19151 APD ; "Account of a visit to Colegio del Pilar
"in AGP, D- 19161 APD ) .
[110 ] See Testimony Eliodors Gil Ribera , AGP, APD T -1004 , p. Two . Among the testimonies
gathered we would highlight the one of Cardinal Angel Suqua then a seminarian (26- II- 1942 ),
of Bishop Santos Moro , Bishop of Avila , who participated in the retreat in the first week of July
1940 , the Rev. William Maran (26- II- 1942 ) of Bishop Antonio Knee , Vicar General of the
diocese of Valencia (21- XI- 1941 ), the Rev. Duke Baldomero Jimenez (14- XI- 1941 ), the Rev.
Antonio Perez, spiritual director of the seminary of Avila ( 25 -I- 1942 ), the Rev. Gumersindo
Fernndez Garca de Len , who participated in retreat 1 to August 9, 1940 , the Rev. Joaquin
Palacio Mestre , who attended the retreat for students in the major seminary in Valencia 2 to
November 8, 1940 ( cf. Josemaria Escriva. Annex n . 1 to Articoli del Postulatore . Fame in
Santit di vita , Rome 1979 , p. 363-377 ) .

153

[111 ] The approval document was dated March 19 , feast of St. Joseph, as a loving detail of
Don Leopoldo to Saint Josemara; but the news was given on the 24th , then the feast of the
Archangel Gabriel.
[112 ] Cf Fuenmayor , A. Gomez -Iglesias, V. , Illanes , JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei ,
op.cit. , Chap. Three .
[113 ] Testimony of Francisco Ponz Piedrafita , AGP, APD T -0755 , p. 16 .
[114 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 434 .
[115 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 769770.
[116 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 509-522. " On
one occasion , Fray Jos Lpez Ortiz, Augustinian , who later became Bishop of Tuy -Vigo ,
Spain and Archbishop of military , and who was then the ordinary confessor of our residence in
Madrid Diego de Len, gave the Father a copy of a "confidential dossier" on the Work and
Founder: information services of the Falange had been sent to local authorities, and a trusted
person gave them to Lpez Ortiz provided. That document brimming with atrocious calumnies
meant the beginning of another smear campaign against the Founder. It collected all the
slanders reported previously. I attended the interview and confirmed Fray Jose gave us: "When
Josemara finished reading, seeing my sorrow,he laughed and said with heroic humility : Do not
worry , Pepe, because everything they say here, thank God , is false : but if they become better
acquainted with me, they would have said honestly much worse because I am only a poor
sinner who loves Jesus Christ dearly . And instead of breaking that string of insults, he returned
the papers so that to my friend could leave them in the ministry of the Falange, from where he
had taken: take it, he told me, and give it to that friend of yours, so you can leave it in place, and
then they did not pursue him.'"(Del Portillo, ., Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei , op. cit.
, p. 118-119 ) .
[117 ] The complaint was unsuccessful , for obvious reasons, but it continued to pose a risk cf.
ibid . , p . 512 .
[118 ] Bernal , S., Souvenir Alvaro del Portillo , op. cit. , p. 81 .
[119 ] Ibid.
[120 ] We can appreciate a good example of this deference in the Narration of a conversation
with His Excellency the Reverend Bishop Eijo y Garay, AGP , D- 19166 APD .
[121 ] Cf Diary of Santa Isabel / Jenner, entry of 17 -X- 1939 : AGP, D- 17130 APD .
[122 ] Cf Account of a conversation with HE Bishop Marcelino Olaechea , AGP , D- 18758 APD
[ 123] In 1950, Jos Mara Garca Lahiguera was Auxiliary Bishop of Madrid , from 1964 to 1969
, Bishop of Huelva, from 1969 to 1978 and Archbishop of Valencia. His Cause of Canonization
is currently underway.
154

[124 ] We first visited in 1941 : cf. Account of trip to Barcelona and Zaragoza, 15-30 -VI- 1941 ,
AGP, D- 17141 APD .
[ 125 ] Cf Account of a visit of HE Archbishop Gaetano Cicognani , AGP , APD D- 18745/1 .
[126 ] Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 16 .
[127 ] See ibid.
[ 128] See Testimony of Mara Teresa del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T-1000 , pp . 910.
[129 ] See Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0609 , pp . 21-22.
[130 ] See ibid.
[131 ] Testimony of Mara Teresa del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T-1000 , pp . 8-9 .
[132 ] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p. 29 .
[133 ] Ibid.

155

Chapter 8: Preparation for the


priesthood
1.
2.
3.
4.

Ecclesiastical studies
The first trip to Rome
Finishing the Theology degree and Doctorate in History
A furrow of deepening fidelity

In 1941, the apostolic work of Opus Dei was already quite developed in Valencia, Valladolid and
Barcelona and was growing fast in Zaragoza, Granada, Bilbao, Seville and Santiago. As well,
the demonstrations of appreciation of bishops and other ecclesiastics grew steadily [134]. The
Work was walking, in the Founders own words, "at Gods pace." [135] The growing number of
faithful of Opus Dei and the amount of work with souls required the presence of priests formed
in its spirit. St. Josemara had already written in the 1930s that these priests would come from
the lay members of Opus Dei, but as yet he had not found the most appropriate juridical
arrangement for their ordination as provided by the Code of Canon Law then in force [136].
The Founder studied many possibilities
without finding any that was satisfactory.
He prayed much and got others to pray;
he also offered generous mortifications for
this intention. Meanwhile, certain that the
Lord would provide the lights needed to
solve the problem, he made
arrangements for some of his children to
begin ecclesiastical studies required for
future priestly ordination. [137] The first
Figure 50: St. Josemaria with the first three laymen in Opus Dei who
became priests. This photo was taken a few days before their
ordination. Photo credits: opusdei.org

three to do so were all engineers: Alvaro


del Portillo, Jos Mara Hernndez
Garnica, and Jos Luis Mzquiz.

1. Ecclesiastical studies
Bishop Eijo y Garay, bishop of Madrid, welcomed with joy the news of the possible future
ordination. He once recounted that when Alvaro came to tell him about this development, with a
lot of confidence in their friendship, he had asked: Alvaro, do you realize that you are about to
lose your personality? Right now, you are a prestigious engineer; afterwards you're going to be
just one more priest. And he was edified at the response he heard: My Lord Bishop, I have
given my personality many years ago to Jesus Christ. [138]
For St. Josemara, the urgent need for priests was no excuse to lessen the seriousness and
depth of philosophical and theological studies that he wanted and required his sons to undergo
prior to ordination. [139] It was clear that they had to finish their ecclesiastical studies with the
156

same, or even greater, effort than that with which they did their civil degrees. In 1976, Bishop
del Portillo explained: "How paternally our Founder prepared us, the first three of his sons who
were to become priests!" [140]. "We worked hard, as we had seen our Father do. We were
working professionally to earn our living and were helping push apostolic activities, making
those weekly trips all over Spain, looking for vocations. On top of those, Jose Maria, Jose Luis,
and I were studying and preparing for exams. With the privilege granted by the Bishop of
Madrid, we were taking examinations in the Seminary, but studying outside, without being
seminarians. So we did five years of Latin in one sitting - as all three of us already knew Latin;
then the two courses in philosophy, and we moved on to theology. But as I was saying, we had
to put in a lot into our professional work, go from one place to another, and help the Father in
the governance of the Work. So, sometimes, we said we hid ourselves to spend ten or fifteen
days studying intensely."[141]
St. Josemara listed five reasons that his children should receive careful training for the priestly
ministry. He said:
"Second. If our priests do not have a deep theological training, they would be useless for the
specific apostolate of Opus Dei.
Third. The members of the Work do their civil studies very well, and not putting the same
intensity into their ecclesiastical studies would be to destroy the Works spirit.
Fourth. There are many people who have a lot of affection for us, and they should see how the
priests of the Work are well prepared.
Fifth. Nor are people lacking who look upon us with less affection, and it is only right that they
all of them see, as well, the seriousness and soundness of our work.
"And first. I might die any day, and I have to give an account to God." [142]
It would take nearly three years before they could be ordained. It is worth remembering that
during the 1939-1940 and 1940-1941 academic years, lvaro, thanks to his intellectual
qualities, his ability to work well, and his spirit of sacrifice to make the best use of time, had
managed to complete three years of Civil Engineering (the most demanding university degree at
the time) [143], making them compatible with other highly demanding responsibilities.
However, to complete his ecclesiastical studies, he spent more years (a year more) than those
he took to finish Civil Engineering, and many more hours of study. In this sense, the assertion of
the priest and professor Amadeo de Fuenmayor is revealing: "I can say that I hardly saw him
spend time on engineering matters. This is not to say that he did not study them. His record
speaks for itself in this regard. What I conclude from not seeing him study, is that the time he
spent to study for his civil degree were taken from wherever else except from the time he had
to spend for helping St. Josemaria in the governance of the Work or apostolate. (...) As I said I
dont remember having seen him study his engineering subjects, and yet, I have to affirm as
well that I have witnessed the study and dedication he poured into his theology subjects in the
years before ordination." [144]

157

Another manifestation of the commitment that the first three members of Opus Dei put to the
preparation for their ordination, was that from October 1941 they began to "shut themselves" in
places near Madrid, such as El Escorial or Torrelodones, dedicating themselves solely to study,
spending between eight and nine hours a day, for entire weeks [145].
The curriculum of the Madrid Seminary was divided into three parts: the Humanities or Classics,
Philosophy, and Theology. The first two - Humanities and Philosophy - were equivalent to the
high school of the civil school system. In fact, the existing rules on ecclesiastical studies made
provisions that "the entire half of ones ecclesiastical studies could be easily substituted by a
Bachelors degree from the Institutes of the State. [146]
Ecclesiastical studies put much emphasis on Latin and Philosophy. Alvaro, who studied in a
very good high school and had a first-rate university education, completed these courses in less
than a year. In those days, it was not uncommon to see a "revalidista" (a student who was not
required to attend classes but only appeared for the final exams) in the Madrid seminary. To this
category belonged those who did their priestly studies when they were already mature, and
simply had to "give proof" (i.e. revalida) of their knowledge of Latin obtained from their civil
studies [147].
In early 1942, the plan of formation for Holy Orders that St Josemaria had in mind was
implemented in full with the authorization and encouragement of the Bishop of Madrid. Don
Leopoldo had approved the arrangement that they would take their examinations at the
seminary but not attend classes there [148]. He likewise appointed Fr. Jos Mara Bueno
Monreal, future Archbishop of Seville and Cardinal, as director of the team of professors
responsible for giving classes [149]. At the time, Bueno Monreal taught Moral Theology at the
Seminary, served as prosecutor in the ecclesiastical court of Madrid, and was a teacher at the
School of Journalism at the Complutense University. He was a great friend of St. Josemara.
Two other priests of the Madrid archdiocese, Fr. Abundio Garca Romn and Fr. Joaqun
Hernndez Blzquez completed the team of philosophy professors [150]. One might also cite
Fr. Maximo Yurramendi, who was part of the examination boards of the seminary and later
appointed Bishop of Ciudad Rodrigo. [151]
Fr. Joaquin Blazquez was also secretary of the "Francisco Surez Institute" (of theology), and
part of the Higher Council for Scientific Research. Meanwhile, Fr. Abundio Garcia, whose
process of canonization is ongoing, developed, alongside his teaching at the seminary, an
intense activity of spiritual direction, preaching retreats and collaborating in the activities of a
renewed and thriving Catholic Action. Years later he would found the Hermandades del Trabajo
(literally, Brotherhoods of Work) that swept Spain and Latin America, that sought to dignify the
condition of workers and craftsmen. [152]
As Bishop Eijo y Garay had indicated, Alvaro first took the examination for Latin. When he
studied this subject in high school, he had received the grade of outstanding. Now, he
received the same grade: in June 1942, he took the first four tests for all of which he received
the grade of outstanding [153]. He had acquired a competence for this language, and it would
later be very evident during his years working in the Roman Curia. [154]
158

Having passed the Humanities, he now turned his attention to Philosophy. The three future
priests discussed these subjects with interest, not limiting themselves to study only the notes
taken in class; on the contrary, encouraged by St. Josemara, they busied themselves in
reading and assimilating the recommended bibliography. In a letter of those months, Alvaro
wrote: "I just ordered by phone, books of philosophy in Latin..." [155]. And in another, also
directed to the Bishop of Madrid, he noted, "Thank God, we have to work hard, the teachers and
we are happy as a lark, because the study is the way to the End." [156]
From June 3 to 19, lvaro,
Jos Mara, and Jos Luis
secluded themselves in El
Escorial to finalize the
preparation of the exams on
the first philosophy subjects
[157]. In a letter to St.
Josemara, written at the time,
Alvaro mentioned their
schedule: "To make good use
of time, we have a very tight
schedule : we wake up late, at
7; we go to mass at 8, in the
monastery, and right after we
get back 8:45 we get down
to study. Alberto [158] goes to
Figure 51: El Escorial was, at once, a monastery and a Spanish royal palace.
Mass even later and when he
Originally a property of the Hieronymite monks, it is now a monastery of the
returns later - at 10 we eat
Order of Saint Augustine (Wikipedia). Photo credits: Gulliveria (Wikimedia
breakfast in the room of Chiqui
comMsgr.)
and me [159]: there were no
more single rooms. So, while eating breakfast together, we all get to chat a bit. As soon as we
finish breakfast we continue studying until two o'clock, the time when Alberto comes and we all
go to the dining room. At 2:45 or so, until 3 Chiqui and I do the spiritual reading and the 1st part
of the Rosary, while Alberto rests. From 3 to 6 we study and by then Alberto picks us up for a
tour: the Visit to the Blessed Sacrament, the prayer done by all three of us together in the field
and then one part of the rosary on the way back. At 8 we are again studying, until 9; we eat
supper, do the 3rd part of the Rosary, the commentary of the Gospel and prayers of the Work,
and about 11 we go to bed. In all we get to study for about 9 hours." [160]
On June 20, Alvaro took the Philosophy exams for which he received the grade of "Notable"
[161]: but his nerves had given him some slight trouble. [162]
From 1941-1943, lvaro also suffered some health problems. [163] In the diaries of the centers,
entries such as the following would appear with some frequency: "lvaro woke up at a later
time today because of hypoglycemia. He cannot put up his legs. This has been so for many
days." [164] "lvaro rose late today because he had an attack of hypoglycemia." [165] "Alvaro
continues to have fever and is in bed. The doors of the oratory and his room had to be opened
159

during the Mass so he could attend it." [166] "Alvaro is taking sulfonamides, and the fever
disappears. They have done a blood count."[167] "Alvaro, is trying to carry on normally, but its
clear hes is suffering a lot." [168]
Certainly, his sickness did not prevent him from carrying out his duties, but they demanded from
him a greater spirit of sacrifice and supernatural outlook. The attitude with which he faced
difficulties is reflected in a letter addressed to one sick member of Opus Dei in November 1941:
"You're a lucky man. With these physical discomforts that the sickness is bringing you, perhaps
you have a lot to offer the Lord more than others. And since with his grace and your efforts you
will never lose your supernatural outlook, pain becomes a constant source of good for your soul
and for the Work."[169]
In fact, the rhythm of his daily schedule was very intense. Bishop Echevarria, Alvaros
successor as head of Opus Dei, has noted that "he spent all the time necessary for his
ecclesiastical studies, taking full advantage of time and the few minutes in between one job and
another. (...) All three had a very clear understanding of what the Founder of Opus Dei repeated
with emphasis, in season and out, that they should prepare themselves thoroughly, thinking not
only of the need to nourish their interior life with doctrine, but also to eventually exercise the
priestly ministry properly, keeping in mind that many people had their eyes on them." [170]
In February 1943, the three candidates for the priesthood were locked up again to give the final
push to the preparation for the final examinations for philosophy and for the first in moral
theology. Once again, we have a letter from lvaro to St. Josemaria, talking about those days:
"Dearest Father: its six in the afternoon and we have been working for eight hours. We need to
get some rest, which is a great opportunity to drop you a line (...). You can imagine that we
remember you and with what joy we offer our hours of study and everything else for you and for
the entire Work. It's great to be so close to the others, to the Work and to the Church. Our
studies are nearing completion: tomorrow night we will be given the first round of exams and
then, it seems, we could review for the next for some four or five days. [171]
This time, the tests took place during the months of March and May 1943, and drew in for
lvaro three marks of outstanding and two noteworthy. [172] Bishop Garcia Lahiguera
remembered the first phase of studies with these words: "They got extraordinary results, and the
teachers were amazed at their ability and achievement; but I was hardly surprised, considering
the intellectual level demanded by their civil studies and their dedication to study supported by
the untiring zeal of the Father." [173]

2. The first trip to Rome


Meanwhile, on February 14, 1943, during the celebration of Holy Mass, St. Josemara finally
received the light regarding the desired legal solution that would allow the ordination of lay
members of Opus Dei: the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross [174]. In summary, it was going to
be a Society of Common Life, without vows, and as provided in the Code of Canon Law of
1917, a small portion of the Opus Dei, which would include priests and some laymen preparing
160

for the priesthood. The priests would be ordained ad titulum Societatis, i.e. to meet the pastoral
apostolic needs of the Work.
The Founder knew that this would not be the final formula, but at that time it was the least
inadequate and, above all, the only viable solution [175]. There were at least two problems in
this legal configuration. First, the relationship established between the Priestly Society of the
Holy Cross and Opus Dei did not reflect the reality of the pastoral phenomenon, as Opus Dei
might seem, as St. Josemara wrote, "a portion of the Priestly Society of Holy Cross, when the
reality is that the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross is only a small part of the Work."[176] In
addition, although in the legal texts the Founder would make sure to emphasize that the
members of Opus Dei were not religious, "the characteristics of Societies of Common Life make
them in fact closer to religious congregations, and therefore, the use of this formula could be
misleading. Aware of the problem, the Founder took all possible steps to mark out the
distinctions." [177]
On February 15, St. Josemara visited El Escorial and
had a long conversation with Alvaro to tell him the
solution he had just seen. Jos Luis Mzquiz recalls
that "he entered the room of Jos Mara Hernndez
Garnica and me where we three were studying, and
said with assurance it will be called Priestly Society of
the Holy Cross, and added: Alvaro will have to come
with me to Madrid to work on a few things. You two
keep on studying and when Alvaro returns, you put
him up to speed (with your studies)." [178]
The corresponding proposals were then presented
soon after to the Bishop of Madrid who, in turn,
decided to immediately request for the nihil obstat
from the Holy See for the diocesan erection of the
Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. Alvaro del Portillo,
Secretary General of Opus Dei, would go to Rome to
present the request to the Roman Curia. [179]

Figure 52: During Mass at the women's center of


Opus Dei, he was shown the seal of Opus Dei and
of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross: a cross
embracing the world. He was also shown the
juridical solution to put the two together. The
priests would be part of a society united to Opus
Dei, but the diocesan priests would continue to be
priests of their dioceses, and thus there will be no
conflict with the bishops (Wikipedia). Photo
credits: Wikimedia commons

Those were times of war in Europe. In early February


the Germans had surrendered at Stalingrad. In the
middle of the month, the Axis forces launched a
counteroffensive in North Africa but were roundly
defeat, and 275,000 German soldiers surrendered in Tunisia: Afrika Korps was destroyed. On
July 9, the Allies landed in Sicily; on the 25th of that month, and Mussolini was deposed by the
Fascist Grand Council; on September 3, Italy surrendered. British planes were bombing military
installations and main roads within the continent more and more frequently. Tension was very
high and European skies were not safe. With this situation, a plane ride to Italy was clearly not
without its risks.

161

lvaro flew to the Eternal City on May 25, 1943. [180] Jos Orlandis, who at that time was in
Rome for business, has written that the flight "was not without excitement and danger. The
airliner - Italian and therefore "of the enemy" - was above Sardinia when an air to sea battle
erupted between British bomber squadrons and a fleet of Axis ships sailing at sea. The pilot of
the civil aircraft skillfully managed to escape the encounter and landed safely in Rome, but a
good number of passengers could not help but be terrified by the threat of being shot down."
[181]
Alvaro, however, never lost his peace. Using
an argument simple but steeped in faith
which he made himself, he reasoned: "I'm on a
mission that God wants and, therefore, nothing
untoward can happen" [182]. But the rest of the
passengers did not have that same confidence,
and spent the rest of the flight in terror. In the
cockpit, there were actors from an Italian
theater company, which gave performances in
Spain. (...) Everyone in the group began to cry
mamma mia c' molto pericolo, affoghiamo
tutti! (Mother of mine! We are in great danger;
we will all drown!)" [183].
Upon landing at the airport of Rome, then
called Aeroporto Littorio, Alvaro had to undergo
a medical examination, as in Madrid there was
a typhus epidemic, and the Italian authorities
wanted to ensure that no passenger brought in
the infection.

Figure 53: Pius XII received Alvaro in audience, as well as


other members of the Work in Rome. Pope Pius XII (born
Eugenio Pacelli) was declared Venerable by Pope Benedict
XVI in December 2009. Photo credits: Historian 1990
(Wikimedia commons)

Immediately, he carried out his purpose. On


June 4, he was received in private audience by
Pope Pius XII, to whom he fully explained the
nature of Opus Dei and its apostolates. [184]
lvaro remembered this first meeting with the
Pope for the rest of his life, because it fulfilled
one of his greatest desires: videre Petrum (to

see Peter) [185].


Jose Orlandis relates several anecdotes about that interview with Pius XII. [186] They had
planned to go to the Vatican in a carrozzella, a typical Roman horse car, but finding none after
some time of waiting, they had to take a tram so as not to be late. lvaro was dressed in his
Civil Engineering uniform [187], and they heard one passenger say to another: "Well isnt that
amazing - so young and already Admiral." The navy suit with shoulder pads and the decorative
medals that adorned the jacket led to this confusion.

162

The Swiss Guards who were on duty at the Bronze Door


likewise mistook Alvaro for an important military dignitary.
Upon seeing him arrive, they formed a reception line and the
head gave the order to salute him. Alvaro, perhaps recalling
his days as an officer during the period of Spanish civil war,
confidently acknowledged the salute, reviewed the troops, and
kept going very naturally.
The audience was very cordial. Pius XII received him with
great affection, and listened with interest to his explanations of
Opus Dei and the need to find a canonical solution for
incardinated priests. He also spoke of his ordination and
handed a donation of 50,000 lire, which at that time was a
generous amount, taking into account the shortage of means
that the faithful the Work were experiencing. Orlandis states
that the Pope was impressed by the personality of the civil
engineer and he wrote: "We learned later through two prelates
to whom the Pope spoke about that interview: Cardinal
Tedeschini and Monsignor Montini." [188]
He was also received by Cardinal Luigi Maglione, who was the
Secretary of State. A testimony about that conversation was
written by lvaro himself: "In the explanation on the Work I
gave to Cardinal Maglione, I used words and phrases found in
the texts of our Constitutions. I did this to be more concise and out of respect for our Father.
And once the Cardinal stopped me to say, "Thats from your Constitutions." Afterwards, he kept
on making the same observations. And I exclaimed: "Your Eminence, you know our
Constitutions better than me!" And the Cardinal Secretary replied, "As they said that Opus Dei
wanted to destroy the Church, we have studied them personally the Holy Father and I.'" [189]
Figure 54: Alvaro in his military uniform.
Photo credits: Saxum: Remembering
Alvaro del Portillo

He also met other ecclesiastics who would later become his friends: Archbishop Giovanni
Battista Montini, Substitute of the Secretariat of State, and future Paul VI; Bishop Alfredo
Ottaviani , Advisor of the Congregation of the Holy Office; Cardinal Vincenzo Lapuma, Prefect of
the Congregation for Religious; Cardinal Giuseppe Pizzardo, Prefect of the Congregation for
Seminaries and Universities; Cardinal Federico Tedeschini, former Nuncio in Spain; and Bishop
Ernesto Ruffini, Secretary of the Congregation for Seminaries and Universities [190].
Orlandis also commented: "Those men in the Roman Curia, hardened by a long life of service to
the Church, listened to Alvaro del Portillo with deep respect and interest precisely because their
long experience allowed them to grasp in all their depth, both the human and supernatural
qualities of Alvaro, as well as the significance of the newness that he expounded to them for
the future of the Church and the world." [191]
The pace of work that Alvaro imposed on himself during those days in Rome is reflected in a
letter he wrote to St. Josemaria, on June 13, twenty days since he arrived: "Very dear Father, I
am going to summarize our life here since Paco [192] left last Tuesday. To this day I could not
163

devote some time to see even a little of Rome; I have only been at the tomb of St. Peter a few
times, but I have not yet gone to St. Paul or St. John, or the catacombs. On Tuesday morning I
went with Salvador to the Coliseum: that was impressive." [193]
He carried on his work in the midst of the usual health problems that appeared, as if right on
cue, on his very arrival in the Eternal City. In the diary page corresponding to May 26, when he
had barely been twenty four hours on Italian soil, we read: "Alvaro has been dizzy since early
this morning and has only gotten worse (...), no dinner." [194] On June 6, two days after the
audience with the Pope: "lvaro can hardly walk from having feet full of sores as well as a very
bad cold; hes in bed. (...) While in bed lvaro is dictating some notes that Paco will bring with
him." [195] And the next day: "Alvaro is well from that very bad cold, but must continue to lie
down because of the bothersome strong nerve pains hes experiencing." [196]
In those weeks Salvador Canals and Joseph Orlandis also tried their best to obtain suitable
accommodations for the months that they were to live in the Italian capital: "Salvador Canals
and I told Alvaro del Portillo about our desire to extend our stay in Rome for another year. (...)
Our planned seemed all right to lvaro and he gave his consent, but on one condition: difficult
times lay ahead, war might come to Rome, and in such circumstances it was better to have a
house of our own. (...) A few days later we signed the lease for a furnished apartment." [197]
He returned to Spain on June 21, having achieved all the targets set for the trip. [198] The next
day, the Bishop of Madrid, at the formal request of St Josemaria, wrote to Cardinal Lapuma
Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Religious, requesting the nihil obstat for the erection of
the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. [199] Once the formalities with the competent curial office
were completed, the affirmative reply arrived dated October 11, 1943, and Bishop Eijo y Garay
erected the Society on December 8 of that year. [200] At last, the incardination of the faithful of
Opus Dei called to the priesthood was resolved.
3. Finishing the Theology degree and Doctorate in History
In point #8 of the lineamenta (translators note: a legal Church document) of Opus Dei, on which
the Holy See based the granting of its nihil obstat, one reads the following: "The priests come
from the laymen of the Society and are given their previous training within it." [201] Since that
time, members of the Work, candidates for the priesthood, had to finish their studies required for
priestly ordination within Opus Dei. Therefore, the final stage of the academic preparation of
lvaro, Jos Mara and Jos Luis was officially not carried out through the Seminary of Madrid,
although teachers of that institution continued giving classes and conducted the examinations.
Don Jos Mara Bueno Monreal continued to teach them Moral Theology. In addition, St.
Josemara augmented the teaching faculty with well-respected professors, some Spanish
teachers of the Pontifical Athenaeum in Rome who now lived in Madrid, having been prevented
by the world war to return to their universities. [202] Specifically, the Dominican fathers
Francisco Prez Muiz and Severino lvarez Menndez, both from the Angelicum, respectively
developed curriculum for Dogmatic Theology and Canon Law. Jos Luis Mzquiz wrote down
his memories of these two masters. Regarding Fr. Prez Muiz, he writes: "He explained
Dogmatic Theology to us directly with the Summa Theologica, with notes and comments he
164

used in the Angelicum," [203] and on Father lvarez Menndez: "He explained this subject to us
based on the Code with clear and very pertinent comments." [204]
Father Benito Abad Celada, OP, of the Bible Institute of Jerusalem, gave them the materials for
Scripture and biblical Greek. Fray Jos Lpez Ortiz, OSA, at that time Professor of Legal
History at the University of Madrid, and later Bishop of Tuy-Vigo and military Ordinary, was
Professor of Church History. The Benedictine Fray Justo Prez de Urbel, one of the best
liturgists in Spain at the time, gave lessons on Liturgy. Finally, one must recall that Father
Silvestre Sancho, OP, former rector of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, had begun the
classes on Dogmatic Theology which were subsequently taken over by Fr. Prez Muiz.
St. Josemara, meanwhile, reserved for himself teaching his sons Pastoral Theology [205] and
what pertained to the manner of celebrating the Holy Mass. During these sessions he passed
on to them those details of reverence and delicacy in dealing with the Blessed Sacrament which
had grown more profoundly in his soul in a very particular manner. Jos Luis Mzquiz
remembered years later that "our Father wanted that we spend some time everyday going
through the rubrics for Holy Mass. Occasionally he came to teach or to correct some details; for
example he might give a soft knock on our hands when we didnt place them perfectly spread
above the altar. I also remember that when he taught us the rubrics of the Consecration, our
Father picked up the paten, instead of the host. It was his way of practicing refinement with our
Lord." [206]
The lessons took place in the Center of Studies in Madrid, in Lagasca Street (now the entrance
is along n. 14 Diego de Len) and, as Jos Luis Mzquiz recalled, Alvaro "always had time to
attend classes punctually and to dedicate himself to studies with a lot of intensity. [207] Alvaro
also recalled, in 1976, that "we studied many hours a day - to the point that the textbooks of the
Faculties of Theology seemed too few and we read other works to augment them. [208]
The pace was even more intense during the month of July 1943, because after the trip to Rome,
and with the granting of the nihil obstat regarding their ordination he had to help out in the
running of a new university student residence - the present Colegio Mayor Moncloa - which was
to replace the one of Jenner . St. Josemaria put great hopes in this initiative, no less because
the domestic administration was being run for the first time, by some women of Opus Dei. Upon
entrusting this task to them, he explained that this center would be the "showcase" of the Work
to many people. The new residence opened with ninety students in October of that year. [209]
In September, lvaro had to take a few days of rest, from the 14th to the 22nd, days he used to
also accompany his mother and siblings in La Granja. In those days he likewise visited and
gave renewed energy to the apostolic work of members of the Work who were doing their
military service in the vicinity of that city. [210]
During the second stage of their ecclesiastical studies, the three future priests continued their
habit of secluding themselves either in Torrelodones or El Escorial, on several occasions. [211]
In those periods they were visited by St. Josemara, who used to go with some young members
of the Work. Jos Ramn Madurga, who was one of those companions, wrote the following: "I
realized that Father had been urging them to make the necessary effort to memorize and retain
165

all the Latin phrases and quotations from Scripture that were used in the manuals of theology to
explain and demonstrate points and arguments." [212] That advice of our Father corresponded
to a precise recommendation of the disciplinary rules, curriculum, and school policies for
seminaries: Practical exercises in Latin cannot be omitted: drills, grammar reviews, recitations."
[213]
But Jos Ramn Madurga then clarifies that "this did not pose too much trouble, as the three
had exceptional memories." [214] An example is the following anecdote: "When the Founder of
Opus Dei wanted that the faithful of the Work, as a demonstration of piety, recite Psalm II on
Tuesdays, Jos Luis Mzquiz first read the Latin text, and immediately Jos Mara Hernndez
Garnica repeated it from memory, followed by lvaro who recited it starting from the last verse
to the first." [215]
Although classes were resumed as lvaro returned from Rome, tests had to be postponed until
the formal establishment of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. In December, they took the
exams for the fifth year of Latin [216]; in January 1944, "Fundamental Theology" [217]; and in
February, "Dogmatic Sacraments I and II" and "Moral Theology II" [218]. In all these subjects,
Alvaro scored the highest marks. [219]
Obtaining the legal framework that allowed the ordination of his children made Saint Josemaria
even more diligent in looking after their academic preparation. In March 1944, Alvaro wrote Jose
Orlandis and Salvador Canals, who remained in Rome: "The issue of our ordinations is going a
little slower than you were thinking because, with the nihil obstat already with us, the Father
prefers that we put in a few more details to complete our studies, taking advantage of the
presence of Father Muniz who can review everything with us. [220]
This concern had a pastoral intent. The Founder was already quite pleased with the
qualifications obtained by these sons of his who were candidates to the priesthood; but he
wanted their doctrinal and spiritual formation to be as exquisite as possible. He made his
daughters and sons in Opus Dei see the tremendous role that the priests were going to play in
the care and development of the apostolic works. He spoke of expansion plans that would be
possible with them, of the trips they would have to make throughout Spain and, as soon as the
world war ended, all over the world. St. Josemaria prayed a lot for the three and asked the Lord
for them always to be very holy and learned, to have a sportive young spirit, and to bring many
souls to God.
Finally, in May and June 1944, they took the last exams of Theology. Alvaro passed with the
highest marks, except in "Liturgical Song" that ended in a benemeritus [221] (translators note:
literally, deserving and, as a grade, roughly meaning competent).
The ordination was scheduled for June 25. That did not mean, however, that the end of the
academic activities of the three was on the horizon. Not so, because the Founder desired that
that all his priest sons finish a doctorate, as reflected in the following lines, Alvaro wrote in late
May: "on June 25, (we will be) priests: but we will continue attending classes until we proceed,
God willing, to Rome or to Freiburg - this is the plan of the Father for the next course."[222]

166

Finally, he would be in Rome to obtain his doctorate a few years later. For the time being, on
June 15, 1944 he finished the studies necessary for ordination to the priesthood. [223]
To conclude this section, it should be noted that in April 1943, lvaro had obtained a Bachelor
of Arts at the University of Valencia, and the following year, on May 12, 1944, earned the
degree of Doctor of Philosophy and Letters in the Central University. He had written a thesis on
the early Spanish expeditions into the territory of California, which earned him a special award.
[224]
The reason for his obtaining these new degrees was a request from St Josemaria. It was
planned that the priests of Opus Dei earn a civil doctorate, as well as an ecclesiastical one.
However, at that time, the engineering field, despite its prestige in Spain, did not offer a
doctorate degree. For this reason, the Founder suggested that the first three who were to
receive ordination, obtain a doctorate in another field.
Bishop Echevarra notes that "this fact denotes Alvaros capacity to make the best use of time,
his tenacity, docility then, being called Civil Engineer brought one more esteem, socially
speaking, than Doctor of History , and his sense of responsibility in tackling his studies in the
Faculty of Philosophy and the speed with which he finished the research for data and the writing
of the thesis. Due to the many obligations on his shoulders, he did not have extra time, but he
took advantage of any odd minute available to read the necessary literature, take appropriate
notes, and outline some ideas that would be useful in writing the thesis. For example, in the time
he spent in Sevilla, as long as it was possible, he went to the Archives of the Indies to collect
documentation." [225]
4. A furrow of deepening fidelity
His dedication to ecclesiastical studies during this period did not diminish his support for St.
Josemaria both in the governance of the Work and attention to the members of Opus Dei. The
trip to Rome in May and June 1943, is an eloquent testimony to the trust which the Founder put
in lvaro and the growing efficacy of his support, enhanced no doubt by his deepening
theological and canonical training.
Along the juridical path followed by Opus Dei from 1941 until it reached its final form as a
personal prelature in 1982, lvaro played a very important role. Of course, the person who had
to bear the heaviest load was St Josemaria, as the carrier of the foundational charism, and the
one responsible to God, to the Church and to the faithful of Opus Dei for preserving the charism
that the Lord had entrusted to him. But St. Josemara always found in this son of his the strong
support and excellent instrument, through his delicate fidelity, theological and canonical
preparation, human and supernatural virtues (such as, among others, his ability to make
friends), and his supernatural strength not to give up when he ought not.
Alvaros identification with the Founder was total, and transcended the categories of human
friendship or admiration, to become an expression of faithfulness to God. In a letter to St.
Josemara written in January 1944, during one of his trips outside Madrid in connection with his
studies, one glimpses how he valued living so close to that holy priest: "As always, (Im) very
167

happy: but, also as usual, my joy is diluted by sadness when I leave the Father. That's why this
work that uproots me from Madrid is hard for me. Now I realize this is silly, but this is life! Father:
I have a great desire to be a good person and really work within the Work, for the Church. What
a shame that so often I am such a fool and do not act as I ought! Pray for me, Father, that I
become, at some time, a good instrument, docile in His hands. Whenever I'm away from you, I
pray harder than ever, with all my soul, for my Father. This is how my presence of God
increases: I remember the Father and offer things for him." [226]
In addition, he conveyed that sense of union to all members of the Work. On October 2, 1941,
for example, he wrote to Alberto Ullastres, who was convalescing in a sanatorium, recovering
from health problems: "Dearest Alberto: if you saw what joy we had to see the family together!
Today we have been hearing a lot of what the Father told us, and making a lot of resolutions
that we pray the Lord will help fulfill. (...) The Work is great; let us help the Father bring
everything forward. On this day of thanksgiving, and great joy I have been praying for you; see if
you can do the same for everyone and especially for the Father." [227]
To another who had just asked for admission to Opus Dei , he wrote: "Dearest Alfonso [228]:
you can imagine the joy that your letter gave us one that expressed your surrender and
submission to the Will of God, and your desire to effectively embrace the Cross and carry it
cheerfully, manfully, freely. Because the path of self-giving is the way of the Cross: we cannot
deceive ourselves. And it is the proximity of the Cross that will assure us that we will be closer
to Christ. Try to be very united to everyone and in a special way to the Father, and to the ones
who represent him in Barcelona: that way, you will be united to the whole Church, of whom you
will feel very much her son." [229].
The way by which Alvaro
nursed Isidoro during the
illness that led to his death
(lymphoma, diagnosed in July
1941), is another example of
fraternal charity. Doctors had
predicted that Isidoro would not
live more than two years. [230]
In 1943 he was admitted to a
clinic and from the very
beginning was always
accompanied by a member of
Opus Dei. Alvaro visited him
often, helped him in his
spiritual life, consistently
updated him of the intentions
Figure 55: The informative process on the reputation for sanctity, the life, and the of the Founder and the
virtues of the Servant of God, Isidoro Zorzano, took place between 1948 and 1954 progress of the apostolic work,
in Madrid. His remains are now in a vault in the parish church of St. Albert the
and attended to him with great
Great, in the district of Vallecas (Romana). Photo credits: opusdei.org. ie
affection. [231] In mid-April, it
168

seemed that the end was near. lvaro immediately went to his bedside and asked if he wanted
to receive Extreme Unction. According to the wishes of Isidoro, St. Josemaria administered the
sacrament. That crisis passed, however, and Isidoro pulled lvaros leg on his approaching
ordination: You see, Alvaro, youre studying so much (so you could be anointed as a priest)
while in an instant, I just had myself anointed. [232]
In conversations with Isidoro, Alvaro asked him to offer his sufferings for various intentions among others, the journey to Rome that he was going to make in May: he was convinced that
the success of these efforts leaned crucially on supernatural means, and regarded the prayer of
the sick as one of the most valuable [233] . "On his return from Rome, Alvaro told him good
news of his visits, and asked him to continue offering his sickness for the Father and the Work,
and for the juridical solution sought from the Holy See." [234]
Isidoro died on the afternoon of July 15, the eve of the feast of Our Lady of Carmel, and Alvaro
was one of the first who came just after St. Josemara to ensure that the body which was in
the sanatorium of St. Francis was taken care of.
A friend of Isidoro has narrated that during the funeral "I could not hold back tears. I still
remember well that lvaro took my arm and went on a short walk with me during which time he
spoke of the great virtues of Isidoro; he suggested the idea that Isidoro was already in heaven
and that we could and should commend ourselves to him through prayer with the assurance of
his sure intercession. Indeed, in the funeral service, our Father was there along with the family
of Isidoro, and next to our Founder, at the head of the funeral reception line, was lvaro,
receiving the condolences of those who attended the funeral." [235]
As time went on, the role of Alvaro in the Work increased, and, increasingly as well, he insisted
on not giving importance to the services he rendered. He wanted to imitate the Founder in his
practice of "hiding and disappearing, an indispensable means for any supernatural task to
produce genuine fruits in the service of God. Before his ordination, while being Secretary
General of Opus Dei, he acted as simply one more in the Work. Everyone addressed him using
the familiar tu13 because the difference in age between him and the other members was not
significant. He never arrogated anything special to himself, not even in the use of personal
things. At Christmas in 1943, the Founder who sat at head of the table had to ask to him sit
at his right. [236]
Although lvaro reduced his trips in these three years to focus on his preparation for the priestly
ministry, he continued to accompany St. Josemara (who, since the early months of 1944, had
already reduced his activity of preaching to priests [237]) in the latters efforts to deal with the
hierarchy of the various Spanish dioceses [238]."As a result of these visits, many ecclesiastical
and civil authorities took a singular affection for Alvaro. It pleasantly surprised them to see (...) a
man with so much maturity, courtesy, respectfulness (without falling into flattery), and a solid
intellectual and spiritual preparation. Thus, on many occasions - especially when it was all right
with Saint Josemara, before the slander and unfair misunderstandings they would called on
13

In Spanish, persons of rank or who are much older are addressed as Usted (equivalent to the 3 rd person)
instead of the more familiar tu (the 2nd person).

169

this young engineer who handles himself so well in conversations and visits, and always
provided an atmosphere of sincere naturalness, good manners, and propriety with his welltempered comments and answers." [239]
Among the clergymen who dealt more with him in this period, and appreciated the human and
supernatural qualities of the Secretary General of Opus Dei, are, for example, Fr. Angel
Sagarminaga and Fr. Sebastian Cirac; the Bishop of Segovia , His Excellency (HE) Daniel
Llorente ; the Bishop of Barbastro and later Huelva, and finally Archbishop of Zaragoza, HE
Pedro Cantero; the Bishop of Vitoria, then moved to Oviedo as Archbishop, HE Javier
Lauzurica; HE Don Jos Mara Lahiguera, who as has been said would later be auxiliary
Bishop of that diocese, Bishop of Huelva and Archbishop of Valencia [240], etc.
A similar list could be made with important people in civilian life. For example, Federico Castro,
Professor of Civil Law at the University of Madrid; Luo Pea, Professor of Philosophy of Law at
the University of Barcelona; Jesus Fontan, who was Admiral of the Spanish Navy; Jos Ibez
Martn, later Minister of Education; Manuel Aznar, noted historian and editor of a major
newspaper in Republican Spain; Alfredo Lopez, who held significant positions in Catholic
Action, etc. [241]
FOOTNOTES:
[134 ] Cf Fuenmayor , A. Gomez -Iglesias, V. , Illanes , JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei ,
op. cit. , p. 115 .
[135 ] This was the title, precisely, one of his early biographies : Gondrand , F., Au pas de Dieu.
Josemaria Escriva , fondateur de l' Opus Dei, Paris, France- Empire , 1982 , 1, pp. 347 .
[136 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 607-609 and
Fuenmayor , A. Gomez -Iglesias, V. , Illanes , JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei , op. cit. , pp
. 115-119 .
[137 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 607 .
[138 ] See Testimony of Encarnacin Ortega , AGP, APD T- 00136 , p. 10.
[139 ] See Testimony Eliodors Gil Ribera , AGP, APD T -1004 , p. Two .
[140 ] Del Portillo, . , Homily 11 -III- 1989 , cit. , P. 288 .
[141 ] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together , 14 -II- 1976 . AGP , Library, P01 ,
1976, 186.
[142 ] Del Portillo, . , Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei , op. cit. , p. 102 .
[143 ] And something similar would be noted in the case of Jos Mara Hernndez Garnica
(Mining Engineering ) and Jos Luis Mzquiz ( Civil Engineer ) .
[144 ] Testimony of Amadeo de Fuenmayor Champn ( AGP, APD S - 2024S . ) .
170

[145 ] They spent more than fifty days in these " cages ": cf. Testimony of Jos Luis Miguel
Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 31 .
[146 ] Bishops Commission on seminaries, disciplinary rules, curriculum and school policies,
Printing Castellana , Valladolid, 1942 , p. 189 .
[147 ] Cf Muoz Iglesias, S., Jos Mara Garca Lahiguera . A charisma. A life Realigraf ,
Madrid, 1991 , p. 64 .
[148 ] To properly assess this dispensation of the Bishop of Madrid, it should be noted that
throughout his entire pastoral governance in the capital, he gave a huge importance to the
training of future priests . In his words , the seminary was the " apple of his eye " and
seminarians occupied " seventy-five percent of his episcopal work : cf. Churches Muoz , S.,
"Forty years for a bishop: don Leopoldo Eijo y Garay " in Centenary of the Diocese of Madrid
Alcala (ed.), Journal of History and Art , Madrid, 1986 , p. 85 .
[149 ] See Testimony of Jos Mara Bueno Monreal on St. Josemaria in Blessed Josemaria
Escriva. A man of God . Testimonies on the Founder of Opus Dei , Word, Madrid, 2001 , 2nd
ed. , P. 17 , and Vzquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 602
and 605 .
[150 ] See Testimony of Joaquin Alonso Pacheco , AGP, APD T- 19548 , p. 18 .
[151 ] See Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 30 .
[152 ] Cf Carvajal Blanco, JC , Garcia Abundio Romn : a priest for the world of work , Editorial
Monte Carmelo , Burgos, 2007.
[153 ] See IMDb exams Latin Language (Madrid 3 -VI- 1942) , AGP, APD D- 18968/1 .
[154 ] See Testimony of Jos Luis Gutirrez , AGP, APD T- 15211 , p. 6.
[155 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Bishop Eijo y Garay , AGP, C- 420301 APD .
[ 156 ] Del Portillo, . , AGP, C- 420527 APD .
[157 ] See Diary of Villanueva , entry 4 -VI- 1942 and 19 -VI- 1942 : AGP, D- 17153 APD .
[158 ] It is Alberto Ullastres, another member of Opus Dei, who was with them recovering from
an illness.
[159 ] Nickname of Jose Maria Hernandez Garnica .
[160 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 420608 APD .
[ 161] The academic documentation of this examination has not been preserved; however, it is
well attested in both the fragment of the Diary cited in the following note , as in the letter of St.
Josemara to the Bishop of Madrid, in which he reports the test results that the three passed in
the Seminary : " lvaro and Jos M HG did very well in the exams ( ... ) . They tell me that they
171

are very happy, " also for Bishop '" ( chronological spiritual profile ... Bishop Alvaro del Portillo ,
op. Cit. , P. 76).
[162 ] " The Father was eating with Chiqui, Alvaro and all of us to celebrate the successes of
these two. They took exams in Philosophy and did well. A Chiqui was given outstanding; Alvaro
noteworthy. Alvaro says they were very nervous." ( Diary of Villanueva, entry 20 -VI- 1942 :
AGP, D- 17153 APD ) .
[163 ] In late July 1941 he had undergone tests for insulin levels and as well as an exploration of
the autonomic nervous system : cf. Medical History (1941-1944) , AGP, D- 16060 APD .
[164 ] Diary of Villanueva, entry 30-X - 1942 : AGP, D- 17153 APD .
[165 ] Ibid. , Entry 7- XII- 1942.
[166 ] Diary of Lagasca , entry 3-I - 1943: AGP, D- 17145 APD .
[167 ] Ibid. , Entry 7-I - 1943.
[168 ] Ibid. , Entry 21-I - 1943.
[169 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter Ullastres to Alberto Calvo , AGP, C- 411110 APD .
[170 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 91-92 .
[171 ] Specifically from 7 to 24 February : cf. Diary of Villanueva, entries 7 -II- 1943 and 24 -II1943: AGP, D- 17153 APD .
[172 ] The subjects passed in March were : Theodicy and Ethics , History of Philosophy and
Moral Theology 1 (Madrid , 13 -III- 1943) : vid . AGP, APD D- 18968/2 . And in May : Logic and
Critical Psychology , Ontology and Cosmology (Madrid , 14 - V - 1943) : AGP, APD D- 18968/3.
[173 ] Testimony of the Servant of God Jose Maria Garcia Lahiguera on St. Josemara , in
Blessed Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer , a man of God ... , op. cit. , p. 162 .
[174 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 609-610 .
[175 ] Cf Fuenmayor , A. Gomez -Iglesias, V. , Illanes , JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei ,
op. cit. , p. 139 .
[176 ] St. Josemara , Letter 29-XII-1947/14-II-1966 , n . 160 (quoted in Fuenmayor , A. Gomez Iglesias, V. , Illanes , JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei , op. Cit. , P. 139).
[177 ] In Fuenmayor , A. Gomez -Iglesias, V. , Illanes , JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei , op.
cit. , p. 139 .
[178 ] Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 33 .
[179 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 102-103
255. " The Apostolic Nuncio in Spain ( Archbishop Gaetano Cicognani ), who esteemed much
172

the Servant of God, came himself to his house to deliver several letters to heads of the Roman
Curia and the diplomatic courier to deliver to the Secretary of State (Testimony of Joaquin
Alonso Pacheco , AGP, APD T- 19548 , p. 15).
[180 ] Cf Bernal , S., Souvenir Alvaro del Portillo , op. cit. , pp . 81-82 .
[181 ] Orlandis , J. , Memoirs of Rome at War ( 1942-1945 ) , Scepter , Madrid 1992 , p. 66 .
[182 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 751 .
[183 ] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together , 14 -II- 1976 . AGP , Library, P01 ,
1976.187 .
[184 ] In previous months , the Pope also received in private audience other members of Opus
Dei . Jos Mara Albareda Jose Orlandis Salvador Canals and Francisco Botella ( qv Saranyana
, JI , Ante Pius XII and Bishop Montini. Audiences to members of Opus Dei in the Diary of
Joseph Orlandis (1942-1945) , in Studia et Documenta 5 (2011 ) pp . 311-343 ) .
[185 ] "lvaro always kept those moments in memory: in addition to having completed the
service for the Work that St Josemaria had entrusted to him, his soul overflowed with great
human and supernatural joy for having had the opportunity to stay in the Eternal City videre
Petrum, to see the successor of Peter and by being able to speak to him."( Testimony of Bishop
Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 96).
[186 ] Cf Orlandis , J., Memories ... , op. cit. , pp . 67-68 .
[187 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 757 .
[188 ] Testimony of Joseph Orlandis Rovira , AGP, APD T- 0262, p. April .
[189 ] Del Portillo, . , Entry of a report on an interview with Cardinal Luigi Maglione , Rome, 20
-VI- 1943 , AGP, D- 17052 APD .
[190 ] See Testimony of Joseph Orlandis Rovira , AGP, APD T- 0262, p. Three . Bishop Alonso
added some names to those mentioned by J. Orlandis : Cardinals Selvaggiani Marchetti , and
Vidal y Barraquer , PP . Larraona and Goyeneche CMF : PP Dominicans. Montoto and Canal;
Benedictine Fathers . Albareda and Sunol , the Monsignori Calleri , Fernndez Conde, etc. . ( cf.
Testimony of Joaquin Alonso Pacheco , AGP, APD T- 19548 , p. 16).
[191 ] Orlandis , J., Memories ... , op. cit. , p. 67 .
[192 ] Francisco Botella Radun . He was professor of mathematics and was in Rome on
business.
[193 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 430613 APD .
[194 ] Diary of Roma , entry 26 - V - 1943: AGP, D- 16015 APD .
[195 ] Ibid. , ENTRY 6 -VI- 1943.
173

[ 196 ] Ibid. , Entry 7- VI- 1943.


[197 ] Orlandis , J., Memories ... , op. cit. , p. 68 .
[198 ] See Diary of Roma , entry 21 -VI- 1943: AGP, D- 16015 APD .
[199 ] "Although Societies of common life without vows were not religious , they depended on
the Sacred Congregation for Religious and , according to the canons 674 and 492 of the Code
of 1917 and nn . 3-5 Normae of the Sacred Congregation for Religious from 6 -III- 1921 ( AAS ,
13, 1921 , p. 312-319 ) required for the diocesan erection, prior permission from the Holy See"
(from Fuenmayor , A. Gomez -Iglesias, V. , Illanes , JL, the Canonical Path of Opus Dei , op.
cit., p. 122).
[200 ] See ibid. , Pp . 520-527 .
[201 ] Ibid. , P. 132 . The full text of the lineamenta in its original Latin , can be found in the
appendices of this monograph.
[ 202] See Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 42a .
[203 ] It was the recommended practice at the time : "Dogmatic theology must be taught with the
traditional, scholastic and Thomistic method ' ( Episcopal Commission seminars, Disciplinary
rules , curriculum and school policies, op cit , p 243. . . . ) .
[204 ] Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 42a .
[205 ] See ibid.
[206 ] Ibid. , Pp . 44-45 .
[207 ] Ibid. , P. 31 .
[ 208 ] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together , 14 -II- 1976 . AGP , Library, P02 ,
1976 , 176.
[ 209 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 585 .
[ 210 ] See Diary of Lagasca, entry 15 -IX- 1943: AGP, D- 17147 APD , and Diary of Moncloa,
entry 23 -IX- 1943: AGP, D- 17169 APD .
[ 211] See Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 31 . Specifically , they
were in Torrelodones December 22 to 28, 1943, except on Christmas Day which was spent in
Madrid. They stayed in El Escorial three times from January 16 to 19, 1944; January 30 to
February 1, 1944 and from February 18 to 24, 1944 : cf. Diary of Lagasca , AGP, D- 17145 APD
Diary of Villanueva and AGP, D- 17153 APD .
[ 212 ] Testimony of Jos Ramn Madurga , AGP, APD T- 15292 , p. 8.

174

[213 ] The Episcopal Commission on seminaries, Disciplinary rules, curriculum, and school
policies , op. cit. , p. 246 . lvaro 'humorous remembered a correction that St. Josemara made
to the first three priests of Opus Dei , when he saw them seriously committed to memorize texts
of the Church Fathers , for use in their future priestly ministry . When he went to visit them in
1944 , to a place where they were more intensely preparing for ordination, he asked them what
they had done the day before, and they said they had studied spontaneously "paragraphs" of
the Fathers of the Church. St. Josemara, with good humor, told them to use the more exact
modes of expression, so also not to lose authority, and pointed out to them, "They are not
paragraphs, but texts'" ( Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T19544 , p. 645).
[214 ] Testimony of Jos Ramn Madurga , AGP, APD T- 15292 , p. 8.
[215 ] Ibid. , P. 92 .
[216 ] Cf Latin Language (fifth year ) (Madrid , 15 -XII- 1943) , AGP, APD D- 18968/4 .
[217 ] Cf Fundamental Theology (Madrid , 23 -I- 1944) , AGP, APD D- 18968/5 .
[218 ] Cf Dogma Sacramentis (Course 1 ) (Madrid , 27 -II- 1944) , AGP, APD D- 18968/6 ; Moral
Theology 2nd ( Madrid, 27 -II- 1944) , AGP, APD D- 18968 / 7; Sacramentis Dogma ( 2nd year )
(Madrid , 27 -II- 1944) , AGP, APD D- 18968/8 .
[219 ] See the documents cited in the preceding three notes.
[220 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Jos Salvador Orlandis and Canals , AGP, C- 440327 APD .
[221 ] In May: Liturgical Singing ( Madrid, 2 - V - 1944) , AGP, APD D- 18968/9 , Biblical Greek
(Madrid 5 - V - 1944) , AGP, APD D-18968/10 ; Hebrew ( Madrid 5 - V - 1944) , AGP, APD D18968/11 , General Introduction to Holy Scripture (Madrid 5 - V - 1944) , AGP, APD D-18968/12
; Special Introduction and Exegesis of the Old Testament ( Madrid, 5 - V - 1944) , AGP, APD D18968/13 ; Special Introduction and New Testament Exegesis , (Madrid, 5 - V - 1944) , AGP,
APD D-18968/14 ; History Church (Madrid 5 - V - 1944) , AGP, APD D-18968/15 ; Ascetic and
Mystical Theology (Madrid 5 - V - 1944) , AGP, APD D-18968/16 ; Patrology (Madrid 5 - V -1944
) , AGP, APD D-18968/17 and Canon Law ( Institutions ) (Madrid 5 - V - 1944) , AGP, APD D18968/18 . And in June : Theologia Dogmatica De Deo Uno et Trino (Madrid , 12 -VI- 1944) ,
AGP, and APD D-18968/21 Dogmatic De Gratia Christi Theologia et Deo Creatore (Madrid , 12
-VI- 1944) , AGP APD D-18968/22 .
[222 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Jos Salvador Orlandis and Canals , AGP, C- 440531 APD .
[223 ] See Certificate of having completed ecclesiastical studies required for ordination (Madrid
15 -VI- 1944) , AGP, APD D-16016/10 . Actually there was still a test that would be completed a
few months later : cf. Dogmatic Theologia Verbo Incarnato ( Madrid, 2 -X- 1944) , AGP, APD D18968/23 .
[224 ] The thesis was published in 1947 , Discoveries in California, Hispanic - American School
of Seville , CSIC, Research Monograph n . 7, Madrid 1947. The Churchs " Nihil Obstat " for
175

publishing Discoveries in California ( Madrid, 8- II- 1947) , AGP, D- 10241 APD . In 1982 it was
reissued with a slightly altered title : Discoveries and explorations off the coast of California,
Madrid 1982.
[225 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 98-99 .
[226 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 440116 APD .
[227 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter Ullastres to Alberto Calvo , AGP, C- 411002 APD .
[228 ] This is the Dr. Alfonso Balcells , in 1941 , who without being of the Work had helped inthe
beginning of the apostolic work of Opus Dei in Barcelona, in times of strong contradiction: cf.
Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 474-479 . Other faithful
of the Work who were in the city were students, and Alfonso, who had finished his college
studies, lent his name to the rented floor that served apostolic activities. This brought
complications in the civil, professional and religious sphere. In 1943, after postgraduate studies
outside Spain, he applied for admission to Opus Dei : it cf. ibid. , pp . 485-486 and Balcells , A. ,
Naive Memory , Scepter , Madrid, 2009 , p. 121-183 .
[229 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Alfonso Gorina Balcells , AGP, C- 421023 APD .
[230 ] Cf Pero- Sanz, J. M., Isidoro , op. cit. , p. 302 .
[ 231] See Testimony of Francisco Ponz Piedrafita , AGP, APD T -0755 , p. 23 .
[232 ] Cf Pero- Sanz , J. M. , Isidoro ... , op. cit. , pp . 337-339 and F. Ponz , My encounter with
the Founder of Opus Dei , Scepter, Princeton 2000 , p. 140 .
[233 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 393 .
[234 ] Testimony of Francisco Ponz Piedrafita , AGP, APD T -0755 , p. 23 .
[235 ] Testimony of Angel Santos Ruiz , AGP, APD T -1205 , p. 1.
[236 ] See Testimony of Francisco Ponz Piedrafita , AGP, APD T -0755 , p. April .
[237 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 645 .
[238 ] From April 1 to 8, 1942 they were in Valladolid and Len. From June 27 to 31 1942 , in
Bilbao, San Sebastian , Pamplona and Zaragoza. From 12 to 24 September 1942 traveled to
Pamplona , Vitoria and San Sebastin . From November 30 to December 4, 1942 , in Vitoria
and Burgos. From April 28 to May 5, 1943, they were in Zaragoza. From 10 to 18 August 1943,
in Zamora and Pamplona. And from December 15 to 18 1943 , in Seville : cf. Diary of Lagasca ,
AGP, D- 17145 APD ; Diary of Villanueva , AGP, D- 17153 APD ; Diary of The Corner , AGP, D17172 APD ; Diary of San Sebastin , AGP, D- 17173 APD ; Diary Baltasar Gracian , Zaragoza
, AGP, D- 17180 APD and Seras House Diary , Sevilla , AGP, D- 17181 APD .
[239 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 80 .

176

[240 ] See ibid. , P. 90 .


[241 ] See ibid. , P. 91 .

177

Chapter 9: A priest who lived for his


ministry
1. Reception of Holy Orders
2. Always and in everything, only a priest
a. Love for the Eucharist
b. Sacrament of Penance and spiritual direction
c. The preaching of the word of God
d. A new way of cooperating with the Founder
3. Towards the papal approval of Opus Dei

In early June 1944 the Allied Army


landed in Normandy, and the
Second World War entered a new
and final phase which would put an
end to hostilities almost a year later.
Peace in the continent would finally
allow the seed of Opus Dei to be
sown outside Spain. This apostolic
development would require that the
Work had an appropriate canonical
framework with a status of pontifical
right.
In February 1944, the Founder
wrote: "We are already established
in many dioceses, and we have to
get
our work to all places on earth,
Figure 56: US Army troops wade ashore on Omaha Beach on the morning of
June 6, 1944. Photo credits: Chief Photographer's Mate (CPHoM) Robert F. because this is something that God
Sargent, Wikimedia commons
Himself has wanted for His Work.
Thus the means that the previous
canonical approval provided us is now insufficient. A Pious Union does not have de jure an
inter-diocesan scope. We had it de facto, from the affection that the Most Reverend Bishops of
all dioceses where we work have for Opus Dei." [242] It was necessary, therefore, to obtain a
pontifical approval in order that - continued St. Josemara - our internal hierarchy may be
universal, and thus facilitate the fulfillment of the divine program that has been shown to us in
the service of the Church in its entirety. We are not an enterprise founded to remedy the
spiritual needs of a single country or a particular time: I think it is not presumptuous to say that
as long as there are men on earth, Opus Dei will continue to exist. [243]

178

The Founder would count on the assistance of Alvaro for this new approval, as he had done in
1943. Meanwhile, the candidates finalized their preparation for the sacrament of holy orders,
with the clear idea that "the priesthood is not a career but a service, an apostolate. It is a
generous and total self-giving, without calculation or limitations, to be sowers of peace and joy
in the world, and to open the gates of Heaven to those who would benefit from this service and
ministry." [244]
1. Reception of Holy Orders
As soon as the three candidates completed their ecclesiastical studies, the day for receiving the
minor and major orders [245] was determined. On May 12, St. Josemara made the formal
petition to the Bishop of Madrid, stating that "Alvaro del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, Doctor of
Philosophy and Civil Engineer; Jos Mara Hernndez Garnica, Doctor of Natural Science and
Mining Engineer; and Jos Luis Miguel Mzquiz , Doctor of Philosophy and Civil Engineer; the
first, thirty years of age and the son of Ramon and Clementina; the second, thirty years, son of
Jose and Adela; and the last, thirty-one years old, and the son of Miguel and Maria: all three
acknowledge a calling to the priesthood. And considering all the conditions required by the law, I
beg your Excellency to grant them the first clerical tonsure and other Holy Orders." [246]
On that same day, Bishop Leopoldo called him to say "the candidates for ordination could begin
their eight-day retreat the next day, because the following Saturday, on May 20, I will give them
the first tonsure and after a short interval, the other orders to the priesthood." [247] The next
day, St. Josemara himself began the pre-ordination retreat in El Escorial. [248] He preached all
meditations, emphasizing to the candidates the greatness of the priesthood, and the sense of
responsibility and spirit of service with which they had to take on the new mission that the
Church would entrust to them. He also insisted that "the priests are not those who are the best,
the most learned, etc., in the Work, but rather those whom God wanted to be priests." [249] He
also suggested to them that it would be good to make a general confession before their
ordination. [250]
They received the tonsure on the scheduled day, at eight o'clock, in a ceremony officiated by
Bishop Eijo y Garay [251] in his private chapel. [252] From that moment on, the three wore
clerical attire [253]. The next day, May 21, at midday, in the chapel of the bishop, they received
minor orders of porter and lector [254] and on May 23, in the same place, those of exorcist and
acolyte [255].
Afterwards, they attended another retreat (shorter than the previous) preached by St.
Josemara. On May 28, after passing their examinations [256] they were conferred the office of
subdeacon by Bishop Marcelino Olaechea, Bishop of Pamplona, in the oratory of the Opus Dei
center in Diego de Len [257]. On June 3, they received the diaconate from Bishop Casimiro
Morcillo, Auxiliary Bishop of Madrid, in the chapel of the Seminary. [258]
Their priestly ordination took place, as scheduled, on June 25, a Sunday. Logically, the
members of Opus Dei lived this most special event with a special intensity and a lot of prayer
and joy. The solemn ceremony took place in the chapel of the Episcopal Palace. All the

179

attendees could not fit in the main chapel and some had to stay in adjacent areas. At exactly ten
o'clock, Bishop Eijo and Garay began the solemn Mass. [259]
St. Josemaria was not
present in the liturgical
ceremony. He offered to the
Lord the renunciation of
witnessing the ordination as
mortification for his children,
and in order to follow his
normal standard behavior:
"To hide and to disappear,
that only Jesus may shine."
As the Bishop of Madrid
conferred priestly ordination
to lvaro, Jos Mara and
Jos Luis, the Founder of
Opus Dei celebrated the
Figure 57: The first three priests of Opus Dei with Bishop Leopoldo Eijo y Garay.
Holy Sacrifice of the Altar in
Photo credits: opusdei.es
the oratory of Diego de
Len, assisted by Jos
Mara Albareda, and he most earnestly begged the Blessed Trinity for the sanctity of those new
priests. [260]
In 1989, Bishop del Portillo explained this gesture of St Josemaria in the following terms: "For
our Founder, that was a day of human and supernatural triumph: after years of praying and
working to bring the Work forward, after so much contradiction, having heard from many people
that there was no canonical solution for the ordination of priests, the time came when three of
his sons were ordained priests. Our Father might have gone to the chapel of the Bishop of
Madrid, where Bishop Leopoldo ordained us that would have been perfectly logical and not
contrary to law , but he preferred not to be among the crowd who attended the ceremony. He
thought that if he went, everyone would want to congratulate him, and he would be the center of
attention. The hidden I, to hide and disappear, that's my way, he concluded , that only
Jesus may shine. (...) His triumph was to offer the Lord the humility of disappearing and
accepting criticism from some people who might comment: - What happened? How come he
did not come? Doesnt he care about his children?" [261]
When the liturgical celebration was over, relatives and friends rushed to kiss the newly
consecrated hands of the new priests. Among those who attended there were also members of
the Nunciature and the Episcopal Palace, priests of Madrid and the provinces, and
representatives of religious orders and congregations: Hieronymites, Dominicans, Piarists,
Augustinians, Marianists, Vincentians... [262].

180

Joan Masi recalls the meeting between St. Josemara and Don Alvaro14 in the Lagasca
Residence, when the latter returned from the ordination ceremony. "The first to enter through
the side door of the garden was Don Alvaro, and Fr. Jos Mara and Fr. Jos Luis followed.
Hardly had our Father (who was sitting on a garden bench) seen them when he sprang up and
went to kiss the palms of Fr. lvaro who, in turn, took the hand of our Father to first kiss them.
Our Founder would not budge, and there followed a little affectionate tussle, full of emotion,
which is hard to forget. As expected, our Father ended up kissing the palms of Don Alvaro and
then those of the other two." [263]
Encarnacin Ortega, meanwhile, recalls that immediately, Don Alvaro had a detail of finesse
with the women of the Work, who were in the Center attached to the Residence: the moment
came "in order to see us and say with great emotion, I am already a priest. Even in that
momentous moment, he was thinking of others." [264]
Bishop Leopoldo ate lunch at
Diego de Leon with St.
Josemaria, the new priests
and other guests. It was a
busy get-together, as some
members of Opus Dei from
other cities like Bilbao or
Barcelona had come to
Madrid for the ordination.
Their joy was palpable. There
were also continuous phone
calls from people who wanted
to congratulate the new
priests and to congratulate
the Founder. Taking
advantage of a time when the
Father had to leave the room, the Bishop took the floor to express the feelings he had in his
heart which he thought was important to convey to these young men. "He spoke to them of the
great joy that ordaining the first set of priests of the Work had given to him. He recalled the
persecutions suffered by the Work in recent years, allowed by the Lord in order to obtain much
good. He confessed that he experienced great joy and peace of mind that, despite what they
suffered, they bore no resentment nor had less affection for those who were the instruments of
this ignoble campaign. How many tears these calumnies that branded you as heretics and
masons have cost many mothers! he told them. He then referred to the Father, to the specific
Figure 58: After the ordination of the first three priests. Photo credits: Opus Dei
(Information Office)

14

Don Alvaro is the name that Bishop Alvaro was known in many, if not most, parts of the world despite the fact
that the title Don for priests is used only for the most part in Spanish-speaking countries. (It is also used in Italy).
The title of Don is the title of respect thats given to men who deserve some degree of esteem by virtue of their
age, position in society, or the office they hold. Since this name has become one by which he is affectionately
remembered, the translator decided to retain it. On the other hand the title thats given to the other priests and
bishops mentioned in this translation is the one thats used to address them in the English-speaking world: Fr.
(Father) for priests; Msgr. (Monsignor) for priests granted this title; Bishop or HE (His Excellency) for bishops.

181

mission he received from God to lead the Work and to train them, and to the fact that he was
the one who had the graces for that purpose: Take very good care of the Father: he needs it
and he really needs us". [265]
Of course, he did not gloss over the role played by Don Alvaro in those circumstances. He said
that when the campaign against the Work was raging, he had expressed a fear to lvaro that
the younger ones would react with resentment against the unfair attacks. And the answer he
heard put him at peace: everyone knew that it was a test that God allowed for them to become
better instruments, and that the Lord was using for that operation a platinum scalpel (the best
kind)." When Bishop Leopoldo finished the story, lvaro, who was sitting nearby said, "But, Lord
Bishop, I told you that because that was what I had heard the Father say." And the Bishop
responded: "Like father, like son.'" [266].
Of course, the mother and siblings of Don Alvaro participated with great joy in the ordination.
Carlos del Portillo recalls that Doa Clementina "was completely transformed. To say that she
was happy would be an understatement: she was radiant, jubilant, and extremely happy."[267]
Another happy occasion for the family happened on June 28, 1944, with the first solemn Mass
of the new priest in the chapel of his high school alma mater, Colegio del Pilar [268]. According
to his sister "it was a very nice ceremony. Father Florentino Fernndez, S. M. (the school
principal) attended, and a Dominican, Jos Manuel Aguilar. Tomas (my husband) and I went
with ourthree children: Jos Ramon, Tomasn, and Luis Fernando. Many of his friends and
acquaintances from the engineering school came. [269] At Communion the plan was for my
mom to be the first to receive Holy Communion, but my aunt Carmen came forward, and it was
she who first took communion."[270]. This detail strangely coincides with a similar event in the
life of the founder of Opus Dei. When St. Josemara received priestly ordination, he had a filial
desire to give Holy Communion first to his mother and was deprived of the fulfillment of this
legitimate desire because another lady overtook her. [271]
Jos Luis Mzquiz recalls a small, but eloquent detail of Don Alvaros spirit of intense prayer
and meditation during the liturgical celebration: "I was struck by a comment that Fr. Alvaro
made to me after celebrating his first Mass. It was customary in Spain then for the priest to sit in
a chair and allow all attendees to greet him and kiss his hands. Don Alvaro told me that all
throughout the besamanos (kissing of the hands) his eyes were closed so as not to be
distracted: he had wanted to live those moments after his first Mass with special
recollection."[272]
Shortly after ordination, St. Josemaria gave a small practical indication to Don Alvaro that
showed the wisdom of the former and the refined obedience of the latter. Don Alvaro himself
recounts: "When we received ordination, none of the three of us smoked: not the Father either,
because upon entering the seminary he gave away all his pipes and tobacco to the porter. So
the Father said, I do not smoke, and neither do you three. lvaro, you should smoke because,
otherwise, some might think that we dont allow smoking. [273]
With the arrival of the new priests, "the apostolic work of Opus Dei in cities with universities or
technical engineering schools grew ostensibly. In less than a year after the ordination of the first
182

priests, the strong foundations and the rapid expansion of the apostolic work in Spain were
already quite evident "[274]. The distribution of pastoral work among the three was very simple:
one took care primarily of the cities in the north, another in the center, and the third in the south.
Most of the Spanish bishops had granted them ministerial powers, even receiving the
confession of nuns and forgiving sins reserved to the Bishop, responsibilities rarely granted
especially to newly ordained priests [275].
Don Alvaro, who continued to discharge the duties of Secretary-General, was assigned in
Madrid for the most part, but he also made frequent trips to cities in the center and north of the
Iberian Peninsula. [276] According to data contained in letters and diaries of Centers of Opus
Dei, in the twenty months since ordination until his second trip to Rome, he made twenty trips to
different cities in Spain and Portugal for pastoral reasons. These trips reached a total of one
hundred and fifty days outside of Madrid.
2. Always and in everything, only a priest
St. Josemaria synthesized with the following words what he expected of his newly ordained
sons: "In the first place, priests. Then, priests. And always and in everything, only priests. Speak
only of God. When a penitent needs you, drop everything to attend to him or her." [277]
And what "being a priest" meant to the Founder is something evident in his preaching and in his
writing: "You must all serve each other, my children, as your well-lived fraternity demands; but
priests should not tolerate their laymen brothers to render them unnecessary services. In the
Work the priests are the slaves of the others and, following the example of the Lord who came
not to be served but to serve: non veni ministrari, sed ministrare. We have to know how to put
our hearts on the floor, so that the others may tread softly. So allowing yourselves to be served
by your laymen brothers, is something that goes against the essence of the spirit of Opus Dei."
[278]
All throughout the life of Bishop Alvaro, from June 25, 1944 until his death, he was a faithful
incarnation of that model of priesthood. For us to get a good picture of the first months of his
pastoral ministry, we will organize our narrative around four major themes: the Eucharist; the
sacrament of penance and spiritual direction; his preaching; and, finally, his assistance to the
Founder since his ordination.
Love for the Eucharist
In the days immediately following his ordination, relatives and friends who got to participate in
Masses celebrated by Don Alvaro were greatly edified by the unction which the new priest
manifested in liturgical rites. His sister, Pilar, was very impressed." [279] It was clear, moreover
that such a reaction wasnt simply due to "the thrill of seeing your brother consecrating the Body
and Blood of Christ. No, it was much more... lvaro celebrated Mass without doing odd things,
but with a lot of piety. (...) With what respect, with what love he raised the Blessed Sacrament!"
[280]
Carlos del Portillo, meanwhile, narrates that on one occasion, Don Alvaro said Mass in the
private chapel of his aunts Pilar and Carmen, and the caretaker of the house, Elvira, had the
183

opportunity to attend. One day, this good woman confided: Don Alvaro he says Mass so
perfectly! As for me Carlos commented I found what she said funny. And I laughed. But
then I have thought many times about it. It was true: Alvaro always celebrated Mass with a
special fervor: nothing odd, but with a lot of recollection and unction. He transmitted his
presence of God. And he lovingly kept all the details, all the rubrics of the Mass. Even in the
most trivial things; or should I say, seemingly trivial, because they were expressions of
refinement and love for the Blessed Sacrament." [281]
He wanted to surround the liturgical celebration with such love and serenity that he unwittingly
spent more time for it than advisable. As this delay could cause problems for the faithful
attending his Mass, the Founder of Opus Dei told him that the Holy Sacrifice demanded piety
and tenderness, but since those attending had a lot of work and a schedule to follow, the Mass
should not last more than half an hour. He followed this indication, day by day, to the letter; later
on he relayed that same idea of fraternal concern as an advice to the new priests who were just
ordained." [282]
Sacrament of Penance and spiritual direction
Since he met the Founder, Don
Alvaro had discovered the love
that St Josemaria had for the
sacrament of Penance. The
founder of Opus Dei, during his
years as a young priest in
Madrid, had devoted many
hours to administer God's
forgiveness to the sick and the
children of the poorest
neighborhoods, in addition to
sitting in his confessional in the
church of Santa Isabel.
Afterwards, when the time
came, "he urged his priests to
make the administration of
Penance a dominant passion of
Figure 59: The Founder of Opus Dei was the first penitent of Don Alvaro. Photo their priestly life; and he spurred
credits: opusdei.us
his lay children to lead many
souls to confession : kill your brother priests, give them a lot of work, so they can bring many
souls to be reconciled to God." [283] With this ascetic and theological foundation, it would come
as no surprise that, as he was already doing since joining Opus Dei, the new priest continued
going to confession every week [284] and now that he was a priest, he would spend himself
without stint in the administration of this same sacrament.
The Founder said repeatedly in public that he was the first penitent to go to Don Alvaro, and he
did so on the day of the latters ordination. [285] While they were both in the Center in
184

Villanueva St., St. Josemara asked if he had already heard anybodys confession. Don Alvaro
answered no, so St. Josemaria exclaimed, Well, you'll hear mine, because I want to make a
general confession." [286] Perhaps because of the impact of this dramatic moment on him, as
the Founder finished his confession, lvaro immediately began to recite the words of absolution.
So St. Josemaria interrupted him to say, I understand, my son, if you do not want to give me
any advice, but at least you have to give me my penance. Don Alvaro became even more
nervous and, after imposing the penance, forgot the formula of sacramental absolution when it
was time to recite it. The Founder had to dictate the words to him [287]. Of course, Don Alvaro
never discussed this topic. The story is known only because Saint Josemaria himself told it.
Since then, exactly for thirty-one years until his death on June 26, 1975, the Founder went to
confession to this son of his.
After this first confession, many others immediately followed [288]. Testimonials from many
people abound. Jos Mara Casciaro notes that "he listened attentively, took in all that I had told
him, and referring with precision to what I had mentioned, he moved me to repentance, making
me see the proximate causes of my faults and showed me the very specific means to overcome
them and fix them. In doing all these he understood me like a real friend yet quite demanding. In
each confession he gave wise and practical advice, so that, besides the graces of the
Sacrament, I also got the benefit of spiritual direction." [289] Ignacio Sallent, meanwhile, notes
that what really impressed him in going to confession to Don Alvaro, was the latters interior and
apostolic zeal which he himself lived and conveyed to others [290].
Next to the administration of the sacrament of reconciliation
with God, he generously devoted his time and energies to
the spiritual direction of souls. In a letter from him in October
1944, one can read the following: "we go every day to the
Moncloa Residence; we talk to people and hear
confessions." [291] Even before his ordination he had
already shown such prudence, gentleness, kindness and
sympathy which made him particularly well-suited for this
task. He knew how to inspire confidence in people; he was
sympathetic and, at the same time, gently demanding,
applying the appropriate theoretical reasoning to concrete
situations to help people improve.
Since October 1944, the women of the Work set up their
Center of Formation called Los Rosales in Villaviciosa de
Odon, near Madrid. St. Josemaria immediately appointed
Don Alvaro as confessor for them [292]. Mara Consolacion
Prez recalled his human and supernatural prudence: "All of
us valued the opinion of Don Alvaro as if coming from the
Father, both spiritually as in any other aspect: we didnt
doubt anything he said." [293]

185

Figure 60: Guadalupe Ortiz de Landazuri


began apostolic work with women in
Mexico. Her beatification process began
in Nov. 2001. Photo credits: opusdei.us

It was from Los Rosales that the women who would soon begin the work of Opus Dei in many
countries came: Encarnacin Ortega, to Rome; Carmen Gutirrez Ros to England; Narcisa
Gonzlez to the U.S. and then to Canada; Guadalupe Ortiz de Landzuri to Mexico; Victoria
Lopez Amo to Guatemala; Josefina de Miguel to Colombia; Mara Jess Arellano to Venezuela;
Dorita Calvo to Chile; Sabina Alandes to Argentina, etc. [294]
The preaching of the word of God
Among the slanderous attacks that the Founder of Opus Dei had to endure, several referred to
the new priests. For example, "someone had said before the ordination: Now he ordains them,
tomorrow he works them to death." Shortly after that the rumor somehow took on a life of its
own and gave rise to the myth that, indeed, he "was killing" them with work. Of course, that
rumor had some basis, because as soon as the three were ordained, and the Father saw that
they were ready to preach and exercise their ministry, he sent them to apostolic assignments
here and there." [295]
Ten months after receiving ordination, Don Alvaro wrote: "Apart from the many hours per week
spent in spiritual direction and confession, in the ten months of our priesthood (during which we
continued studying), among the three of us, we preached thirty spiritual retreats and about 90
days of retreat for intellectuals." [296] The records show that in those early months, in addition
to the homilies and meditations, he preached at least ten spiritual retreats for men and women
of every age and condition students, professionals, religious , in Madrid, Salamanca, Vigo,
Valladolid, and Bilbao. [297]
Always father to his children, the Founder, to facilitate the task of preaching, made available to
the new priests all his notes and index cards on spiritual and ascetical considerations [298]. And
they would have to take advantage well of his generosity, as St. Josemaria forced himself to
restart an entirely new set of notes [299].
Don Alvaro was simple and direct by nature, a stranger to any form of artifice in his dealings.
His manner of preaching reflected this nature of his. He sought to move souls to God's love, and
to achieve this, he put more trust in the action of grace than on his eloquence. Years later, in a
get-together attended by a large number of people, he made this very clear before beginning
the get-together: "What matters is not what I say; what matters is what the Holy Spirit suggests
to each one - in your soul, as well as mine." [300]
And as what he had to convey was Christian doctrine and the spirit of Opus Dei, his closest
guide in preaching was the mind of the Founder. This is reflected in the following letter he wrote
to St. Josemara: "On Sunday I reserved the Lord in the chapel which was already finished. I did
it early, with only the Administration present. I addressed them with a few words which I
imagined you would say: ...the Father, surely, would say to you ..." [301]
The words and, above all, the spiritual qualities of Don Alvaro moved his listeners to love God.
Some testimonials refer to a retreat he preached in March 1945 in Vigo (Spain). Ramona
Aranaz Sanjurjo, one of those who attended, recalled that "he gave the retreat in a chapel
overlooking the street that no longer exists. In the newsletter of the diocese, the bishop had
186

written that he was very glad Don Alvaro was coming. The retreat was organized by the Catholic
Action (...). I was struck by the slant of his meditation topics: it was a new way, it was something
new, different... that touched me deeply because, although I had been regularly attending
spiritual retreats, I had never heard of God's love spoken in this way. It was for me a great
discovery, an encounter with God as Father, as Friend, that made such an impact. The second
day I went to talk to him, and he explained what Opus Dei was. I do not remember his exact
words, but it was clear that it was a path of holiness in the world. That was exactly what I was
looking for. The next day in a meditation he said: If you've left the unlawful things for the sake of
God, why not also leave the lawful ones? These words provoked my decision to give my life to
God. I remember Don Alvaro as a young priest, filled with love of God, with great simplicity and
naturalness." [302]
And her sister Milagros wrote: "What caught my attention (and I still hold the memory very
dearly) was the devotion with which he prayed the Confiteor at Mass. I found him a holy priest. I
was impressed; I noticed in him something special and since then I've always had devotion to
him." [303]
Meanwhile, Sister Teresa Margaret, a Discalced Carmelite, who was then a young student and
also attended that retreat, wrote: "I met him at a retreat he gave for young people at the College
of the Carmelites of Charity in Vigo, in 1945. From the first moment I was impressed by his
priestly bearing, his spirit of recollection, his deep humility that stood out, and his simplicity. He
was both very friendly and welcoming; he attended to me with kindness." [304]
His meditation would include some anecdotes which, in
addition to serving as a way of varying the pace, helped
illustrate graphically the point that he wanted to convey.
Encarnita Ortega, one of the first women in Opus Dei,
remembered a meditation of Don Alvaro shortly after his
ordination. Fifty years later she still remembers the
"anecdote of a shepherd who was bringing a herd to graze
and upon returning, after spending the day under the
scorching sun, he found a stream of fresh, clear water, and
felt a great desire to quench his thirst there; but he desisted
so as to offer the sacrifice to God. Then he looked at the sky
and saw a big star, as a reward for the sacrifice he had
made . Years passed and, as he grew old, he thought of a
young shepherd who would replace him. The first lesson he
taught him was the best places for grazing. Returning after a
day spent under the sun, they reached the stream and he
thought to himself: if I do not drink, neither will my partner
and he will be left thirsty; but if I drink I will not see the star...
Charity won - fraternity - and he drank eagerly. He almost
did not dare to look up to heaven, but he did, and he found two great stars instead of one. Don
Alvaro told us that God rewards charity, which is the first of virtues." [305]
Figure 61: Encarnita Ortega, one of the first
women of Opus Dei. Her process of
beatification began in March 2009. Photo
credits: encarnitaortega.wordpress.com

187

Don lvaro preached to people of all kinds, always showing a total availability. In this same trip
to Vigo, before starting the retreat, Bishop proposed an activity not planned in advance: to bless
an engineering school in Pontevedra. He accepted immediately, and right after lunch we left
with the Bishop and Fr. Eliodoro [306], himself a forestry engineer. We rode in the car of the
Director General of Forestry to Pontevedra for the opening of another campus of the School of
Forestry [307]. Upon reaching the destination, the Bishop asked Don Alvaro to say a few words
to the engineers present at the event. Much later, though Fr. Eliodoro was already more than 90
years old, he still remembered those moments well: "The way he spoke about professional
matters from an apostolic point of view made a very big impression on them. It was more useful
to them than several retreats. They also saw the joy and great importance that Don Alvaro put
into his being a priest more than being an engineer. (...) It did them a lot of good. The bishop
himself learned something: that he could count on all these people well-formed in a Christian
way. Because all that Don Alvaro did then was to bring Christian formation to all those good
gentlemen." [308]
As has probably happened to every preacher, Don Alvaro had his share of inconvenient
incidents, albeit rarely. Once, during a retreat at the College of Lourdes de Valladolid, "one of
the fellows who attended rose from his seat in the middle of a meditation, addressed the
presbytery and, to the astonishment of all, began to make a public confession. Don lvaro
immediately interrupted him, saying with great energy: this is not done!" [309]
A new way of cooperating with the Founder
Since he began hearing the confession of Saint Josemara, Don Alvaro became an even
stronger support for the Founder of Opus Dei. The supernatural gifts that God gave this holy
priest demanded that he had at his side (in a manner of speaking) a confessor of a deep interior
life, intelligence, and humility who could accompany him in true spiritual harmony. Their unity of
mind and spirit was indeed extremely close, from the moment Don Alvaro had sought admission
to the Work, and was reinforced every day. Proof of this, for example, is the help that Don
Alvaro gave to the Founder in writing some documents for the spiritual formation of his children.
Many years later, Jose Luis Mzquiz still remembers the image of the two in the retreat of
Molinoviejo, near Segovia, "walking under the pine trees thinking and exchanging impressions
occasionally they called us to tell us something or to show us some paper and also working
using a small green metal table." [310]
His spiritual identification with the Founder thus increased in such a way that was noticed by all
the faithful of Opus Dei, even the very young ones, and that was a stimulus for their ascetical
life. An example is the testimony of Luis Prieto: "The initial impression he made on me, now
remembering the first time I saw him in Palau in 1945, as a 20-year old student, was that he
was a smart priest with a simple sympathy and, despite his strong personality, made himself
accessible with a natural simplicity and kindness to all of us who were then recent in The Work
and much younger than him. I had the feeling that "he used" his talents at the service of the
Founder so naturally and smoothly that their interaction was barely noticeable. (...) The
concurrence between the two was such that a few words or one look from the Founder sufficed

188

for Don Alvaro to discreetly interpret his will and to carry out quickly a command or to take note
of an indication in his agenda." [311]
Such was their unity of wills that sometimes one wondered to whom one could attribute the
initiative for a certain action. However, Don Alvaro always made it clear that he was responding
to indications of Saint Josemara, removing any attribution from himself. If ever the Founder
directed the gratitude of those present to Don Alvaro, he tried - with discretion, elegance and a
bit of embarrassment - to downplay it by saying, with a smile, that they were exaggerated in
their appreciation. [312]
In addition, since October 1944, he
also had to deal with the health of the
Founder, who was suffering from a
severe form of diabetes, and he did so
with great solicitude. Jos Luis Mzquiz
writes, "I remember how, with great
dedication and love, Don lvaro gave
him intramuscular injections of insulin
several times a day." [313]
His care for St. Josemaria went beyond
the medical aspects. His fondness for
the Father was such that he
spontaneously decided to follow the
Figure 62: St. Josemaria preaching; diabetes had caused him to put on
a lot of weight, because of which he had to follow a strict diet. Don
same, pretty challenging diet of St.
Alvaro himself followed this diet out of unity with and charity to the
Josemara even though at the time he
Founder. Photo credits: josemariaescriva.info
himself did not need it personally.
According to Encarnacin Ortega, he justified his decision by asserting that "rather than being
commanded, it was simply that he could not allow himself to take something nice and appetizing
(but harmful for anyone with diabetes), when our Founder could only take unpalatable food."
[314]
And yet in those very months, he had his usual health problems. [315] He carried these
illnesses, however, with supernatural vision and joy, and these did not pose as obstacles to
carrying out his intense pastoral and apostolic activity.
3. Towards the Papal approval of Opus Dei
As soon as World War II ended, Opus Dei could now make a reality one of the essential
characteristics of its spirit: universality. It was now time to expand the apostolate beyond the
Spanish borders. Since 1942, people of the Work who went to Rome for professional reasons
had enabled Opus Dei to make its presence felt in sectors of Italian civil society and in some
circles of the Vatican Curia. In 1945 St Josemaria traveled to neighboring Portugal,
accompanied by Don Alvaro, to lay the foundations of its first Center which began operations in
1946. [316] In 1946 and 1947 the first members of the Work moved to Britain, Ireland and
France. In 1948, the Founder instructed three of his children to do a long exploratory trip to the
189

Americas, with a view to begin the apostolic work in countries of the continent as soon as
possible. [317] Upon considering these developments one immediately understands why there
was already a real need to secure a legal status from the Holy See that would allow Opus Dei to
do its apostolate worldwide.
Four months after Don Alvaros ordination, and taking advantage at that time that he was not
present, St. Josemara told a group of his sons how Don Alvaro "often cleared up the pieces
and suffered many blows so that neither he (i.e., St. Josemaria) nor the Work would receive
them, and how he would go alone to talk to cardinals and important people to procure the
Works approval." [318] He was referring to the status obtained in 1943 which, from the outset,
St. Josemara had considered temporary because it did not subscribe to the founding charism
and the pastoral reality of Opus Dei.
Since 1939, Don Alvaro had helped St. Josemaria in dealing with Spanish ecclesiastical
authorities, but after receiving the priesthood his dedication to this task further intensified, if
anything. In the months immediately after June 1944, he met with the Nuncio on more than ten
occasions, and also spoke with the bishops of Toledo, Malaga, Pamplona, Granada, Tuy,
Valladolid, Oviedo, Palencia, Barcelona, Orihuela, Leiria, Burgos, Vitoria, Valencia, Coimbra,
Santander, Bilbao, Salamanca, Orense, Jaca, and Ciudad Rodrigo.
In a letter from him in April 1945, addressed to the two members of the Work residing in Rome
for professional reasons, he made reference to those dealings: "The Nuncio and all bishops, old
and young, old and new, in the same plan of care that you already know. Several bishops stay
at home (translators note: i.e., in the Center) whenever they come to Madrid. Thank God, there
is perfect unanimity in the episcopate, as always, with respect to the Work. Besides being a
grace of God, humanly it is natural, since the Bishops only see in us the one thing they can see,
because it is all we have: the desire to serve the Holy Church through them and to perform our
specific mission among intellectuals. The religious, in general, and the secular priests, are head
over heels for us, too." [319]
During the summer and autumn of 1945, aided by Don Alvaro, St. Josemara prepared the
documents necessary to obtain papal approval. Once more his dedication to the Founder
reached a new peak in early 1946, when the need was perceived to request letters from
members of the hierarchy to endorse the Works request to the Holy Father [320]. They made
many visits separately to bishops for this purpose. Don Alvaro made the following: on
January 31 he was in Valladolid; February 1, in Palencia and Bilbao; Feb. 8, in San Sebastian
and Irun; Feb. 9 in Pamplona; Feb. 10, in Vitoria; Feb. 11 in Valladolid and Salamanca; and
Feb. 12, in Segovia and Madrid. [321] His efforts were successful. "The letters are about: we
have several others and they have sent them to us (...). The letters will be from Seville,
Granada, Murcia, Valencia, Barcelona, Vitoria, Santiago, Valladolid, Madrid, Zaragoza, and
Coimbra, and perhaps also of Pamplona, Avila, Salamanca, and Palencia [322]."
St. Josemaria asked Jose Orlandis to accompany Don Alvaro to submit the documentation to
the Holy See, because the former knew the Italian capital and its language. [323] In early
February, Don Alvaro suggested, I think you and I could leave at the end of this month or early
next. [324]. The request to the Roman Pontiff, written by St. Josemara, with the approval of the
190

Bishop of Madrid- Alcala and dated January 25, 1946, began as follows: "Most Holy Father, the
priest Josemara Escriv de Balaguer y Albas, President General of the Priestly Society of the
Holy Cross, humbly prostrate at the feet of Your Holiness, strongly pleads His benevolence to
deign to grant the Decretum Laudis (Decree of Praise) and approval of the Constitutions of the
Society." [325]
After mentioning , in half a dozen lines, the legal milestones of Opus Dei (founded in 1928,
approved as a Pious Union in 1941; canonical establishment of the Society in 1943 in the
diocese of Madrid), he continued: "With divine help, the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross has
grown to the point that because of the number and select quality of its members, as well as the
nature and development of their activities which they carry out with fruits not only in a good
number dioceses but also in various countries of Europe and America the said Society
requires an approval that would give it greater stability and scope than that which corresponds
only to diocesan right." [326]

Figure 63: The J.J. Sister (1,554 grt). She was built in 1896 for the Navigazione Generale
Italiana as the Galileo Galilei, but sold in 1910 to Compaa Valenciana de Vapores de Correos
de frica, one of the companies which merged to form Trasmediterrnea on January 1, 1917.
She was broken up in 1965 (www.timetableimages.com/maritime/images/ct27i.htm). Photo
credits: trasmeships.es

On February 21,
1946 Don Alvaro
went to Barcelona to
sail for Genoa. In the
diary of one of the
centers of Opus Dei
in Madrid one can
read the following
entry of that day:
"The Father has told
us that lvaro was
going to Rome for
very good and
important things
which he had never
dreamed could
happen so soon. We
must pray for him
and help him a lot
from here." [327]

They could not have arrived in the Eternal City at a more suitable time, because on February 12
Pius XII had held a public consistory in which he created thirty-two new cardinals: the first since
the outbreak of the Second World War. The imposition of the biretta was scheduled for the 23
and for that reason, many cardinals were there. There was no better occasion to make known
the reality of Opus Dei and to get some commendatory letters from some prelates of European
countries.
Francisco Ponz, then residing in Barcelona, has left a detailed account of Don Alvaros transit in
Barcelona on his way to Italy. "They were going to take a boat from the Transmeditarranean
191

Company, the J.J. Sister, which would take them to Genoa on the first trip on its first regular
passenger service after the war. That ship returned on Sunday, Feb. 24 from Rome, where
Bishop Leopoldo Eijo and Garay had made a pilgrimage with faithful of the diocese of Madrid
(...). Don lvaro went to the port to meet him and thus, they spent a few hours together in
Barcelona, in our Center in Muntaner Street. (...) Don Alvaro asked us to pray for the task
entrusted to him by the Father which he had to do in Rome. He spoke about it in very general
terms. His attitude during his stay in Barcelona was one of absolute normalcy, but his face
reflected worries as well as some pressure, from the responsibility for this new journey to Rome,
so crucial for the Work. He showed the same serenity and peace as always, the same
supernatural peace. Just like our Founder, he was firmly convinced that Opus Dei was Gods, it
was in his hands; the Lord was determined to make it happen, and therefore He would carry it
ahead as He had. On February 25 we accompanied Don Alvaro and Jose Orlandis to the port."
[328]
Don Alvaro, who was about to turn 32, began the second Roman period of his life. It was a
stage that was to become final, for it was in the Eternal City that he would live for forty-eight
years until his death.
FOOTNOTES:
[242 ] St. Josemara , Letter, 14 Feb 1944 , n . 13 , cit. in Fuenmayor , A. Gomez -Iglesias, V. ,
Illanes , JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei , op. cit. , p. 146 .
[243 ] Ibid.
[244 ] Del Portillo, . , ... Letters , vol. 3, n. 438 .
[245 ] At that time, candidates for the priesthood, before receiving the three "major orders" (subdiaconate, diaconate and presbyterate), should receive the clerical tonsure and the four "minor
orders" : the porter, lector, exorcist, and acolyte (cfr. CIC , 1917 , c . 949).
[246 ] Request for St. Josemaria Escriva to the Bishop of Madrid for the granting of the clerical
tonsure and other Holy Orders : Original in the Archdiocese of Madrid , copy AGP, D- 10262
APD .
[247 ] St. Josemara , Letter to the coadjutor abbot of Montserrat, Dom Aurelio Maria Escarr
Jan , OSB , El Escorial , 15 - V - 1944 , AGP, EF- 440515-1 .
[248 ] See Certificate of having made a retreat necessary for the reception of Holy Orders
(Madrid , 24 -VI- 1944) , AGP, and APD D-16016/12 Vzquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of
Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 632 .
[249 ] Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz ( AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 44).
[250 ] See ibid.

192

[251 ] See Certificate of reception of the First Clerical Tonsure (Madrid , 20 - V - 1944) , AGP,
APD D- 16016/2 . According to canon law then in force, he was granted immunity from
interstices, i.e., the Orders were conferred in a shorter time than expected .
[252 ] See Testimony of Francisco Mart Gilabert , AGP, APD T- 0083, p. April . The certificate
of previous exams for the tonsure and minor orders is dated 19 - V - 1944. Cf Exams for the
tonsure and minor orders (Madrid , 19 - V - 1944) , AGP, APD D-18968/19 . See also List of
those who have received the first clerical tonsure (Madrid , 20 - V - 1944) , AGP , D- 10256 APD
.
[253 ] See Diary of Espaoleto , entry 2-V - 1944 : AGP, D- 17162 APD .
[254 ] See Certificate of reception as the Porter and Lector ( Madrid 21 - V - 1944) , AGP, APD
D- 16016/3 . See also List of those who will receive the order of Porter and Lector (Madrid, 21 V - 1944) , AGP , D- 10260 APD .
[255 ] See Testimony of Francisco Mart Gilabert , AGP, APD T- 0083, p. Three . See also
Certificate of reception as Exorcist and Acolyte (Madrid , 23 - V - 1944) , AGP, APD D- 16016/4
and the list of those who will receive the order of Exorcist and Acolyte (Madrid , 23 - V - 1944) in
AGP, D- 10257 APD .
[256 ] Cf Exams for the Holy Orders of Subdiaconate , Diaconate and Priesthood ( Madrid, 26 V - 1944) , AGP , APD D-18968/20 ; prior to ordination handwritten statement as subdeacon
(Madrid, 27 - V - 1944) , AGP , APD D- 16016/5 and profession of Catholic faith and oath
formula prescribed by St. Pius X ( Madrid, 27 - V - 1944) , AGP , APD D- 16016/6 .
[257 ] See Certificate of reception to the Subdiaconate (Madrid , 28 - V - 1944) , AGP , APD D16016/7 .
[258 ] Cf Certificate for having exercised the Subdiaconate ( Madrid, 2 -VI- 1944) , AGP , APD
D- 16016/8 ; certificate of reception to the Deaconate (Madrid 3 -VI- 1944) , AGP , APD D16016/9 and list of those who are to receive different orders (Madrid 3 -VI- 1944) : AGP, D10258 APD .
[259 ] Certificate of reception to the Priesthood (Madrid , 25 -VI- 1944) : AGP, APD D-16016/13,
and list of those who have been received into the Priesthood (Madrid , 25 -VI- 1944): AGP, APD
D- 10261 .
[260 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 636 .
[261 ] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together , 25 -VI- 1989 . AGP , Library, P02 ,
1989 , 711.
[262 ] See Testimony of Teodoro Ruiz Jusu , AGP, APD T- 19471 , p. 19-22 .
[263 ] Testimony of Joan Masi Mas - Baga , AGP, APD T -0503 , p. Two .

193

[264 ] Testimony of Encarnacin Ortega Pardo , AGP, APD T -0136 , p. 11. Also remember that
precisely on June 26, 1944, he said these words in a sermon: "God is the light that shines in the
apostolate. The means: prayer, mortification, training. If we want to reign, we must be
consistent: first give the heart ... This unity of life - prayer, work, training - that Christ will reign in
our soul "(ibid.).
[ 265] Vzquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 636-637 .
[266 ] Ibid. , P. 636, note 187 .
[267 ] Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0609 , p. 23 .
[268 ] Cf Souvenir of the First Solemn Mass (Madrid , 28 -VI- 1944) original in AGP, D- 6031
APD .
[269 ] On the attendance of his Engineer companions and Assistants for Public Works. cf
Testimony of Edward Case Ridaura , AGP, APD T- 0361 , p. 1.
[270 ] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p. 33 . Also for
humility, the Founder would not attend the first Mass of Don Alvaro ( cf. Vzquez de Prada , A.,
The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. Cit. , P. 640).
[271 ] Vzquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. I, op. cit. , p. 196 .
[272 ] Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 53 .
[273 ] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together , 10 -IX- 1975 . AGP , Library, P01 .
[ 274] Vzquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 686 .
[ 275 ] For example , the Bishops of Valencia, Zaragoza , Barcelona , Cartagena, Granada ,
Huesca, Tuy , Mlaga, etc: . Cfr. Ministerial powers of the Spanish diocese AGP, APD D- 18978
D- 18985 and D- 18988 D- 18996 .
[276 ] "The Father has told us that during this term, lvaro would go once a month to
Universities and important towns of Northern Spain " ( Diary of Lagasca, entry of 29 -IX- 1944 :
AGP, D- 17150 APD ) .
[ 277 ] Vzquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 648 .
[278 ] Ibid. , P. 647 .
[279 ] Testimony of Pilar del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0138 , p. 33 .
[280 ] Ibid.
[281 ] Testimony of Carlos del Portillo y Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0609 , p. 23 .
[282 ] Testimony of Encarnacin Ortega Pardo , AGP, APD T -0136 , p. 11.

194

[283 ] Del Portillo, . , Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei , op. cit. , p. 144 .
[284 ] In his testimony, Bishop Echevarra notes that Bishop del Portillo "had no objection to be
known that he went to confession every week, and often said it and would bring others to take
advantage of this great treasure. His manner of speaking, inviting others to acquire this custom,
was sincere and persuasive, so that many people who heard him followed this way. He was
persuasive and sincere because they clearly saw what he lived what he advised." (AGP, APD T19544 , p. 338).
[285 ] See Testimony of Francisco Ponz Piedrafita , AGP, APD T -0755 , p. 29 .
[286 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p. 641.
[287 ] See ibid. , And Bernal , S., Memories of Alvaro del Portillo , op. cit. , p. 88 .
[288 ] Thus we read in the newspaper of Moncloa , "Someone has taken advantage of the
situation to confess to lvaro since the three acquired their licenses days ago' (Entry of of 5VII- 1944 : AGP, D- 17170 APD). On the day of ordination, Bishop Eijo y Garay had given
oretenus licencias perpetuas for his diocese : cf. Granting of ministerial licenses in the diocese
of Madrid- Alcala , 14 - 1944 -X , AGP, D- 18988 APD .
[289 ] Testimony of Jos Mara Ramrez Casciaro , AGP, APD T- 0961 , p. April .
[290 ] See Testimony of Sallent Ignacio Casas, AGP, APD T -0617 , p. 1.
[291 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Joseph Orlandis and Salvador Canals , AGP, C- 441002 APD .
Specifically, lvaro corresponded to Thursday : cf. Diary of Moncloa, entry of 26 -IX- 1944 :
AGP . APD D- 17171 .
[292 ] (Testimony of Fisac Dolores Serna) "When the first three priests of Opus Dei were
ordained, St. Josemara appointed Don Alvaro as our ordinary confessor , leaving full freedom ,
as always, for us to go to any other confessor whenever we wanted " AGP, APD T- 1048, p. 2).
[293 ] Testimony of Mara Consolacion Prez Gonzlez , AGP, APD T- 15393 , p. Three .
[ 294] See Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 62 .
[295 ] Vzquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , p . 643 .
[ 296 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Joseph Orlandis and Salvador Canals , AGP, C- 450422 APD .
[ 297] From 23 to 28 August and from 16 to 21 December 1944 he preached two retreats for
college students at the La Moncloa University Residence: cf. Announcement of spiritual
activities for college students and Special Schools (Madrid , XII , 1944 ) , AGP, D- 10148 APD .
From March 2 to 7, 1945 in Salamanca he preached to a group of college students ( cf. AGP,
APD D- 6115 ) . From March 15 to 18, to the students of the Colegio del Pilar in Madrid ( cf.
Announcement of spiritual exercises for students of Colegio del Pilar). From March 25 to 29 in
Vigo, student interns of the School of Mary Immaculate, led by the Carmelites of Charity ( cf.
Announcement of spiritual exercises in Vigo- for - girls , 24 to 29 -III- 1945 , AGP, D- 10151
195

APD ) . From March 31 to April 7 he probably preached retreats for youth in Domestic Service
(cf. Announcement of a youth retreat for those in domestic service, probably in Madrid, 31- III IV- 7 - 1945, AGP, APD D- 10152). From April 24 to May 2 he gave two retreats in Valladolid for
students of the School of Our Lady of Lourdes of the Brothers of Christian Doctrine ( cf.
Documents relating to the Spiritual Activities he preached to students of the College of Our Lady
of Lourdes- of the Brothers of the Christian Schools , Valladolid, 24 -IV - V 2 - 1945). From
September 2 to 8, in Begoa , near Bilbao, to the youth of Catholic Action ( cf. Daily Mail , log 28 -IX- 1945 : AGP, D- 17186 APD ) . February 1 to 6, 1946, in the University Residence Abando
in Bilbao (cf. Diary of Abando , notes 1 to 6 -II- 1946 : AGP, D- 17189 APD ) .
[298 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 643-644 .
[ 299 ] See ibid. , W . 644.
[ 300 ] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together , 27 -VII- 1983 . AGP , Library, P01 .
[ 301] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 451204 APD .
[ 302 ] Testimony of Ramona Aranaz Sanjurjo , AGP, APD T- 0338 , p. 1.
[ 303 ] Testimony of Miracles Aranaz Sanjurjo , AGP, APD T -0461 , p. 1.
[ 304] Letter to Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , Sabaris , 20 -VI- 1997 , AGP, APD T 5220 .
[305 ] Testimony of Encarnacin Ortega Pardo , AGP, APD T -0136 , p. 6.
[306 ] It is the priest Eliodoro Gil Ribera , who had met St Josemaria in the 30s , in Madrid.
[307 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, APD C- 450325-01 .
[308 ] Testimony of Eliodoro Gil Ribera , AGP, APD T -1004 , p. April .
[309 ] Testimony of Fernando Valenciano Polack , AGP, APD T- 18489 , p. 6.
[310 ] Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 60 .
[311 ] Testimony of Llus Prieto Bull , AGP, APD T- 0993 , pp . 1-2 .
[312 ] See ibid.
[ 313 ] Testimony of Jos Luis Mzquiz , AGP, APD T- 17519 , p. 68 .
[314 ] Testimony of Encarnacin Ortega Pardo , AGP, APD T -0136 , p. 19 .
[ 315 ] "lvaro who was then working with Jos Luis ate with us, departing somewhat dizzy. At
table he was all right, or at least so it seemed, with his usual good humor "(Diary of Espaoleto,
entry of 17-I - 1954: AGP, D- 17164 APD ) . Dr. Pardo Urdapilleta made a medical note of him
on February 11, 1944. In his report, he speaks of maxillary sinusitis with 2 or 3 complcations
and of dizziness frequently brought about by his posture. Sometimes he had difficulty with
196

digestion and suffered constipation up to seven days. He weighed 80 kg . and hisblood pressure
was160 /90.
[ 316 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 696-698 ;
Azevedo, Hugo de , Primeiras viagens Josemaria S. Portugal (1945 ) , Studia et Documenta 1
(2007 ) , p. 15-39 .
[317 ] Cf Fuenmayor , A. Gomez -Iglesias, V. , Illanes , JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei ,
op. cit. , pp . 145-146 ; Cano , Victor, The first steps of Opus Dei in Mexico (1948-1949 ) ,
Studia et Documenta 1 (2007 ) , p. 44-47 .
[318 ] Diary of Lagasca, entry of 22-X - 1944 : AGP, D- 17150 APD .
[319 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Joseph Orlandis and Salvador Canals , AGP, C- 450422 APD .
Certainly misunderstanding by some religious had not ceased entirely, but at least they had
declined.
[320 ] Of special interest for these efforts are the following letters : Del Portillo, , Letter to
Salvador Canals , AGP, C- 460209 APD and Portillo, , Letter to Joseph Orlandis Rovira ,
AGP, C- APD . . 460210 .
[321 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Epact , 1946 AGP series A.3, 180-7 . In addition to these efforts, at
that time Don Alvaro was preaching a retreat in Abando , from 1 to 6 February , in which he
preached five meditations a day ( cf. Diary of Abando , AGP, M.2.2 series , D 068-19 ) .
[322 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Salvador Canals , AGP, C- 460209 APD . Salvador Canals ,
who had lived in Rome between 1942 and 1945 , returned to the Eternal City in January 1946 to
help Don Alvaro in negotiations with the Holy See.
[323 ] Jos Orlandis was Professor of Legal History at the University of Zaragoza. His classes
ended in February, and would not resume until October, so he could be absent ( cf. Orlandis ,
J., My memories . Early Stages of Opus Dei in Rome, Ignatius Press, Madrid, 1955 , p. 32).
[ 324] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Joseph Orlandis Rovira , AGP, C- 460203 APD .
[ 325 ] Vzquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. II , op. cit. , pp . 650-651 .
[326 ] Ibid.
[ 327] Diary of Villanueva, entry of 21-II - 1946 : AGP, D- 17165 APD .
[328 ] Testimony of Francisco Ponz Piedrafita , AGP, APD T -0755 , pp . 32-33. See also
Orlandis , J., My memories , op. cit. , p. 32 . The J. J. Sister was a motor vessel, built in 1896,
86 meters long. With this trip the Barcelona-Genoa route was inaugurated, and lasted for a few
months. In fact, it was this same boat which St. Josemara used when he went to Rome , four
months later.

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Chapter 10: The definitive move to


Rome
1. The request for the Decretum Laudis
a. Initial steps
b. Difficulties appear
2. Daily life in Rome
3. With St. Josemaria in the Eternal City
a. The pace picks up
4. Opus Dei, an institution of pontifical right
5. Services to the Roman Curia
Love for the Church is a characteristic trait of the spiritual physiognomy of St. Josemaria Escriva
which Alvaro del Portillo had learned to live and cultivate. The members of the Work, his
children, know themselves to be part of the Church, and seek only to serve Her "as the Church
wants to be served" [329]. In a letter dated January 9, 1932 the Founder pointed out to them,
"Children of my soul, you are here in the Work because the Lord has put in your heart that clean
and generous desire to serve, a true zeal which is willing to make every sacrifice, working
quietly in the Church without seeking any human reward. Fill yourselves with such lofty
ambitions; reinforce this holy disposition in your heart, because the work is immense." [330]
Similarly, devotion to the Roman Pontiff was very deeply anchored in their souls. "Christ. Mary.
The Pope. Didnt we just indicate, in three words, the loves that summarize the entire Catholic
faith?" [331]. St. Josemara wrote those words in 1934 and repeated them tirelessly throughout
his entire life. "Thank you, God, for the love for the Pope you've put in my heart" [332], he would
exclaim as well. This love stemmed from his theological faith, i.e., the full conviction that the
Pope is the Vicar of Christ, with all the consequences this entails. For that reason, nothing could
budge his complete loyalty and fidelity to the Roman Pontiff.
"You have come a century too soon," [333] they had told Don Alvaro, shortly after the latter
arrived in Rome to initiate The Works juridical pathway. The Founder would hear the same
warning, when he arrived in 1946: so new was the message of Opus Dei, and so seemingly
closed was the path that St. Josemara was opening with the grace of God and his prayers, his
sacrifices and his work! It took almost forty years for the Church to approve it, with the authority
of the Roman Pontiff, the solution that the Founder had glimpsed from the 30s.
Men of gigantic faith, they never doubted that the ecclesiastical authority would grant the
canonical configuration appropriate to the ascetical and theological reality of Opus Dei.
Therefore, the two were exemplary not only in their obedience to the general laws of the
Church, but also in their fidelity to the original inspiration of Opus Dei as given by God to the
Founder. Moreover, not a single critical word ever left their lips through all the misunderstanding
that they so often found among members of the Roman Curia. The story of forging the juridical

198

path of Opus Dei, of which St. Josemaria and Don Alvaro were the main protagonists, was a
true epic of faith, obedience, strength, and loyalty to God and the Church.
1. The request for the Decretum Laudis
a. Initial steps

Figure 64: Salvador Canals was the first member of Opus Dei who
moved to Rome and later ordained a priest. Photo credits:
opusdei.ph

The vessel "J.J. Sister" made its journey to


Genoa, without much incident. A few days
later, on March 2, Don Alvaro wrote a long
letter to St. Josemara, narrating the
adventures of the trip to Rome: "Dearest
Father: Heres the first letter of this second
stage in Rome. () The boat trip was
wonderful. We left at noon on the 25th with
our entire luggage, and reached Genoa on
the 26th, at three in the afternoon. The
consul and Salvador (Canals) were waiting
for us. Despite the consul's protests, we
left for Rome in a Fiat driven by its owner,
a count who is a friend of Salvador's. This
was at about six in the evening." [334]

The war had only very recently ended, and


the Italian authorities struggled to maintain civic order in the country. Groups of bandits and
thieves still circulated with abandon and crossed the Apennines at night, posing to travelers a
significant risk of being assaulted, as is clear from his account: "To save time, we went through
the Bracco without waiting for a police escort. The count had provided himself with a rivoltella (a
revolver). We could not have done much, but nothing happened. [335] We had supper in La
Spezia, and despite being told again that it was very dangerous, we continued on, hoping to
make the trip by night and arrive in time to see the Spanish cardinals, who were to leave Rome
early on the first (of April).
But we started getting flat tires; the two jacks that we had broke; and, finally, five miles from
Pisa, we got another flat. Since it was night, no one would stop to lend us a jack or do anything
else, so we securely shut ourselves up in the car to sleep. We were hoping maybe someone
would help us in the morning. We did not know we were so close to Pisa. And not until the next
day did we learn that while we were sleeping, some bandits robbed a truck just half a mile from
us, and took off with it, leaving its drivers tied to some trees. At daybreak we finally got help, and
I celebrated Mass in Pisamy first Mass in Italyand we went on after the tires were fixed. But
to no avail: breakdowns and more breakdowns. Instead of reaching Rome on the morning of the
27th, we arrived on the 28th, too late to have supper." [336]
Shortly before his arrival, Salvador Canals had managed to stay in an apartment owned by the
"Obra Pia Espaola" [337], small but well-located and accessible through the Corso

199

Rinascimento and overlooking Piazza Navona. Its regular occupant was out of town, and the
administrator had given us free use of it until he came back in June. [338]
The next morning, after celebrating
Mass at the nearest church, which
was then called San Giacomo degli
Spagnoli, and currently dedicated to
the Virgin of the Rosary, Don Alvaro
began visiting Cardinals. He
narrated the following: "Salvador
and I set up shop at the Spanish
College. I was told that the cardinals
were leaving the next day and no
one knew how many of them we
could still see, or even if we could
see any of them at all. But by dint of
my insistence the Secretary of the
Figure 65: The Church of San Giacomo degli Spagnoli in Piazza Navona
(also known as Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore) where Don Alvaro
Primate finally said that we [339] (...)
celebrated his first mass in Rome. Photo credits: Wikipedia.
could take a few seconds. He read
the commendatory letters I had with me and said that we could make one for him which he
would sign: he said what had to be said. Meanwhile, Salvador spoke to the cardinal of
Tarragona [340] and upon hearing he was from the part of Fr. Goyeneche [341], he asked:
Where do I sign? Afterwards I spoke to him. (...) Before lunch we had seen the cardinal of
Lisbon [342], too. As I told him I had brought the commendatory letters he said: I too must give
you one!'" [343].
This account offers a glimpse of the intensity of the pace that Alvaro kept in Rome. In one
morning, he made visits to the cardinals of Toledo and Tarragona, the Patriarch of Lisbon, the
Abbot Escarr [344], Fr. Gusi [345] and the Abbot Suol [346]. In the afternoon and way into
the night - interviews and dealings continued. "In the afternoon I brought the letters which the
cardinals of Toledo and of Tarragona could sign. I spoke with the latter for a while. With the
cardinal of Toledo, who read the letter very slowly, something terrible happened: he started to
write the letter H for Henricus, quivering, and as he had little ink pen loaded and bam! as
Ignacio C. would say [347] - a blotch in the commendatory letter. He was going to leave very
early the next day. I had to redo it at night, and at 9:30 (they were leaving at 10) I took it and he
signed it." [348]
During those early days his activity focused on meeting as many cardinals possible, to get them
acquainted with Opus Dei. In many cases, the explanation and personality of Don Alvaro were
sufficient for the cardinals, who had not heard of the Work previously, to write a commendatory
letter. Thus, he could write: "It is possible that the following may be giving us commendatory
letters: the cardinals of Berlin, Cologne, Westminster, and perhaps Milan and Palermo, and New
York. Together with those of Toledo, Tarragona, Granada, Seville (who has not arrived even
today), and Lisbon, these are 11 of the 69 cardinals worldwide. Thats not bad, even though a

200

few of them give us pumpkins. () Cardinal Faulhaber was in Rome, but he left several days
ago: it's a pity." [349]
On March 3 he visited Cardinal Josef Frings, Archbishop of Cologne, who was staying in the socalled "Campo Santo Teutonico". After explaining Opus Dei - in Latin, because it was the only
language they had in common - he asked the cardinal for a commendatory letter, which the
latter signed on that day [350]. Some days before, encouraged by Cardinal Cerejeira of Lisbon,
he had asked the Cardinal Gouveia, from Mozambique, who sent his commendatory letter in
mid-March. In short, thanks to the tenacity of Don Alvaro, the request for the Decretum Laudis
for Opus Dei would be accompanied by commendatory letters of bishops of several countries
from three continents.
b. Difficulties appear
It had only been a few days after Don Alvaros arrival to Italy and he already received a positive
response from many prelates. It thus seemed that the approval of Opus Dei as an institution of
pontifical right was going at a very good pace: the documentation to be submitted to the Holy
See was ready, and Fr. Goyeneche, the consultant of the Sacred Congregation for Religious,
had practically written his vote for the plenary meeting of the Congregation, "without mentioning
a few phrases of the letters in a couple of pages. Then you have to print it: later in April (until
after Easter theres none), the plenary. And afterwards, the decree." [351]
On March 16, they submitted the application to obtain the Decretum Laudis, along with the
collection of commendatory letters, duly bound. However, from that time on, the pace of the
proceedings began to waver. Don lvaro wrote days later: "It is going well, but slow." He added:
"I think until Easter, at least, it is essential to stay here. From then on, things will go wonderfully;
but we need to do this quickly and without changing anything, and theres the rub." [352]
Indeed, obtaining the Decretum Laudis was not as simple as one could have imagined it three
years previously, when the Holy See granted the Nihil obstat for the diocesan erection of the
Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. The initial plan which was simply the elevation of the Work
from an institution of diocesan right to one of a universal one, without changing its juridical form
met with technical difficulties. As Don Alvaro noted, the key was to "not change anything"
from what the Founder had requested.
The fact is that, several years before, the Vatican was studying that regulation in the common
law of the Church involving "new forms" of apostolate. It was a legal framework for certain newly
established Church institutions, including Opus Dei, which did not fit - for one reason or another
- the concept of state of perfection proper to religious institutes. Among the experts of the
Congregation which was assigned to study the subject there were two opposing views: some
like Fr. Goyeneche thought that with the then-current legislation it was possible to grant the
Decretum Laudis to an institution with the characteristics of Opus Dei; others, however,
maintained that in order to do that, a new law was needed. The latter was the view taken by
Father Arcadio Larraona, Undersecretary of the Congregation for Religious [353], who had
received from Pope Pius XII the task of producing legislation on these "new forms."

201

Fr. Larraona was of the conviction that the approval of


Opus Dei should not proceed until a new juridical
framework was enacted. Moreover, he argued, without
any basis, that if the Founder "had been aware of the
canonical mechanism of the so-called new forms,
known only to him (...), he would have handled some
points differently." [354] The previous phrase already
hints at the contradictions St. Josemaria encountered: a
person who did not know the charism of Opus Dei
sought to understand it better, in "some points", than the
Founder.
In this context, one then understands the extent of an
assertion that Fr. Larraona made to Don Alvaro: "it is
urgent to wait" [355]. As well, one appreciates the
contrary reaction of Don Alvaro: "we need to get out of
this fix quickly and without changing anything." He
understood that the concept that Fr. Larraona wanted to
express in his draft legislation was completely different
Figure 66: Arcadio Maria Larraona Saralegui was from the mind of St Josemaria, and he could not accept
a Claretian who worked as Undersecretary of the that rules contrary to it were established. These must
Congregation for Religious (1943-1950) and later
have been tense moments for Don Alvaro, and perhaps
named Cardinal by St. Pope John XXIII (Gran
Enciclopedia Navarra). Photo credits:
this explains why he wrote to St Josemaria with a lot of
liturgia.mforos.com (escudos)
insistence that the latters presence was needed in
Rome: because Fr. Larraona did not seem willing to change his mind.
On April 3, Don Alvaro was received in audience by Pope Pius XII, thanks to the solicitude of
Monsignor Montini, whom he met frequently in those days [356]. We know some details of the
interview from the letter he wrote to St. Josemara two days later. "The audience began at
12:20. It was tremendously affectionate. (...) I had prepared a few words in Italian to say that if it
was all right, we would speak in Spanish. But when I saw him I was transported out of myself,
and immediately spoke in Spanish. The Holy Father replied to me, with a very American accent:
Sure, why not! I told him I had the joy of visiting him, on behalf of the Work, three years
previously. He said yes, he remembered perfectly. I told him that I had now come to Rome, sent
by you, with documents for requesting the Decretum Laudis: including forty commendatory
letters. He asked whether it was for the Sacred Congregation for Religious. Then I spoke to him
about the situation of the Work. (...) From time to time he interrupted me to say: What a beauty!
What a joy! and things of the sort. I reminded him that the last time, I broke protocol and had
asked him not only the blessing for the Father and for the entire Work, but had begged him to
remember our Father in his prayers. He smiled and said: "And would you want me to continue
asking?" Of course, I answered, and he answered me that "he would not forget it, and would
pray every day, as he has done; and, moreover, with great joy." It was funny that one of the
times he interrupted me, it was to say again: "now I remember perfectly, as if I were seeing you
in uniform"; "with decorations and all"; "yes, yes, I remember very well," (...). Of course, upon
speaking of the Father and of The Way, I told him how you had taught us to be good children of
202

the Holy Father. I brought two good crucifixes to be blessed which he did and said that one
was for you and the other, in principle, for me. (...) Overall, Pepe [Orlandis] and I came back
home very happy (Pepe had been in St. Peters praying for that meeting)." [357]
The concern that Don Alvaro had about the
slow pace that the Roman Curia was taking
pushed him to carry out, in his own words,
an unprecedented freshness during the
audience [358]. In a fit of filial trust, he
mentioned to the Pope that it was a pity that
the Decree on the "new forms" of apostolate
had not yet taken off, even though it has
been worked on for two years as far as he
knew. [359] The Roman Pontiff said nothing
at the time, but its possible that that
"unprecedented freshness" may have been
useful as less than a week afterwards, he
indicated to Cardinal Luigi Lavitrano, Prefect
of the Sacred Congregation for Religious, to
approve the Decree on "new forms" as soon
as possible. Nevertheless, the delay dragged
on.
Don lvaro spent his stay using all the
Figure 67: Cardinal Luigi Lavitrano was former Archbishop of
means at his disposal to expedite the
Palermo and later Cardinal priest of the title of San Silvestro in
Capite. Photo credits: Eman Bonnici
approval of the Decretum Laudis. He spent
many hours working with the Secretary of
the Congregation for Religious and with Fr. Goyeneche; he visited Cardinal Lavitrano, Msgr.
Luca Ermenegildo Pasetto (Secretary of the Congregation for Religious), Msgr. Montini, and
Msgr. Domenico Tardini, Substitutes of the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tedeschini... [360]. With
the help of Jos Orlandis and Salvador Canals, he prepared seven copies of the commendatory
letters, bound in book form, for the Congregation consultants [361]. He likewise offered to help
in drafting documents, preparing meetings of the Plenary Commission and the Congress with all
members of the Congregation, which was the final step of the process.
In fact, from these indefinite deadlines, he managed to arrive at more specific and short-term
goals: The transition is this: 1st, it is impossible for the Commission to take place before the
next school year; 2nd, perhaps the Commission could come together within this academic year
and the Plenary, in the following; 3rd, the Commission shall take place post Agnos: and if the
Congress comes together within this school year, they may already be satisfied; 4th, and lastly,
for now: the Congress could not come together before June. I answered him that we would not
compromise with anything after May 3, the month of the Virgin and day of the Holy Cross. [362]
He was pushing things here and there, but the project was dragging on too slowly as far as he
was concerned. For his part, he continued collaborating with Fr. Larraona to finalize the
203

documents, have them printed and prepare copies for the members of the Congregation, etc.
Finally, the meeting of the Commission that would study these documents was set for June 8.
Originally, that would have been be on June 1, a Saturday, but as a referendum on the
acceptance or rejection of the monarchy in Italy had been set for June 2, Sunday, the meeting
was delayed for a week so that those who had to could do what they needed to fulfill this civic
duty outside Rome. [363]
Finally, on June 8 in the morning, the Consultants of the Congregation issued a vote in favor of
granting the Decretum Laudis to Opus Dei as an institution of pontifical right. It seemed that the
horizon was clear, and Don lvaro pointed this out immediately to St. Josemara: "Everyone is
excited about the Work, to the extent that they proposed, as the Pope does on solemn
occasions, that there ought to be another meeting at which videntibus omnibus (with everyone
looking on) the Work would be approved by the Commission. They have studied everything
point by point and have only made small changes." [364]
In reality, the Congregation gave only a "positive vote". For the approval of Opus Dei to happen,
ad hoc rules on the "new forms of Christian life" had to be approved and that would take more
time. The way would neither be easy nor short, because such regulation "would necessarily
entail a modification of the Codex of 1917 which (...) was considered premature" [365], and for
others "those new regulations were not acceptable for the danger they posed to the state of
perfection which had a tradition of centuries: (they could be) distorted and could even be
emptied of content." [366] Don Alvaro was aware of this situation and so, two days later, he
wrote to St. Josemara asking him to travel to Rome.
2. Daily life in Rome
Don Alvaros priority for his trip to the Eternal City was the preparation of the documents for
requesting the Decretum Laudis. But it was certainly not his only task. He took care of the
spiritual life of the two members of Opus Dei who lived in Rome and pushed the apostolic work
forward as he expanded his circle of friends and acquaintances. At the same time, he began
working in the Positio on the fame of holiness and heroic virtues of Isidoro [367], for whose
cause for canonization he would be appointed Postulator the following year. [368]
Reading the paragraph with which he began a new notebook of the diary that they were keeping
in Rome (dated May 17) helps one to fully grasp the main concerns that pervaded his soul in
those dates: "I'll start the day with words the Father often uses: Fiat, adimpleatur, laudetur et in
ternum superexaltetur iustissima atque amabilissima Voluntas Dei super omnia. Amen.
Amen. [May the most just and most lovable will of God be done, be fulfilled, be praised, and be
exalted above all things. Amen. Amen.] If we always have to live these words in the flesh in
these days and here in Rome, we have to savor in a special way every one of those words with
which the Father begins his days. God willing, we may soon write on these pages very great
things, although before God, great things happen if we willingly do things up to the most
insignificant minutiae of which our family life consists." [369]
One of the first things that had to be done was to obtain permission to celebrate Mass in the
apartment where they lived. They obtained a grant for a "portable altar" for Don Alvaro, as
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Secretary General of the Work, and on March 2 he wrote to St. Josemara: "Tomorrow or the
day after we will begin having Mass at home" [370]. They wrote frequently to Spain, very
spiritually united to the Founder and all other members of the Work, and received abundant
letters in return. These letters were always an occasion to strengthen the bonds of filiation and
fraternity: "We had a great time reading your long letter. We read and re-re-re-etc.-read it, and
looked at the magnificent cartoons they were everyones favorite and read the many letters."
[371]
Thanks to these letters, we know some details of their life in Rome: the schedule, how they ate
or rested, people whom they knew, etc. "On the day of St. Joseph, we could not go to the
catacombs to celebrate. I spent the night of March 18 to 19 with a wonderful lumbago (there is
an epidemic here) and thanks to that, with hard work and a lot of time, I was able to celebrate at
home, which I thought I would not be able to do. Otherwise, I'm doing great. And Pepe and
Salvador, as well, inside and out, thank God. I'm not too unhappy with my inner life at this point,
though of course, I should whistle [372] infinitely better: but all this, however, requires
tightening." [373]
And days later: "You already how much we keep you in mind, and we really feel your assistance
there. Thank God, the interior life is whistling well; the schedules, watch days [374], etc. are
getting along fine." [375]
His unity to St. Josemaria was manifested in the frequency and length of his letters, in the
detailed review that he made of his tasks, and in the loving and trusting manner with which he
addressed himself filially to the Founder. This last consideration is seen, for example, in the end
of his May 5 letter, where, with genuine concern, he discreetly reviews his prayer for the many
intentions and needs of the entire Work: "How is Jos M doing in America? The sick? We pray
much for them. Los Rosales? Same for the canvas. The new priests? I guess that as soon as
we return we will find them, at least, as sub-deacons." [376]
Aware that St. Josemara had great devotion to the relics of the martyrs, and was interested in
getting some for the oratories of the centers of Opus Dei, he took steps to acquire a few [377].
He also began the search for a suitable house to settle in more definitively, since they would
have to leave the apartment they were renting in Corso Rinascimento as soon as its regular
occupant came back. For several weeks he went around the city, looking at villas and
apartments for sale: "We are now looking at houses. Were doing a lot of walking," [378], he
wrote in late March. These were the first months after the war, and the prices of property had
gone down considerably. The problem was the lack of money. So he expressed the impossible
hope that someone "would lend us, with the usual interest if necessary, half a million pesetas.
(...) I already know... its not possible. But if we could only find a solution!" [379]
The presence of Don Alvaro was also a boost for the apostolic work which Jos Orlandis and
Salvador Canals had been doing since the previous years in Rome. They already knew a good
number of university students. Among these, some showed signs of receiving God's call to
Opus Dei. The first was Vladimiro Vince, a young Croatian law student who was a refugee in
Rome [380]. He would write later: "When Salvador spoke to me about the Work, I was
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profoundly impressed. From the very first words, I was already strongly attracted to it. That day,
before we parted ways, I had already made my decision." [381]
Vladimiro asked for admission to Opus Dei on April 26, 1946. The role played by Don Alvaro in
his spiritual life was significant. He described the latter in a letter to St. Josemara, with words
full of admiration: Don Alvaro is a precious help for me: he has helped me solve every difficulty,
and, if ever I could not explain well everything that happens to me, he guesses it and
understands me. [382]
With his big heart, Don Alvaro had a natural flair for
making friends. We have already seen how, in 1943,
he met Bishop Giovanni Battista Montini. From 1946,
these frequent dealings continued for work reasons.
"From the outset, there was an atmosphere of
friendship and cordial sympathy between the two, to
the point that Msgr. Montini, already as Pope,
remembered him with a lot of affection (...), which he
manifested on several occasions." [383] For his part,
Don Alvaro held in high regard the Substitute of the
Secretariat of State. In April of that year, in a letter to
the Founder, he wrote: "Pepe [Jos Orlandis] spoke
to you of our visit to Monsignor Montini, who really
strikes me as a saint." [384]
Monsignor Montini treated everything related to Opus
Dei with great interest and affection. Later, on many
occasions, St Josemaria would recall gratefully that
"the first friendly hand that held out itself to me in
Rome was Monsignor Montinis; the first word of
Figure 68: Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, a close
friend of Don Alvaro, would later become Pope Paul affection for the Work that was heard in Rome was
VI. According to St. Josemaria, "the first friendly hand spoken by him."[385] And Don lvaro also noted that
that held out itself to me in Rome was Monsignor
"he was the first person who gave a welcome
Montinis. Photo credits:
embrace to our Founder in Rome. And he told him: as
orbiscatholicus.blogspot.com
soon as it is convenient, put up a house in Rome, for
though outside of Rome you do miracles, if those miracles dont come here, they are worthless."
[386]
He was a true friend. Thus, months later, through Msgr. Montini, Don Alvaro, moved by his filial
affection for the Founder, applied for the appointment of St. Josemaria as Domestic Prelate of
His Holiness. Another reason he did this was that he saw that the honorary title would serve to
show more strikingly the secularity of the priests of Opus Dei. In 1992, Bishop del Portillo
explained that "as I knew well the humility of the Father, I made these efforts without informing
him. In the spring of that year he received a letter from Monsignor Montini on the Appointment of
the Founder of Opus Dei as a domestic prelate. It was dated April 22, 1947. (...) The father felt
honored, but he said he did not want to accept it and that, with all his gratitude, he thought of
206

returning the document of appointment to Monsignor Montini explaining that he did not want any
honor. Salvador Canals and I asked him not to, and what finally convinced him was that with
this appointment the secularity of Opus Dei would be shown even more strikingly. And so he
changed his mind and wrote a letter to Msgr. Montini expressing his gratitude for this proof of
affection of the Holy Father and his. We later learned that Archbishop Montini also had the
kindness of paying the fees for the appointment from his own pocket." [387]
He likewise had frequent dealings
with the other Substitute of the
Secretariat of State, Archbishop
Tardini. Despite the gap that
separated their ages and positions,
a deep friendship developed
between the two. In his letters to St.
Josemara, he made frequent
references to the invitations Tardini
gave him to come and celebrate
Mass in Villa Nazareth [388], an
orphanage that the prelate had
founded in Rome in 1946. The
familiarity between them was great,
as shown in this letter: "Tardini
arranged that some children toured
him around the house [referring to
Figure 69: Cardinal Domenico Tardini (shown here with St. Pope John XXIII)
was Secretary of State when he played football with Don Alvaro and some
an ambassador who had come to
kids in the the orphanage of Villa Nazareth which he founded. Photo
visit Villa Nazareth], and meanwhile
credits: orbiscatholicussecundus.blogspot.com
both he and I you wont believe
this! - we were playing ball with the other kids." [389] And a week later the scene was repeated:
"With Monsignor Tardini, all is fine: the other day I do not know if I said it, because we did the
same last week , the day before yesterday, we were playing football!: he, his brother, and I:
Roba da chiodi!" [390]
He had also met the then secretary of Monsignor Montini, Archbishop Travia, who was deeply
impressed by his kindness, intellectual gifts, and supernatural spirit. He saw that the young
priest had an attractive personality: calm, positive in his judgments, fair, balanced, not prone to
criticism or controversy. His behavior and words revealed a selfless love for the Church and a
sincere desire to serve Her with all his strength. [391] He also noticed the precision and care
Don Alvaro put into the material aspects of binding the documents: in those qualities he saw the
practical manifestation of an aspect - definitely not secondary in its implications also as regards
material things - contained in the message of the founder of Opus Dei on the sanctification of
work. [392]
There were many important personages in the Roman Curia with whom he had dealings of
genuine affection, even in those early years. Cardinal Pizzardo used to receive him with just one
phone call, talked to him a long time, and spoke of the Secretary General of Opus Dei with
207

admiration and gratitude. The other ecclesiastics whom he knew likewise praised his
supernatural sense and had much affection for him throughout his life: the Cardinal Vicar of
Rome, Marchetti Selvaggiani; cardinals (of whom some were not yet bishops then) Agagianian,
Ciriaci, Siri, Ottaviani, Palazzini, Knig, Mart, Samor ... [393].
His spirit of Christian fellowship manifested itself particularly in his concern for the sick. For
example, Bishop Echevarra narrated that in the 1950s he made visits to a cardinal who had
undergone surgery. As surgical techniques at that time had not reached the level of perfection
they have now, the affected area gave off a revolting smell (...). Don Alvaro stayed with the
patient the entire time necessary, but later, upon returning home, he found himself nauseated,
because he had a very sensitive sense of smell." [394]
His circle of friends was not limited to the ecclesiastical sphere. In Rome he met many people
with whom he established a sincere friendship that would last through the years: Castelli this
engineer will appear again in this story later; the mayor of Rome, Salvatore Rebechini; the
Ambassador of Ireland, Joseph Walshe , who was the first diplomatic representative of his
country to the Holy See, etc.
3. With St. Josemaria in the Eternal City
Two days after the meeting of the Commission of Consultants previously mentioned Don Alvaro
was forced to write to the Founder: "The problem is that Larraona leaves this work aside for
others to do, and I am near the end of my rope. Im not just joking around or giving in to
sentimental considerations. And though I may not have objective reasons, I beg you to come
here immediately. And I insist that you prioritize this above all else." [395]
Fr. Larraona, in fact, still maintained his view that it was necessary to make a legislative
framework for "new forms", before proceeding to the Decretum Laudis for Opus Dei; and the
rate at which he was preparing the documentation for submission to the Plenary of the
Congregation, which was the next step, was very slow: he wasnt in a hurry. In this situation, to
obtain papal approval as soon as possible, Don lvaro saw no alternative but to ask St.
Josemara to travel to Rome: "the only way to save the thing would be for Mariano to fly within
fifteen days." [396]
It wasnt an easy proposal, because he knew that at that moment, the Founders health was in a
precarious situation, because of the severe form of diabetes that he was suffering. It was
objectively risky to force him to undertake a long and uncomfortable journey, and then reside in
Rome in unfavorable material conditions. In fact, when St. Josemara suggested it, the doctors
strongly advised against it, washing their hands of any responsibility for what might happen to
him. However, Don Alvaro did not hesitate to propose the plan, knowing what was at stake:
"such is what I see after giving it much thought" [397] he wrote. Two days later he affirmed it: "I
continue to think the same as the day before yesterday. Clearly, I'm drained out." [398]
The presence of St Josemaria in Rome appeared to have vital importance to the future of Opus
Dei; and not only to finish off the juridical issues, although this was the priority at the time. Don
Alvaro also thought that if people of the Curia could directly hear the Founder, their
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understanding of the Work would grow exponentially. Indeed, he considered how interesting it
would be that the Founder had an interview with Monsignor Montini, and even the Pope. "Ideally
Msgr. Montini would eat with you at home. Its even possible that you could have a long
audience with the Holy Father." [399]
When St. Josemara confirmed his trip, Don Alvaros joy could not be contained. He wrote in the
diary: "With the news that the Father is preparing his passports, we are sure that he is coming,
so Salvador and I are happier than larks. Four months more and we have the Father in the
flesh! We walk along the Lungotevere almost beside ourselves with joy, relishing the thought of
the conversations we will be having with the Father soon." [400]
He immediately informed Bishop Montini
[401], and began to prepare the new
apartment they rented through an
acquaintance, located in the attic of a
building in the Piazza de la Citt Leonina,
next to the Vatican. It was owned by
Luciana Frassati, sister of Pier Giorgio
Frassati (who years later would be beatified
by Pope John Paul II), who was married to a
Polish diplomat Jan Gawronski. They moved
in between June 13 and 15.
The apartment consisted of a lobby which
gave way to the central area that served as
a dining room and living room; a room which
was transformed into the oratory, as it was
the best in the house; and another room which they prepared for the Founder, the only one with
a bed during the day [402]. A corridor and a covered terrace overlooking St. Peter and the
Apostolic Palace completed the whole area. The service area, which was in the same floor but
separate from the apartment, had another bedroom. Jos Orlandis relates that the floor was
decorated with engravings of Sobieski, Poniatowski, Polish kings, and the lords of Krakow [403].
Figure 70: View from the apartment of Citta Leonina which was
the first residence of St. Josemaria in Rome. Here he spent the
whole night in prayer for the Pope on his first day in Rome.
Photo credits: py.josemariaescriva.info

Perhaps the best part of that house was the terrace. That's because from there, if one looked
straight ahead, one could see very close the Popes quarters. At sunset one could somehow
follow the movements of the Roman Pontiff, as the lights in the papal apartment turned on and
off.
On June 21, Don Alvaro travelled to Genoa with Salvador Canals, spending the night in
Viareggio, to welcome St. Josemara. The Founder was accompanied by Jos Orlandis. They
made the trip in the J. J. Sister, and during the voyage met a strong gale in the Gulf of Lyons. It
docked in the port of Genoa when it was almost eleven at night of June 22.

209

Don Alvaro and Salvador were waiting for them. Their gaze swept the whole deck of the boat,
looking for the Founder. "And finally, the Father! He sees us immediately. Happy, he calls out:
The two! What a joy that both of you have come! Then he cups both his hands together and
shouts at me as if through a megaphone, Stubborn! [404] When he had finally stepped on land,
he went to Don Alvaro, Here I am, you thief! You've had your way! [405]
They stayed the night in
Colombia Hotel. They could
not be served dinner,
because the dining room
was already closed. Also, as
it was nearly time to begin
the ecclesiastical fasting for
celebrating Mass, the
Founder could only take a
small piece of cheese
offered by Don Alvaro. It
was the dessert of Don
Alvaros midday meal and
he was thinking of St.
Figure 71: The Hotel Colombia Exelsior in Genoa where St. Josemaria spent his first
Josemaria, as in Spain this
night in Italy. The former hotel is now a university library. Photo credits: ebay.com
cheese was rare: "For
dessert I was given cheese that I had never taken before, called Parmigiano; it was very good. I
liked it so much, I took a bit, and thought of giving it to our Father. When we reached the hotel, I
gave it to him." [406]
Dawn broke on June 23, 1946, a Sunday. By seven-thirty a.m., St. Josemara and Don Alvaro
celebrated Mass in a nearby church, and immediately drove to Rome. Jos Orlandis narrates:
"The car had been rented out to look after the Father, and it behaved early on like a gentleman:
throughout the trip it didnt give us the slightest problem. It was raining the whole morning:
instead of Italy, it felt more like we were in Scotland. At 1:30 we were in Viareggio, we had
lunch, and then went on. In Livorno there was only one incident that seem worth noting: for not
driving on the right side, the American Military Police stopped the car [407], led us to a barracks,
gave the driver a fine and that was that. Finally, at 9:30 p.m. we saw the dome of St. Peter, and
minutes later we arrived home: the Father was in Rome."[408]
In 1986, Bishop del Portillo recalled the arrival of the Father in the Eternal City in a letter to the
faithful of Opus Dei: "Its been forty years since our beloved Founder came to Rome in the
evening of June 23, 1946. That trip, which he did not hesitate to do under very difficult
circumstances, would prove providential for the future of the Work. With what emotion he
prayed an Apostles Creed for the Holy Father as soon as he spotted the dome of St. Peter's
Basilica from a bend in the road! A burning desire of his soul was thus satisfied since our Father
had always wanted to travel to Rome videre Petrum, to see Peter."[409]

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No sooner had he arrived than St. Josemaria found the small terrace in that floor of Citt
Leonina from where he could see directly the Popes apartments and he could not contain
himself. Bishop del Portillo would confide years later, "He was very excited. He arrived
exhausted from the journey which was extremely difficult because they were going through bad
roads, and bridges did not exist (...). He reached the terrace, he saw that his nearest neighbor
was the Pope, and he spent the night in prayer there, for the Pope. I was naive enough to tell it
to a friend of mine from the Secretariat of State. And after three or four days, everyone in the
Curia was laughing at our Founder. They said: These Spaniards are fanatics. It was not being
Spanish; moreover it was not fanaticism. It was love of a son for his Father." [410]
The pace picks up
In those years, St. Josemara used to briefly note some of the incidents of each day in the
liturgical epact15 which he was using. This practice allows us to reconstruct part of the intense
activity of his early weeks in Rome. In this regard, we note another detail showing the profound
union of Don Alvaro with St. Josemara, even in very small things. Each used his own liturgical
notebook, and both were in the habit of recording appointments or visits for each date in it. On
June 27, two days after the Founder arrived in Rome, Don Alvaro wrote in his notebook "I copy
the epact of the Father." From that moment, until they returned to Spain in late August, the
annotations of the two books were absolutely similar up to the smallest detail: a comma, a
period, an abbreviation, even the splitting of words.
However, this approach that reflects the union of Don Alvaro to the Founder creates some
difficulty for the biographer: from that time, through epacts, one could keep track of the activities
of St. Josemara, but no longer those of Don Alvaro. Of course, it is true that ordinarily and often
as has been well documented they are always together in the same interviews, meetings,
etc.
The arrival of the Founder in Rome began a new phase in the canonical path of Opus Dei and
its apostolic expansion. As had happened from the beginning, it was also accompanied by
serious economic and physical hardships. All of a sudden six people were living in that small
apartment of Citt Leonina. To accommodate everyone at night, it was necessary to spread out
mattresses and cots in the small entrance hall and dining room. Don lvaro stayed in an area
where the corridor expanded and where they had placed a cot and a chair, hidden by a curtain
[411]. There was a lot of poverty and joy.
In no time, there was constant coming and going of people wanting to learn about the Founder.
There were meetings, as well, with members of Vatican departments [412]. On the feast of St.
Peter, St. Josemara received a demonstration of affection from Pius XII. It was a photograph of
the Pope, accompanied by the following handwritten dedication: "To Our beloved son, Jose
15

Epact = technically, a period added to harmonize the lunar with the solar calendar (Merriam-Webster.com); in
this case, this refers to a small booklet that contains the dates in a particular year (the solar calendar) on which the
liturgical days and feasts (these follow the lunar calendar) fall. The original Spanish also uses the term la agenda
liturgica (liturgical agenda notebook) in place of epacta (epact). In some countries, this small booklet of
liturgical dates is called ordo (Latin for order) since it harmonizes or orders the lunar year of the liturgical
cycle to the solar year of the civil calendar.

211

Maria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei, with
a special blessing. Pope Pius XII. Rome, June 28, 1946." It was a token of affection from the
Pope, and Don Alvaro had personally arranged for that detail through Monsignor Montini in
anticipation of the Fathers arrival in Rome. [413] As expected, the gift gave the Founder great
joy: "You can imagine the great joy of the Father," writes Jos Orlandis [414].
There was incessant activity. On the page of the last day of the months epact the following is
written: "A lot of hurly-burly around here! A lot!" [415]. It was a way of underscoring the intensity
of the work being done. And the racket spilled over to the succeeding month. On July 1 we read:
"There are endless things that arent written down" [416]; and further on: "daily visits are not
recorded, comings and goings, etc., etc."[417]. In any case, it is clear how they sought to make
the nature of Opus Dei known in the Roman Curia , using every minute of the day to talk to
cardinals, bishops and officials of Departments. And these conversations were not mere
courtesy calls, but real work: We are not sparing any means to get the decretum granted.
The process of the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution on the new forms of apostolate
had to be studied prior to the papal approval of the Work. St. Josemara and Don Alvaro helped
in drafting these documents, to ensure that the spirit and nature of Opus Dei would remain
intact. [418] They had frequent meetings with Fr. Larraona at the headquarters of the Vatican
department or in the apartment of Citt Leonina. They corrected, tweaked, and prepared a
preliminary draft of this paper for study in the Congregation. They encountered difficulties
because Fr. Larraona looked at these issues from the point of view of the state of perfection, not
understanding secularity himself. To expedite things, from July 13 to 15 they went with him to
Fiuggi a village near Rome in an attempt to isolate themselves and focus on the work they
had to do. At the end of the month, both noted on their epacts: "We are surrounded with pages
and pages of canonical doctrine." [419]
On July 16, Pius XII received Saint Josemara in audience. The Founder prepared for his first
interview with a Pope by praying hard and asking prayers from his children. Intense emotion
flooded him: the same that would fill him in the succeeding years, every time he met with the
Vicar of Christ. In its Spanish-language broadcast, Vatican Radio made reference to this fact.
The person who made the broadcast, P. Prez S.J., requested the text from Don Alvaro; the
broadcaster added to the brief review a complimentary paragraph on the development of the
apostolic work of Opus Dei. [420]
The Apostolic Brief Cum Societatis and the Letter Brevis sane
Their efforts yielded fruit, although not as they might have totally desired. On July 23 the
Commission designated to study the "new forms" met; on the 25th, it met again. On the 29th, St.
Josemara and Don Alvaro moved back to Fiuggi with Fr. Larraona, to work there until August 2.
The next day, Saint Josemara writes in his epact: "Fr. Larraona ate at home. Cardinal
[Lavitrano] is putting obstacles. Tomorrow Alvaro will go to see him with Fr. Larraona." [421] The
visit must have yielded good results because on August 4, he recorded: "In the afternoon,
Alvaro visited Cardinal Lavitrano with Father Larraona. It seems that everything is fixed." [422]

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However, on August 8 a brief note appears:


"Finally, post aquas!" [i.e.,"after the summer"].
Despite their dedication and work, they had
failed to get the Commission to finish studying
the decree on Secular Institutes before the
summer break. But this setback did not
discourage them. Indeed, they continued to
assist Fr. Larraona to finish the draft as soon as
possible, and on the 9th it was recorded that
"Fr. Larraona ate at home and remained, as
usual, to work on the decree on the new
forms." He came over on more occasions as
recorded in the epact, on August 10, 13, 17 and
21 until he made a trip to Spain on the 24th.
Meanwhile, there was a breakthrough in the
Figure 72: St. Josemaria and Don Alvaro patiently worked juridical field. On June 28, through the Apostolic
with Fr. Larraona on the draft documents at times in the
Brief Cum Societatis [423] Pius XII granted a
Vatican, and at times, as in this photo, in the apartment in
series of indulgences to the faithful of Opus Dei,
Citta Leonina. Photo credits: josemariaescriva.info
while praising the apostolic fruits reaped since
its founding in 1928: it was an express papal assent to the work of Opus Dei. In addition, on
August 13, when it was decided that the Decretum Laudis was to be put off until after the
summer, the Congregation wanted to give a document - the Letter Brevis sane [424] - praising
the aims of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei. The significance of this
document was very clear: despite the fact that the Decretum Laudis could not yet be granted,
nevertheless the Holy See stated that the institution was worthy of esteem and their aims
deserving of the approval of the Church. Moreover, the Church encouraged the Work to
continue its activity and growth [425].
It was also a way of defending the Work against the unjust attacks it was suffering. Referring to
the Letter Brevis sane the Founder later wrote: "The Lord has arranged that in the previous year
we obtained from the Holy See (...) a document that has not been granted for more than a
century: the Letter or Decree of praise for an Institutions aim. Without a doubt they saw the
immediate need for us to get hold of a written document that would defend us: because the
main reason that we wanted to get any approval from Rome, a thing we had not desired until
then, has not been anything but seeing ourselves so harshly persecuted, and thus, our desire to
feel protected for advocating the objective truth." [426]
Certainly, the juridical question was the main leitmotif of the Founders early weeks in Rome.
However, simultaneously, he expedited the search for a property for the future headquarters of
Opus Dei (which would be realized in 1947). On July 5, ten days after his arrival, he wrote: "We
have found three villas." Jose Orlandis in the letter mentioned previously, described his trips to
Rome for furniture, lights, radio, etc., more than for this, for the future house, which must
become a reality very soon. I found many things in antique shops around here that are very
cheap." [427]
213

Moreover, knowing the Founders devotion to the early Christians, as well as to provide him
some rest, lvaro tried to show the Founder the main sites of Rome that spoke of the citys
history and catholicity. The notes reflected on the epact give us a good idea: July 3, strolling
around Rome by car; the next day, they celebrate Mass in the catacombs of St. Callistus and go
to those of St. Sebastian on the Via Appia; on the 28th, they visit Vatican Radio and the Vatican
gardens; on August 3, they both celebrate (Mass) in the cell of St Joseph of Calasanz; and on
the 11th, in the rooms of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Father Larraona was key to the work for the enactment of what would be the Apostolic
Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia, and for subsequent papal approval of Opus Dei. So, when
he went on vacation, the process inevitably stalled. Given the situation, St. Josemaria decided
to return to Spain with Don Alvaro to personally take charge of the courses of spiritual,
theological, and ascetic formation for the faithful of Opus Dei - men and women - which was
going on during the months of July and August in Molinoviejo and Los Rosales. They traveled
by plane to Madrid on August 31. Meanwhile, six faithful of Opus Dei who were to be ordained
at the end of the next month were finalizing their priestly preparation.
From September 1 to 30 both would be shuttling from Madrid to Los Rosales and Molinoviejo,
carrying out a broad work of priestly attention and of government: taking care of the faithful of
the Work, visiting bishops, organizing the apostolate in Spain for the next academic year, etc.
On September 29, priestly ordinations were held in Madrid: this was the second batch of priests
of the Work [428].
4. Opus Dei, an institution of pontifical right
At the end of summer, efforts in the juridical area had to be redoubled in the Roman Curia. On
October 4, in a letter to Rome, Don Alvaro summarized the month spent in Spain and
announced his imminent arrival in the Eternal City, Dearest Salvador and Ignacio: I write little
because there is no time, and because I believe that I will arrive by plane on the coming 19th.
Six more priests! It has been so much work these days, that there was hardly time to take
pictures to send you. [429] It wasnt only a message to announce his return; Don Alvaro also
wanted to convey to the two who had stayed in Italy for the summer the reality that the entire
Work was close to them, and he wanted to enliven in them that same feeling. Maybe that's why
he added: "Try to squeeze in the fulfillment of the norms in your studies and plan of life ... (as
well as) everything that the Father has in his heart." [430]
Not content with that letter, a few days later he sent another one with a first paragraph in pidgin
Italian, in order to make the two Romans laugh "Carissimi fratelli romani: fra otto giorni sar,
se Iddio vuole, in Roma, in mezzo a voi. Si capisce che andr per via aerea, cio, che sar fra
voi il 19 mattina. Questo veramente scrivere benissimo italiano: quattro o cinque errori ogni
riga, non fanno mica male. Malgrado tutto credo di farmi capire. E poi a poco a poco, man
mano, questo italiano diventer addirittura manzoniano. Ma perch ridi, Salvatore?" [431]
On October 19, Don Alvaro was back in Rome. The Founder arrived on November 8. Until this
latter date, (again, the epact offers us abundant precise information) Don Alvaro made visits to
key people in the Holy See.
214

Upon his return to Rome St. Josemaria engaged in the same business as he did before: visits,
negotiations, work... In connection to the activities reported in the epact, an annotation that
would take on much significance in the following years should be emphasized. On November
24, the Founder writes: "We see Villa Tevere." [432]. This means that amid all the hustle in the
juridical arena, he had not given up the search for a large house that suited the needs of the
Work. However, they would not find the property located at Viale Bruno Buozzi until February
1947, but rather only some apartments which they later ruled out. These visits to buildings and
properties remained fruitless, but at least they had already given a name to what would be the
future headquarters of Opus Dei.
The month of December brought with it two joyful events. On Dec. 8, St. Josemaria was again
received in audience by the Pope. As well, on the 27th, five women of Opus Dei arrived in
Rome. The Founder and Don Alvaro went to pick them up at the Ciampino airport in two cars.
One of those who were present narrates an episode at the airport which shows, once again,
Don Alvaros unity with and respect for the Founder. "Coming to Rome, we loaded ourselves
with as many packages and luggage as our hands could carry, to avoid overweight charges. We
put them down as soon as we saw some free space in the customs area. Yes, we were loaded
up to our eyebrows, wearing dress upon dress (...). At the exit we saw two cars: the one in front
was Don Alvaros with our five suitcases and behind it was an empty car. The Father said,
'Those of you who want, go with Don Alvaro, and the rest with me. And all five of us jumped
behind the Father in the back seat (...). I remember so vividly the nod of approval from Don
Alvaro seeing that we left him only with the suitcases. He even made a gesture of applause, and
his face lit up with joy when he saw that we had chosen to go with the Father." [433]
Three of the newcomers settled down in a small part of the Citt Leonina apartment which was
separated from the one occupied by the men. Meanwhile, the other two, stayed first at the home
of some acquaintances and, soon after, in a nearby residence. They all began to take up the
domestic management of the house, and to collaborate with the Founder in those aspects which
they could.
Financial difficulties increased there were, after all, five more people. The same happened to
the traffic inside the apartment, as St. Josemara, taking advantage of the culinary skills of his
daughters, invited to lunch and talked to many Roman ecclesiastics, who hardly noticed the
scarcity of material resources. The economic hardship was hidden by the cleanliness and good
taste with which everything was put, from the furniture to food [434].
That winter one that would be remembered in the annals of European history for its extremely
low temperatures and poor harvests St Josemaria and his children in Opus Dei living in Rome
went hungry and cold. It should be recalled that only in June of the following year would the
United States launch the Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild the devastated economies of
some countries of the old continent.
Finally February 2, 1947 arrived. On this date, Pope Pius XII issued the Apostolic Constitution
Provida Mater Ecclesia, which created the figure of the Secular Institutes and the regulations
governing them [435]. A few days later, on Feb. 13, the plenary meeting of the Sacred
215

Congregation for Religious issued a favorable opinion as regards the Pontifical Approval of
Opus Dei. On the 24th of that month, the Pope confirmed the decision of the Congregation, and
granted the Decretum Laudis, by which he erected the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross and
Opus Dei as a Secular Institute of pontifical right. [436]
That day, as the diary
of Citt Leonina
relates, "after the gettogether we left with
the Father and Don
Alvaro in the car. We
went to Parioli, to the
home of Cardinal
Lavitrano. Don Alvaro
went to see him," and
the Prefect told him
about the signing the
Decretum Laudis.
"Once we left, the
Figure 73: The March 14, 1947 Italian edition of L'Osservatore Romano. Photo credits: Saxum: Father recited the Te
Remembering Alvaro del Portillo
Deum which we
followed in silence.
From there we went to San Silvestre (the square where the telegraph headquarters was) to
send a telegram to Madrid." [437] This concluded those months of hard work, but it was only a
link in the long canonical path which Opus Dei would have to tread until it reached its final
juridical solution in 1982, when it was erected as a Personal Prelature by St. John Paul II.
It is difficult to surmise from the existing documentation to what extent Don Alvaro spent himself
to smooth over the Founders path; in particular, ironing out juridical issues with the Roman
Curia. The epact, as we have seen, gives news of the visits and negotiations, but it could not
possibly capture the number of hours he devoted to studying the possibilities, or the extent of
his loyalty to the Founders mind even to the detail of the words he used to express it. Some of
these can be gleaned in the letters he wrote to St. Josemara more than twenty in the months
that he lived apart from him in this period outlining the various negotiations. The testimonies of
those who lived with him allude to his heroism, but these very same people recognize that they
were hardly told of these difficulties.
St. Josemaria himself was aware of that loyalty and, here and there, allowed glimpses of it to be
seen. For example, in a letter in mid-December to Bishop Leopoldo Eijo y Garay, Bishop of
Madrid, we read: "Alvaro, made a hero by this Roman Curia: everyone knows and loves him."
[438]
Years later, in 1956, during a meditation for students of the Roman College of the Holy Cross,
upon mentioning the particular law of Opus Dei, the Founder made the following point: "And
here I will devote a short paragraph to Don Alvaro. If you had only seen with what respect and
216

what supernatural sense he helped me! Here and elsewhere offering a clearer word, a more
accurate expression, giving me light... Even if Ive said it before and although he does not want
me to say it, as it embarrasses him its fitting that you know it." [439]
St. Josemara wanted to leave this fact on record in more places. In a draft of a document
written for the faithful of Opus Dei in January 1957, he wrote a note in his own handwriting, so
that the editor would take it into account: "It is important to talk of the collaboration of Don Alvaro
- full of delicacy - which I've always wanted to record, even in a document sent by me to the
Holy See, although Don Alvaro sought to convince me otherwise." And, so as not to leave room
for doubt, he wrote in the margin of the sheet: "I desire that these two sheets be filed." [440]
5. Services to the Roman Curia
Following the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia, on February 2,
1947 a commission in the Sacred Congregation was established in order to draft the
implementing rules for applications for and approval of future Secular Institutes.
The expertise and capacity for work shown by Don Alvaro over the preceding months had not
gone unnoticed in the Roman Curia. So, when they were looking for a Secretary for the newly
convened body, his name came up. The appointment was made on March 25 of that year, just a
month and a half after the creation of Secular Institutes. The commission was made up of
Fathers M. Suarez O.P., J. Grendel S.V.D., A. de Langasco O.F.M., J. Creusen S.J. and S.
Goyeneche C.M.F. [441]. Thereafter, he devoted his mornings to work in the Congregation, in
the Palace of San Calixto in Trastevere.
The new position demanded a lot of energy [442] for several reasons. First, "his schedule was
extremely tight. Nevertheless, this fact did not prevent him from adequately attending to his
other concerns, imbuing them with his life of piety. He began working in San Calixto at 8:30 a.m.
Before that he spent half an hour for meditation, followed by the Holy Mass." [443]
Furthermore, at that time, there were many institutions that requested approval from the Holy
See. But perhaps even more importantly, what was more taxing was the fact that, at bottom, the
Congregation never got around understanding one of the fundamental characteristics of the
"new forms": secularity. Don Alvaro had to persist in explaining, disseminating, and defending it.
Under his suggestion [444], a study was made that culminated in the motu proprio Primo
Feliciter [445]. In this regard, it is interesting to mark the precision that Bishop Echevarra noted
in his testimony: "Even then, with his clear intelligence and the prudence of one who governs
well, (...) he understood what St. Josemaria had long repeated: the juridical robe which Opus
Dei had then was not the best for it: the Founder had been forced to give in without giving up,
with the intention of recovering when the time came. Among the efforts he made (...) to work
with others so that the figure of Secular Institutes was not muddled, was to speak often with
Father Arcadio Larraona, then Undersecretary of the Congregation for Religious. He urged him
not to approve as secular institutes those that were authentic religious congregations." [446]
Nevertheless, with the passage of time, realities that were more characteristic of the
consecrated life eventually emerged. [447]
217

Bishop Echevarra has also referred to the spirit in which he performed such service. "He never
talked about his work in the service of the Holy See. His prudence was such that he did not refer
even generically to the issues he had studied. He did not want to show off; he was interested
only in serving the Church. Nor did I hear him complain or talk negatively of others working on
the same issues, or of those who expressed an opinion different from his. The same prudence
led him to remember that it is necessary to collect all the ideas, hear the most diverse opinions,
so as to decide responsibly. I have known a posteriori (...) that he helped many churchmen and
many institutions when, for various reasons, they underwent some difficulties." [448]
A photocopy of a letter dated September 2, 1949 addressed to Archbishop Roberto Ronca,
Bishop of Pompeii, and to Don Claudio Righini, regarding the approval of an institute of that
diocese, reflects the attitude with which Don Alvaro studied its statutes and regulations
submitted for his scrutiny and opinion. After offering his help in the juridical aspect, he stressed
that he would not meddle with anything that related to the institutes spirit and internal
organization, because "for me these are areas that are off-limits: in these the Holy Spirit
illuminates directly and solely the Founder of each Institute." [449]
Through the commission for Secular Institutes, Don Alvaro
got to know personalities significant in the life of the Church
in those years. For instance, he dealt with Father Agostino
Gemelli, who, with Armida Barelli, began the institute
Domini Nostri Iesu Missionari Regalitatis Christi. In the
correspondence between them and Don Alvaro one sees
how much they appreciated his attention. [450] He likewise
dealt with Father Perrin and Mrs. Solange [451] , who came
to consult him often in those years with Bishop Hervas,
Bishop of Ciudad Real Mallorca and promoter of the
Cursillo, etc.
In April 1949, he was appointed Member of the
Commission of the Congresses of the Central Committee
for the Holy Year of 1950 [452], and in November, Member
Figure 74: Fr. Agostino Gemelli, O.F.M.
(center) is the founder of Universit Cattolica of the Executive Committee for the Reception of Spanish
del Sacro Cuore. Photo credits:
Pilgrims [453]. Precisely on the occasion of this special
comMsgr.wikimedi.org.
event, his mother and some of his siblings came to Rome,
and he lavished on them a lot of affection. He even arranged for them a private audience with
the Pope. His brother Carlos recalled that, at the time Pius XII, after greeting Alvaro with an
affectionate: Hello, engineer, he said to them what should happen to us is that like the
cherries, because lvaro would go picking us one after another for Heaven. [454]
At one point, in August 1949, when he already found it impossible to make his work in the
Vatican compatible with his duties as Procurator General of Opus Dei [455], he asked the
Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Religious to replace him as soon as feasible. In
agreement with St. Josemara, he suggested as his replacement Don Salvador Canals [456],
who had been ordained in November 1948, was a doctor of civil law and canon law, and was
218

well versed in laws that involved Secular Institutes. While asking to be replaced, lvaro
expressed his availability to provide advice any time they saw it fit, as happened frequently
afterwards.
His competence and dedication led him to receive other tasks. In December 1950, we will see
him at the Congregation for the Religious busy preparing various documents [457]. A few years
later, on February 16, 1955, he would be named Consultor of that Vatican department [458].
FOOTNOTES:
[329 ] See St. Josemara , Letter 31- V - 1943 , n . 1 ( AGP , Series A -3 , leg. 92).
[330 ] St. Josemara , Letter January 9, 1931 , n . 85 ( AGP , Series A -3 , leg. 91).
[ 331] St. Josemara , Instruction , 19 , 1934 , n . 31 ( AGP , Series A -3 , leg. 89 , carp. 1 exp.
1).
[332 ] St. Josemara , The Way, no . 573 .
[333 ] See St. Josemara , Letter October 7, 1950 , n . 18 , cit. in Vzquez de Prada, A. , The
Founder of Opus Dei ... , op. cit. , vol. III , p . 23 .
[334 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460302 APD .
[335 ] In those first months after the war there was much uncertainty. Crossing the Bracco pass
at night was very risky ( cf. Orlandis , J., My memories , op. Cit. , Pp . 41-50 ) .
[336 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460302 APD . Jos Orlandis, in the
book My memories, p. 50 states that it was 12 midnight of the 27th, and as they crossed the
porch of the house, the clock of "Palazzo Madama", one of the headquarters of the Italian
Parliament, was chiming the time.
[337 ] The Obra Pia Espaola, an ecclesiastical entity that arose in the 14th century, has for its
aims attending to pilgrims who come to Rome, assisting priests studying at pontifical universities
in the City, offering alms to the Pope, praying for the dead and doing other works charity. It had
a significant number of properties and rented out some apartments to individuals.
[338 ] Cf Orlandis , J., My memories , op. cit. , p. 28 .
[339 ] Cardinal Enrique Pla y Deniel, Archbishop of Toledo.
[340 ] Cardinal Manuel Arce Ochotorena, Archbishop of Tarragona.
[ 341] Father Servant Goyeneche, Claretian , worked at the Sacred Congregation for Religious.
He knew Don Alvaro from his trip to Rome in 1943.
[342 ] Cardinal Manuel Gonalves Cerejeira , Patriarch of Lisbon.
[343 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460302 APD .
219

[344 ] Dom Aureli Maria Escarr Jan , OSB , Coadjutor Abbot of Montserrat.
[345 ] Dom Celestino Gusi , OSB , a Benedictine monk of Montserrat. Years later he was abbot
in the Philippines.
[ 346] Dom Gregory Suol , OSB , Director, Institute of Sacred Music in Rome.
[347 ] I was unable to find out who that Ignacio C. is, although the context suggests that he must
be someone who participated in the means of formation in the Work, and was well known by St.
Josemara.
[348 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460302 APD . As seen in this
paragraph, and others that follow, Alvaro writes in a colloquial, conversational tone without
using overly formal phrases, and sometimes used pet names to refer to the persons mentioned.
[349 ] Ibid.
[350 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 114 .
[351 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460302 APD .
[352 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460327 APD .
[353 ] See Testimony of Joseph Orlandis Rovira , AGP, APD T- 0262, p. Three .
[354 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460327 APD .
[355 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460403 APD .
[356 ] See Diary of Piazza Navona, annotation 28 -III- 1946 : AGP, L.1.1 series , 4-2-1 .
[ 357] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460405 APD .
[ 358 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460403 APD .
[ 359 ] See ibid.
[ 360 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 397 .
[ 361 ] He wrote to St Josemaria in a letter written on April 3 , 5 and 10: "Yesterday [ April 9 ] I
went to Salvador to give him 7 copies of all commendatory letters we have here in brochure
format. They were for the Consultants of the Commission, and Fr. Larraona liked it very much.
As we did it in one day, he was quite pleased: "You are amazing!" ( Del Portillo, , Letter to St.
Josemara , AGP, APD C- 460403 . ) .
[362 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460419 APD .
[ 363 ] This was the referendum that would lead to the establishment of the Republic in Italy (cf.
Vzquez de Prada, . , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. III , op. Cit. , P. 26).

220

[ 364 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460608 APD .


[ 365 ] In Fuenmayor , A. Gomez -Iglesias, V. , Illanes , JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei ,
op. cit. , p. 155 .
[ 366 ] Ibid.
[ 367 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460327 APD .
[368 ] Cf Appointment as Postulator General Opus Dei (Madrid , 15 -XI- 1947) , AGP, D- 18636
APD . As mentioned on p. 237 , the Servant of God Isidoro Ledesma, Industrial Engineer and
member of Opus Dei , had died in July 1943 in Madrid. The informative process for his Cause of
Canonization would begin in 1948 in Madrid.
[ 369] Diary of Rome, entry for 17 - V - 1946 : AGP, L.1.1 series , 4-2-2 .
[ 370 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460302 APD .
[ 371 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460327 APD .
[372 ] The term "whistle" was frequently employed in those years to mean "give the expected
return" ( cf. Dictionary of the Royal Academy of Language ), to make things well.
[ 373 ] Ibid. On the lumbar condition of Don Alvaro , cf. Testimony of Joseph Orlandis Rovira ,
AGP, APD T- 0262, p. 6.
[ 374 ] See St. Josemara , Furrow , op. cit. , n . 960 : "Custos , quid de nocte ! -Watchman, how
goes the night? May you acquire the habit of having a day on guard once a week, during which
you increase your self-giving and loving vigilance over details, and pray and mortify yourself a
little more. Realize that the Holy Church is like a great army in battle array. And you, within that
army, are defending one front on which there are attacks, engagements with the enemy and
counter-attacks. Do you see what I mean? This readiness to grow closer to God will lead you to
turn your days, one after the other, into days on guard."
[ 375 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460419 APD .
[376 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460405 APD . The references are to
Jose Maria Gonzalez Barredo, who had moved to the United States for work; to Los Rosales,
already mentioned above, and six members of Opus Dei who were preparing for ordination in
late summer.
[377 ] See Testimony of Rosalie Lopez, AGP, APD T- 18545 , p. 1.
[378 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460327 APD .
[379 ] Ibid.
[380 ] He lived as a refugee in Rome and was a classmate of Jose Orlandis and Salvador
Canals in the Lateran University. He could not return home because it was integrated into the
221

new Yugoslavia of Tito. He was ordained in 1958 and died in a plane crash in 1968. For more
information, vid. Jos Orlandis Rovira, My memories , op. cit. , pp . 77-96 .
[381 ] Orlandis , J., My memories , op. cit. , p. 90 .
[382 ] Ibid. , P. 92 .
[383 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 96 .
[384 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460405 APD . This refers to Orlandis
Jos Rovira .
[385 ] St. Josemara , Remarks at a family get-together , 21 -VI- 1963: AGP , Library, P01 .
[386 ] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together , 29 -VIII - 1988 . AGP Series T- 880 829
B.1.4 .
[387 ] Del Portillo, . , Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei ... , op. cit. , pp . 17-18.
[ 388] See Testimony of Joaquin Alonso Pacheco , AGP, APD T- 19548 , p. 23 .
[389 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 481216 APD . He was accompanied by
Joaqun Ruiz -Jimnez , Ambassador of Spain to the Holy See .
[ 390] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 481223 APD . The Italian expression
"Roba da chiodi" could be translated as "crazy" or "that's crazy.".
[391 ] See Testimony of Antonio Maria Travia , AGP, APD T- 15853 , p. 1 (I translate from
Italian original: "My first impressions confirmed the opinion that had arisen among those who
had known him before me, or immediately thereafter: Don Alvaro del Portillo had human
qualities - intellectual and moral that stood out, and which made up an attractive personality: .
. calm, positive in his judgments, fair, balanced, not prone to any criticism or controversy. His
demeanor and his words evinced selfless love for the Church and the sincere desire to serve. It
was easy to deduce that these were the characteristics that the Founder wanted the activities of
Opus Dei to have. Alvaro was an eloquent example.")
[392 ] See ibid. ( "At that time I worked as secretary to Archbishop Montini, Substitute of the
Secretariat of State. In a few months, my dealings with Don Alvaro became quite frequent,
because he came to my office several times to bring me the draft text of the Const. Provida
Mater Ecclesia, prepared by the Sacred Congregation for Religious, which the Substitute had to
review and, after printing it, to pass on to the Holy Father. I remember in a special way the
precision and care for material things which inspired his suggestions in view of the future
binding of the document. I saw in these qualities the practical manifestation of an aspect definitely not secondary in its implications also as regards material things - contained in the
message of the founder of Opus Dei on the sanctification of work.")
[ 393] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 554 .
[394 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 559 .
222

[395 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemaria AGP, C- 460610 APD .


[396 ] Ibid. Mariano was the fourth Christian name of St. Josemara , who often used it as a
signature to express his devotion to the Virgin.
[397 ] Ibid.
[398 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460 612 APD .
[399 ] Ibid.
[ 400] Diary of Citt leonina , annotation 16 -VI- 1946 : AGP, L.1.1 series , 4-2-2 .
[401 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini , AGP, C- 460620 APD .
[402 ] See "Account of Alberto Martnez Fausset of the stay of the Founder of Opus Dei in the
apartment in Piazza della Citt Leonina (1947) and the plan of the apartment" in AGP , D15442; Letter of Saint Josemara from Rome to his daughters of the Central Advisory, EF470117-1 .
[403 ] See Letter from Joseph Orlandis to Pedro Casciaro , 26 -VI- 1946 AGP Series A.2,
01/01/49 . This letter was written within several days, but is dated June 26; it was not sent until
30.
[404 ] Diary of Citt leonina , annotation 22 -VI- 1946 : AGP, L.1.1 series , 4-2-2 .
[405 ] Ibid. "Thief" was a loving expression that St. Josemaria often used when addressing his
spiritual children, because, he said , he "stole" his heart .
[406 ] Del Portillo, . , Remarks at a family get-together, 10-IV - 1979 , AGP, B.1.4 T- 790410
series .
[407 ] Recall that Italy still remained under Allied military occupation .
[408 ] Letter from Joseph Orlandis to Pedro Casciaro , 26 -VI- 1946 AGP Series A.2, 01/01/49 .
[409 ] Del Portillo, . , ... Letters , vol. 1, n . 242 .
[410 ] Del Portillo, . , Remarks at a family get-together, 29 -II- 1988 , AGP, B.1.4 T- 880 229
series .
[411 ] Account of Alberto Martinez Fausset , AGP , A.2 series , 01/07/23 .
[412 ] See Testimony of Ignacio Sallent , AGP, APD T -0617 , p. April .
[413 ] Cf del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 460 612 APD ) .
[414 ] Letter from Joseph Orlandis to Pedro Casciaro , 26 -VI- 1946 AGP Series A.2, 01/01/49 .
[415 ] St. Josemara , Epact , 1946 AGP series A.3, 180-8 .
223

[416 ] Del Portillo, . , Epact , 1946 AGP series A.3, 180-7 .


[417 ] Ibid.
[418 ] See Testimony of Ignacio Sallent , AGP, APD T -0617 , p. April .
[419 ] Del Portillo, . , Epact , 1946 AGP series A.3, 180-7 .
[420 ] Cf AGP Series A.2, 01/01/49 .
[421 ] Del Portillo, . , Epact , 1946 AGP series A.3, 180-7 . The Cardinal mentioned is
Lavitrano, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Religious.
[422 ] St. Josemara , Epact , 1946 AGP series A.3, 180-8 .
[423 ] See the Apostolic Brief Cum Societatis (28 -VI- 1946) , in Fuenmayor , A. Gomez Iglesias, V. , Illanes , JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei , op. cit. , Appendix 19 , p. 529-531 .
[424 ] Cf Fuenmayor , A. Gomez -Iglesias, V. , Illanes , JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei ,
op. cit. , Appendix 21, p. 532 .
[425 ] See ibid. , P. 162 .
[426 ] St. Josemara , Letter 29-XII-1947/14-II-1966 , n . 167, cit. in Fuenmayor , A. Gomez Iglesias, V. , Illanes , JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei , op. cit. , p. 162 .
[427 ] Letter from Joseph Orlandis to Pedro Casciaro , 26 -VI- 1946 AGP Series A.2, 01/01/49 .
[428 ] See Testimony of Joaquin Alonso Pacheco , AGP, APD T- 19548 , p. 21 .
[429 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Salvador Canals and Ignacio Sallent , AGP, C- 461004 APD .
[430 ] Ibid.
[431] "Dear Romans: within eight days I will be, God willing, in Rome, with you. It is understood
that I will go by plane, that is to say, to arrive on 19th morning. As you can see I write Italian
very well: four or five errors in each line are not noticeable. Nevertheless, I hope you understand
me. And later on, little by little, my Italian will even become Manzonian. Why do you laugh,
Salvador?" (Del Portillo, . , Letter to Salvador Canals and Ignacio Sallent , AGP, APD C461011 ) .
[ 432 ] St. Josemara , Epact , 1946 AGP series A.3, 180-8 .
[433 ] Testimony of Dorotea Calvo Sawing , AGP, APD T -0147 , pp . 2-3.
[434 ] See Testimony of Encarnacin Ortega Pardo , AGP series A.5 , 232-1-2 .
[435 ] Ap. Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia , on the Canonical States and Secular Institutes
to acquire Christian perfection (AAS 39 (1947 ) , p. 114-124 ) .

224

[436 ] Decree Primum Institutum , 24 -II- 1947 , in Fuenmayor , A. Gomez -Iglesias, V. , Illanes ,
JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei , op. cit. , Appendix 22 , p. 532-535 .
[ 437] Diary of Citt leonina , annotation 24 -II- 1947 AGP series M.2.2 , D 426-20 .
[438 ] Letter of St. Josemara to Bishop Leopoldo Eijo Garay, 16 -XII- 1946 AGP series A.3.4 ,
259-01 .
[439 ] St. Josemara , Notes taken in a meditation , 29 -III- 1956 AGP series A.4 , m560329 .
[ 440 ] St. Josemara , AGP series A.3, 232-3-30 .
[ 441 ] See Decree for the creation of the Special Commission for Secular Institutes (AAS 39 ,
1947 , p. 131-132 ) .
[442 ] In late 1947, specifically December 15, to lighten somewhat the amount of his work, Don
Alvaro asked another member of Opus Dei , the lawyer Alberto Taboada, to start working with
him in the Congregation.
[443 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 186 .
[444 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 682 .
[ 445 ] Cf AAS 40 (1948 ) , p. 283-286 .
[446 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 682 .
[447 ] See ibid.
[448 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 683 .
[ 449] I translate from Italian the main (central) paragraph of the letter: His Excellency and you
know that I am always available to help where I can, in the juridical field, always keeping in mind
that the spirit and the internal organization areas that are off-limits to me, because in this the
Holy Spirit illuminates directly and solely the Founder of each institute, who should give the
proper and specific spiritual physiognomy of his work: the generic physiognomy, however , is in
the very laws issued by Church for all Institutes, and in this I will help, gladly, if your Excellency
considers it appropriate. (Del Portillo, . , Letter to Bishop Ronca , AGP, APD C- 490902-03 ) .
[450 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letters to Agostino Gemelli , AGP, APD and AGP C- 480108 , C480127 APD and Armida Barelli Letter , AGP, C- 490902 APD .
[451 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 121 .
[452 ] Cf Appointment as Member of the Commission of the Congress of the Central Committee
for the Holy Year of 1950 , Vatican City , 4 -IV- 1949 , AGP, D- 18995 APD .
[453 ] Cf Appointment as Member of the Executive Committee for the Reception of Spanish
pilgrims in the Holy Year 1950 (Roma 5 -XI- 1949) , AGP, D- 18996 APD . At the end of the
225

Holy Year, the "Comitato Accoglienza Spagnolo" of the Holy Year awarded him a diploma of
honor in gratitude for his services.
[454 ] Testimony of Carlos del Portillo Diez de Sollano , AGP, APD T -0609 , p. 35 .
[455 ] As will be seen, by then they had begun the refurbishment of the headquarters of Opus
Dei in Rome, and Don Alvaro had already been appointed Rector of the Roman College and
Counselor of Italy.
[456 ] See Notes of Salvador Canals , 08- VIII- 1949 , AGP, APD- 10332 . As we know, he was
one of the first members of Opus Dei who lived in Rome.
[457 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 501222 APD .
[458 ] Cf Appointment as Consultant of the Sacred Congregation for Religious , Vatican City , 16
-II- 1955 , AGP, D- 17007 APD .

226

Chapter 11: Villa Tevere


1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

A headquarters for Opus Dei


A year and a half in il Pensionato
Construction work in Villa Tevere
A smiling heroism
The Roman College of the Holy Cross
Doctorate at the Angelicum

The Founder thought that Opus Dei should be "Roman" also geographically. Meanwhile,
Monsignors Montini and Tardini, had encouraged him in his determination to acquire a large
house that could be its headquarters. Don Alvaro himself had begun the search for a property in
March 1946, and when St. Josemara arrived in the Eternal City in June, he gave renewed
impetus to the efforts: it was essential to acquire a house [459 ], even if they did not have the
financial means to do so. So they asked the members of the Work in Spain to pray for, with
God's grace, a truly huge miracle. [460]
With this in mind, in October of that year the Founder appointed Don Alvaro Procurator General:
the title was to facilitate the appropriate paperwork in the Vatican and with civil authorities. As
we know, the name for the future house was already decided: it would be called Villa Tevere.
[461]
1. A headquarters for Opus Dei
The quest to find the headquarters intensified in the early weeks of 1947: there were many
conversations with different people, as well as walks throughout the city of Rome in search of
the building. [462] On January 31, St. Josemara wrote to his daughters in Madrid, "We
continue, over here, waiting for the little problem of the house to be settled." [463]
The main roadblock for the projects completion was fundamentally economic. To their financial
shortage they had to add "the chain of intermediaries. If the owner received ten, the buyer had
to pay a thousand (...), and we had no money." [464] In these negotiations, the friendships that
Don Alvaro had wrought in Rome proved providential. Through the Ambassador of Spain to the
Quirinal they met the Duchess Virginia Sforza-Cesarini, who in turn put them in contact with
Count Gori Mazzoleni, the owner of a villa in the Parioli neighborhood in Bruno Buozzi Street.
St. Josemara and Don Alvaro went to see the house on February 8 and 9, and immediately
they were convinced that it was what they needed. It was a large enough property, with a turnof-the-century house made in the Florentine style, around which there was ground on which one
could build. Moreover, it had some history to it, because until shortly before it had been the
seat of the Hungarian Embassy to the Holy See, and Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, later Pius XII,
went there as Secretary of State, during a reception hosted by the regent Horthy [465]. They
mentioned their find to Monsignor Montini, and the latter "recommended that they take it as
soon as possible. He added, moreover, that the Holy Father Pius XII would be very happy,

227

because he had been there several times. It would give him a lot of joy to see the house in their
hands." [466]
After weighing the pros and cons, in early March they began negotiations, which lasted for a
month: it was not too long, if one took into account the fact that they had no money. Indeed,
desires were not lacking: just lire16. In discussions with the owner, Don Alvaro narrated years
later that, "we managed to slash the price they had been set by quite a lot, so much so that it
was almost like a gift; two or three years later the property would have been worth thirty or forty
times more. But even that small amount we didnt have." [467]
Aside from asking for help
from friends and
acquaintances, they thought
of mortgaging the house in
order to raise funds. But to be
able to do that, they needed
to take possession of the title;
this, in turn, was not possible
without paying at least a
portion of the price. So St.
Josemaria charged lvaro
with a seemingly impossible
challenge: to convince the
owner to sell them the house
without paying for it, giving
as collateral only a few gold coins, which had been previously allotted for the making of two
sacred vessels and, because of which, the Founder did not want to lose them. "So it was
stipulated in the contract that when we had paid, we would have to get them back. In the end,
the house was purchased, with the agreement that we would pay in full in two months. The
owner made only one condition: They have to pay me in Swiss francs. I mentioned this to the
Father, and with good humor, he replied: It doesnt matter, because we have neither lire nor
francs, and for the Lord one currency is no different from the other." [468]
Figure 75: The beginnings of construction in Villa Tevere as seen from Viale Bruno
Buozzi. Photo credits: Saxum: Remembering Alvaro del Portillo

In these unintentionally autobiographical paragraphs, Don Alvaro could not hide the fact that in
those negotiations he took on a lead role: he was responsible for negotiating the purchase of
the villa, reducing the asking price to a minimum, and convincing the owner to accept as
collateral just a few gold coins.
The human explanation that this concession was given at all - i.e., apart from the many prayers
- was the confidence that Don Alvaro inspired in people who knew and dealt with him. If it had
not been for him, probably, the deal would not have been closed as soon as it was. Indeed, why
would any merchant endorse a transaction in which the buyer intended to pay the amount of a

16

Lire = plural for lira, the Italian currency at the time.

228

future mortgage through negotiating with some bank on a house that was not yet even his? Only
because he trusted the honesty of the buyer! [469]
With the acquisition of Villa Tevere, there began an extended period - years - in which Don
Alvaro personally took charge of looking for the money to pay the house and carry out the
necessary works of renovation and expansion, to adapt the house to its new functions. In this,
as in many other things, St. Josemara relied on this son of his, who generously and joyfully
accepted that burden, without giving it any importance. Those who lived with him often did not
realize the heavy responsibility that Don Alvaro bore on his shoulders.
He took everything with great faith in Divine Providence, although his physical health suffered
again, as had happened years earlier in Madrid. The diary of Citt Leonina and then of Villa
Tevere, begin to mention his ailments frequently. In January 1947 we read: "Today Don Alvaro
has been somewhat bothered by his liver and a headache." [470] "He could not say Mass for us
because he has had a very bad night." [471] "I had to get up to make [one] aspirin for a very bad
toothache that did not let him sleep." [472] "He has had a very bad night and had to take several
aspirins to relieve his toothache." [473] "He could not get up until later." [474]
Near the end of that month St. Josemaria wrote to Pedro Casciaro, one of the oldest faithful of
the Work: "lvaro is in poor health. Finally I imposed on him the obligation to undergo a check
up with Faelli, and hes now in the doctors hands." [475] But seeing the doctor did little to make
the ailments disappear and these continued for the rest of the year and the succeeding ones.
He always suffered them with joy, for he considered his suffering as a way of uniting himself to
the Cross of Christ. He never lessened his work pace.
In April he had to make a trip to Spain to look for donations to pay for Villa Tevere and the
apostolic expansion projects in other countries. The day before his departure, the Founder sent
precise indications to the directors of Opus Dei in Spain: "Please take note that lvaro is sick
and will try to hide it so that you dont put any obstacle to his activities; and I want that you dont
put any obstacle. Just please make sure that he follows the indications given to him by Dr. Faelli
and the schedule for his injections and medicines. Moreover, for all trips he has to do, it would
be good for Pedro to order him to have himself driven in a car. When he returns to Rome, he
has plenty of work, and it would be great if he could rest a bit there." [476]
During the month that he stayed in the Iberian Peninsula he met with bishops, gave specific
guidelines on matters of government in the Work in accordance with those established by the
Founder, and visited friends and acquaintances some of whom would later help him in solving
the Works financial difficulties. But what the diaries of the centers which he visited picked up in
more detail were the get-togethers, in which he brought news about their life in Rome, the
Father, the papal approval, the new juridical situation, etc.
Despite the precautions made, lvaro again fell sick with a high fever and was bedridden from
May 6. On the 9th, the Bishop of Madrid paid him a long visit. We already know that Bishop Eijo
y Garay had formed a high opinion of him as a young priest; this time, upon leaving, he made a
rather remarkable gesture: he insisted on kissing the hands of Don Alvaros, despite the latters

229

protestations. [477] Finally, on May 16 Don Alvaro was well enough to get up [478], and
returned to Rome two days after.
2. A year and a half in il Pensionato
In Villa Tevere unforeseen difficulties had arisen. As has been said, for a time there was a
Hungarian Embassy to the Holy See. However, at the end of World War II, with the
establishment of a communist regime in Hungary, its government had severed relations with the
Vatican, and therefore the embassy was suppressed. However, its former residents still
occupied the house and brazenly refused to leave [479]. Thus began a long struggle which
lasted until 1949.
As soon as they could, St. Josemaria and his children in Opus Dei occupied the house which
had been occupied previously by the caretaker of the property. It was given the name il
Pensionato ("the Residence"), even if it was only a small house, located in the corner of the lot,
separated from the villa by the garden. They moved in on July 22, thus leaving the apartment in
Citt Leonina after more than a year.
With this new development, they gained more space, but their material conditions remained
very poor. Alberto Taboada, who was part of this Center in those early years, testifies that all
the available space there was consisted of "a small living room; a tiny chapel; a poor, wet room
where our Father stayed; one more bedroom, and a bathroom." [480] At night, some slept in
the hallway, with folding beds and others stayed in a small room, ( ... ) where five people could
sleep at night on crammed folding beds. [481]
Alberto then adds a relevant side note as regards Don Alvaro: "But perhaps it was Don Alvaro
who had the worst thing going for him, as he did not have his own room. He would put a folding
cot at night in the living room. Early in the morning he had get out of bed and leave that area
because the door of the living room faced the entrance area of the house, where those who
delivered bread, milk, etc. came early in the morning. "[482]
There was a lot of activity in the days following the transfer. Among other things, they had to
thoroughly clean the house, arrange the furniture they had brought from the previous apartment,
and prepare the room that would become the oratory. On July 25, the Blessed Sacrament was
reserved in the tabernacle amid much rejoicing. That same day St. Josemaria left for Spain to
again personally take charge of the tasks of formation of the faithful of the Work - mostly
students or young professionals - since in the summer, activities of formation took (and still
take) on a greater intensity. Don Alvaro was in charge of all the work that had to be done in
Rome.
The first objective was to take over the large house still inhabited by the Hungarians. Ready to
use whatever means necessary, they took the administrative route: they approached the Italian
authorities through a lawyer. They had with them documents signed by the ambassadors of
Spain to the Quirinal and to the Holy See, and they likewise sought the help of Monsignors
Montini and Tardini.

230

These firm steps lasted through the summer months. The diary of il Pensionato captures in its
pages, a few of these more decisive moments. It would be enough to point out one entry,
among many, that was written on August 13: "This morning we achieved the biggest success
weve had so far in our efforts to take over the house. Monsignor Tardini met with Alvaro and
gave him a handwritten letter of the Chief of Protocols in the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
which stated that there was no Hungarian Legation to the Holy See. He, therefore, requested
that efforts be made for Opus Dei to take possession of their home right away. Everyone - the
lawyer Merlini, officials from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and we ourselves - was
astonished, since no one really expected the Secretary of State of His Holiness to make such a
categorical statement. lvaro ordered several photocopies of the document printed to be given
to those who are fixing this matter together with us." [483]
Nevertheless, the negotiations did not end until nearly two years later, on February 5, 1949.
These were not the only concerns of
Don Alvaro in that summer of 1947.
Besides working in the Sacred
Congregation for Religious, following
the departure of St. Josemaria for
Spain, he was in charge of the
priestly care of both the men and
women in Opus Dei living in Rome.
Moreover, his apostolic zeal led him
to deal with many people whom he
got to know through his work in the
Vatican, as Procurator of Opus Dei,
or whom his other friends introduced
to him.
Figure 76: Don Alvaro at his work desk. Photo credits: Saxum:
Remembering Alvaro del Portillo

Finally, on August 22, he flew to


Madrid, to assist St. Josemaria in the
tasks of formation and of government

the latter was undertaking.


On October 9 he returned to Rome and immediately resumed his usual duties. On successive
days, one reads the following in the diary: "Alvaro has barely landed and we already barely see
him at home because of just mind-boggling work!" [484] "All afternoon lvaro has been
chatting with people non-stop and working in the office of the Procurator. It was a continuous
session from 3:30 p.m. to 8. And afterwards, in order to rest, he went on an errand, from which
he returned only at dinner time." [485]
He was occupied with the same concerns as the previous summer: his work in the Vatican
Congregation, the paperwork to evict the Hungarians, work connected to his post as Procurator
of Opus Dei, the priestly care of many people, his studies in canon law, etc. In the midst of this
flurry of activity references to his ailments reappear: sleepless nights, fever, liver problems.

231

But his love for souls won over his ill health. Thus, on 27 October, the diary said: "Franco
Recchi phoned to finalize the time morning Mass would be celebrated (he has a project, going
on for days now: to say Mass in the house of Checco, Renato, Carlo, etc.). We tried to convince
lvaro to tell Franco that Mass would have to be moved for another day, given the state of his
health, but he refused. We were all greatly amazed because we couldnt really understand how
he could get up tomorrow at 6 and celebrate two Masses [486]. Today hes suffering from
terrible dizziness: a little nudge on the wooden bedplate makes him dizzy." [487] Don Alvaro
celebrated these Masses even though he would again spend the next day in bed [488]. Thanks
to that spirit of sacrifice, a few days later, one of those who attended that Mass asked admission
to Opus Dei. Others would follow afterwards.
The Founder of Opus Dei was well aware of the apostolic zeal of this son of his, and wanted to
ensure that he didnt exhaust himself. Informed by those living in Rome, he sent precise
instructions from Spain. We read in the diary: "lvaro is very angry with us because he says
that if the Father has told him to celebrate just one Mass, it would be because we had written
him telling stories (lvaro referred to news of his physical weakness and poor health situation
as stories)." [489]
Despite the solicitude of St. Josemara, first by letter, and then in person upon returning to
Rome on November 20, Alvaros sicknesses did not let up. "lvaro is sufficiently discomfited: his
liver, this throat... (theres always something, but what best explains everything is this: overwork
and worrying about everything and everyone and taking little care of himself)." [490] Amid that
"concern for everything and everyone," the precarious material situation they were suffering
occupied an important place. During this long year, financial difficulties in the Pensionato got
worse. In late 1947, one reads in the diary: "Everything around here is so tight that there is no
place to receive guests with a little privacy! Now, in addition to one (Alvaro) sleeping in the
foyer, one in the hallway, one in the doorkeepers area (which hardly fits a bed), five in the
cabin, etc., we have another (Angel) sleeping in the lobby, next to the front door."[491]
So bad was the financial situation, that they couldnt even afford heating: they were very cold
that winter. In early March, the Founder suffered facial paralysis from the cold, and Don Alvaro
strong anginas17 [492]. St. Josemaria wrote in a letter: "Yesterday lvaro fell ill with apparently
serious angina. For this reason, I made him stay in the only bed we have, and I slept on that
which they place at night in the living room. It gives much joy to live this effective poverty...:
always, as St. Alexius did, under the stairs. Today, with the medication from Dr. Faelli, the
patient is practically well, but I did not let him get up, though he insisted...more than he should."
[493]
In such a situation, a few liras were considered an important contribution to the household
income. The salaries of Don lvaro and Alberto Taboada in the Holy See were meager,
although sometimes these were accompanied by "extra" pay, which were received only too
eagerly. It was a practice that was followed in the Holy See to compensate for the low pay of its
17

angina = a disease marked by spasmodic attacks of intense suffocative pain, as a: a severe inflammatory or
ulcerated condition of the mouth or throat; b: angina pectoris (Merriam-Webster)

232

employees by means of a monthly delivery of a "package" - pacco, in Italian that contained


food and other products hard to find in the Italian market and that came from the Papal States in
various countries.
For this reason, in 1948, in the diary of Villa Tevere one reads the following entries: "We joyfully
ate the few pieces of chocolate. More than the material quantity which was insignificant our
joy came from the fact that the chocolates represented the first supply of food earned by the
sweat of the brow of Alvaro and Alberto, as this supply is received by officials of the
Congregation." [494] "Today Alvaro received his first monthly pacco of food from the Vatican,
as an official of the Congregation. They also gave him his first set of cigars and, for this reason,
he gave each of us a pack." [495] A few days before Christmas 1948, Don Alvaro himself wrote
St Josemara: "Alberto and I received a double pacco for Christmas very good and free."
[496] These supplements to their salaries only had a symbolic value because it did little to
alleviate the economic difficulties in Villa Tevere, which lasted for several years.
3. Construction work in Villa Tevere
On February 5, 1949 the illegal Hungarian occupants vacated the Villa. It was the end of one
stage and the beginning of another, which would be further complicated by the expenses
needed and work that had to be taken on to remodel the buildings. Work began on July 9, and
lasted for more than ten years [497].
As there was no money to hire
a contractor, the construction
project was managed directly
by Don Alvaro, i.e. without the
mediation of a company that
ought to oversee the
acquisition of materials, wages
of workers, etc. This meant
having to personally produce
constantly the cash amounts to
pay the masons and suppliers
every Saturday [498]. "It was a
terrible burden - confessed
Figure 77: St. Josemaria inspecting the construction work in Villa Tevere. Photo
credits: Dora del Hoyo: Recuerdos de Dora
Don Alvaro years later because the workers could not be left without pay each week: that wouldve meant leaving his
whole family without bread." [499] St. Josemara and Don Alvaro put every means never to
delay those payments, even though it was not an easy task [500].
As Vazquez de Prada narrates, six weeks after they started work they had already depleted the
pool of funds available [501]. It was necessary to get funding for the construction works and for
the support of those who lived in the house, who were few at that time, but increased to almost
three hundred people before the last stone was laid in Villa Tevere. Throughout 1949 Don
Alvaro made three trips to Spain - in July, August, and November - mainly to look for donations.
[502] But the amount that he raised was insufficient, as hinted at in this letter he wrote to Jose
233

Luis Mzquiz on September 1 of that year. "The house is going well, even though our
preoccupation18 as regards finances is great: preoccupation in the sense that we can have it;
which means to say that it is not really a preoccupation, but an occupation that leads us to put
human resources and pester the Lord as far as we can. We started this project as weve done
with everything - with no money; and every ten days we have to pay several billion lire. Pray for
it that the Lord may continue to give us what we need." [503] He says the same thing in another
letter sent in the same month this time to Jos Ramn Madurga, who was then in Ireland:
"Remember to ask the Lord to send us money19." [504]
Although the shift of Italy to its present currency instead of the lira, it now uses the euro
prevents us from grasping the exact meaning and seriousness of the amounts involved, the
following words of Don Alvaro still make the same clear point. "Each week we had to pay about
three million lire to the workers, and we never had that amount at our disposal. Not that we had
two, or one, or half: quite simply, there was absolutely nothing. It was a terrible problem. Now,
three million lire seem relatively little; but then it was a staggering amount." [505] In 1945, the
average salary of a worker in Italy was 11,000 lire a month; in 1950 it had gone up to 32,000
liras. Inflation rate was quite high: the tram fare in those years increased from 4 to 20 lire; a kilo
of meat, from 400 to 1000; a liter of milk, from 30 to 70.
In January 1950, St. Josemara described the situation in these terms: "Totally drained of
money. Days of not knowing how to pay on the human plane, we are clueless for these
works to go on." [506] In September: "This year thirteen or fourteen are coming (to Villa Tevere)
for their doctorate in ecclesiastical faculties, who with the present ones will bring the total
number to twenty-six or twenty-seven. (...) A big step for the formation of all and for facilitating
the selection of people who can go to the priesthood! Now do you understand my concern? Ask
the Lord and Our Lady of Guadalupe for money for this house and the support of its students.
Its worth it!" [507]
Don Alvaro managed the cash prudently also because he was aware where contributions came
from: so often they were the fruit of considerable sacrifice by many people. But it was necessary
to make loans, which actually only moved back the time to make the payments. [508] Years
later, recalling the financial burdens, Don Alvaro would comment: "The Lord arranged that we
could get on through letters and balances. It was like stripping one saint to dress up another: it
was madness, a source of suffering. And how did we pay? It is a miracle. I do not know how, but
we always paid." [509]
In the thankless job of asking, what helped him was the endorsement of the friends he had
made "among the Roman nobility, also from the Vatican, and (...) many good professionals. As
a result of his dealings with them it was possible to undertake many negotiations that involved

18

In the original Spanish, Don Alvaro plays around with the words preocupacion (concern, worry) and
ocupacion (job, employment). The translator opted to use the English words that sounds like the original Spanish
anyway, they capture the same sense as the other more commonly-used English words, albeit admittedly more
awkward so as not to lose the original effect of Don Alvaros play of words.
19
Money = this word is in quotation marks because Don Alvaro actually used this English word in his Spanish text
(i.e., he code-switched, as linguists would say), obviously to humor Madurga.

234

making credits." [510] Meanwhile, Don Alvaro showed no little skill in managing the financial
side of things, and above all, the supernatural certainty that God would help them.
In this context, St. Josemara told him once that "they were going to put them in jail, considering
the credits he was making and the projects he had to put together, using very numerous bills of
exchange albeit properly and legally. And the answer was: Do not worry, Father, because
with these amounts that we have to handle, the more debt we have, the more credits they grant
us." [511] On another occasion, St. Josemara asked his daughters if they ate, and if they slept,
because otherwise he told them they would be killing him. Don lvaro immediately quipped,
"Father, if they eat, they will kill me!" [512] and everyone laughed. The troubles that beset him
did not take away his good humor.
4. A smiling heroism
In 1977, overcoming his natural reluctance to talk about events that highlighted him as the
protagonist, Don Alvaro recalled the sufferings and hardships of those years: "All the difficulties
just came together. On one hand, the material difficulties, although they did not take away our
peace, took a lot of our time. The Work was expanding fast and needed the adequate apostolic
instruments. In Rome, the buildings of the headquarters were being built, we had no money,
and financial difficulties were constant. (...) I was in charge of finding the money; forgive me if I
talk about myself, but our Father has told this many times. The Lord allowed that, precisely at
the time, I suffered from a weak liver, with frequent cramps that forced me to get out of bed later
than usual... Everything went ahead. Although our Father did not usually refer to these
economic difficulties, he also placed them in his petition to God." [513]
Indeed these financial troubles did not take away his peace, but his health did suffer and he
often experienced severe cramps that caused him nausea and vomiting, forcing him to stay in
bed [514]. But sometimes, even with a high fever, he had no choice but to get up and look for
money, because the wages of the workers and the sustenance of everyone living in Villa Tevere
depended on his efforts.
The letters of St. Josemara to his children allow us to keep track of the troubles that constantly
accompanied Don Alvaro. He wrote to Jose Luis Mzquiz in October 1952: "Alvaro has a
serious liver ailment. I do not know how he can carry out so much work and bear so many
concerns. Yes, I know, and you too, because you know how great his faith is, and how much
talent and capacity for work and for serenity the Lord has granted him. This time I think the
brutal financial troubles of recent months and of these present moments are not unrelated to his
illness." [515] Two years later, he wrote to the members of the General Council of the Work
[516]: "Alvaro who always tells you, orally and in writing, that hes fine is in bed again. The
fact is that he has been overworking himself and his health is mediocre. Too many concerns:
even though he hides them with a countenance thats as bright as Easter, and overcomes them
with his faith and ceaseless work." [517]
The priest Alfonso Par Balcells, who lived in Rome from 1951 to 1954, recalls an incident which
he places in the academic year 1953-54, yet has remained indelible in his memory forty years
later. Once Don Alvaro was sick, "after breakfast, our Father called me and said : Sito , I know
235

that Don Alvaro's got a fever and has been in bed, but go up to his room and tell him for me
that, Im very sorry, I have to ask him to get up, and carry out an errand that he already knows.
Then you drive him to where he tells you. Wait for him in the car until he has made the visit and
then bring him back home. So I did. I went up to the room and said: Don Alvaro, the Father
says hes very sorry to ask you to get up to do an errand that you already know. Ill wait for you
in the garage. He smiled, and I did not notice on his face the slightest sign of annoyance or
displeasure. Very naturally, as if it did not cost him anything, he said, 'Yes, Im getting up now.
Wait in the garage, Ill be down in a jiffy. A few minutes later he appeared in the garage. I drove
him. He did everything as our Father had said, and during the entire trip he made no comment
on the effort it took him to undertake the two errands he made despite the fever. He had on him
his usual smile full of simplicity and peace, and he did everything as if it were the most natural
thing in the world. I recalled what our Father repeated to us many times: that the asceticism of
Opus Dei is a smiling one; that nobody must notice that we are mortifying ourselves." [518]
Alfonso Par completes the anecdote with a footnote: "What I want to emphasize (...) is that what
I saw on the countenance of Don Alvaro on this occasion and in all other similar circumstances
was an expression of gratitude. He was grateful to our Father who provided him with
opportunities to make heroic sacrifices, and thus his filial affection grew. Some other person
would have been annoyed. I saw before me the firmness of unwavering loyalty." [519]
Another time, one of the women of Opus Dei residing in Rome said "knowing that Don Alvaro
had a fever the day before, upon seeing him enter and realizing that he had just arrived from an
errand, I said to the Founder: Only yesterday, he had such a high fever. To which St.
Josemara paternally replied: 'If it were you, I would not have let you go; but him, yes. [520]
Scenes of this sort were repeated several times to the point that St. Josemara, at times,
"commented that these sicknesses of Alvaro would be cured by putting into his pocket a
handful of dollars; sometimes he spoke of a good poultice of dollars" [521].
Its worth mentioning one final testimony, that of Maria Rivero, who after living a few years in
England, moved to Rome in 1956. The anecdote happened in1958 or 1959. One day our
Father asked Encarnita (Ortega) to go to the Chapel of the Relics, and I was lucky enough to
accompany her. Don Alvaro was sick and our Father went there alone. It was then, if I
remember correctly, eleven o'clock. He told us to sit down. He looked very worried. He was not
looking at us, but rather lost in thought. For a moment he was silent, then he began to say: This
son of mine is killing himself! We did not know of whom he was talking, although we guessed it
was Don Alvaro.
The Father spoke to us, without expecting us to say anything; his father's heart simply sought
relief. He continued, We had to negotiate with a bank, and no one else could do it except this
son of mine, who had a thirty-nine degree fever; so he had to get out of bed to do it. (...) Our
Father then became silent. He had been speaking very slowly, in a low voice; we did not say
anything. Then he spoke again: In the Work - all my children are holy, but the holiness of the
holiest one is a far cry from that of Don Alvaro. [522]

236

We should add that his


contribution to the works of
construction in Villa Tevere
were not limited to procuring
financial resources albeit
that would have already
been much. As well, he
always seconded the
indications of the Founder
so that, despite the lack of
resources, the buildings
were built with magnanimity
and built to last into the
future,
so that those who
Figure 78: St. Josemaria with some students of the Roman College of the Holy Cross,
May 31, 1949. Photo credits: Saxum: Remembering Alvaro del Portillo
would come afterward could
use the same wellconstructed facilities; and all this, even if it meant spending more at the time [ 523 ].
There were also other contradictions. For example, some people made an unfair and false
accusation which caused a considerable delay in the works of construction in Villa Tevere. Don
Alvaro spoke with the plaintiffs, without losing his peace, convinced that everything would be for
the good: Omnia in bonum! In the end, the appropriate authority not only dismissed the charge,
but authorized more work in addition to that which was originally approved.
As he was an expert Latinist, he helped St. Josemara in the writing of Latin texts for some
commemorative plaques that were placed in buildings, following ancient Roman custom. It even
turned out, to the surprise of all, that he had dowsing skills, and located a slope of water within
the site. The well which they dug as a result proved very helpful.
These short sketches many more stories could be added give justice to the comment made
by St. Josemaria to a group of members of Opus Dei, years later, referring to Don Alvaro, on a
rare occasion that he was not present: "He has loyalty that all of you must have at all times. He
has known how to make sacrifices with a smile that is so characteristic of him (...). If you ask
me: has he ever been heroic? I would answer: yes, many times he has been heroic, many
with a heroism that seems such an ordinary thing." [524]
5. The Roman College of the Holy Cross
On June 29, 1948 St. Josemaria erected the Roman College of the Holy Cross in Rome. It
would be an international Center of formation where many members of Opus Dei would deepen
their ascetic and apostolic formation, as well as their formation in philosophy, theology, and
canon law. From here they could attend classes of ecclesiastical universities in Rome. Quite a
few of them would later be ordained priests. [525]
When considering the position of Rector, the Founder immediately thought of Don Alvaro [526],
who assumed the new task with his usual spirit of sacrifice. Amid his many duties, he spent time
237

carefully attending to the students: seven in the first year, fourteen in the second, twenty in the
next - until they reached 123 when he left the post in 1954. Being Rector meant organizing the
plan for the study of philosophy and theology, while also providing refresher and advanced
courses. Bishop Echevarra testifies [527], as an eyewitness, of the effort he put in performing
that task, aware of the importance of this Center of formation, and the important role it was
destined to play in the spiritual life of the faithful of Opus Dei in the five continents. [528]
The priest Jos Mara Casciaro, then a student at the Roman College, remembered Don
Alvaros gifts as a formator, "He always had that smile of his, when he came across any of us.
Clearly, it was an outward manifestation, impossible to feign, of his deep fraternal affection. But
that virtue was based on toughness and fortitude. He has reproved me several times over the
years with clarity and charity, always motivated by the demands of our self-giving. He always
corrected what had to be corrected, without passing over the defect, yet never losing the
supernatural and affectionate tone: one felt duly admonished, but happy and grateful at the
same time." [529]
With his characteristic magnanimity, he did not keep himself to attending only to the spiritual
needs of the people who had been entrusted to him. He knew, because he had learned from the
Founder, that a minimum of material well-being was needed to facilitate the exercise of the
Christian life, and he was concerned about the precarious material conditions in which students
lived: a house under construction, in which the need to save was acutely felt from day to day.
This led him, in the midst
of the difficult financial
situation, to find a
solution that would allow
those young students to
enjoy the timely break
when classes were over,
in a manner appropriate
to their age and
situation. They needed
outdoor space to further
develop themselves. He
found the solution
through a friend,
Giovanni Bisleti, who
wanted to sell some land he owned about halfway between Rome and Naples. It was a vast
agricultural estate, located in Salto di Fondi, between Terracina and Sperlonga, where three
hundred peasants worked.
Figure 79: The property of Salto di Fondi. Photo credits: Saxum: Remembering Alvaro del
Portillo

Don lvaro sensed that the estate could be useful not only as a place to which the students of
the Roman College could come to rest, but also as a food source for those living in Villa Tevere.
He thought up a bold project which he proposed to St. Josemara. The idea was to "buy the
property on credit, break up the almost 1150 hectares of land into small parcels, and then sell
238

them to the tenant farmers on terms very favorable for them: the workers serving each other, as
they were, would thus become owners. We would keep a small part of the property, which
would serve us as a farm and at the same time, a place where students of the Roman College
could go and rest for summer." [530]
Having obtained St. Josemarias delighted approval [531], he got to work. Taking advantage of
his skills as an engineer, he came up with a plan for dividing the land. The lots would be offered
for purchase to the tenant farmers, such that through a very affordable system of credit in a
few years they would get to own the fields they cultivated. The old house would be retained for
the Roman College. The Marquis Bisleti accepted the sale under those conditions.
As soon as they could, some members of Opus Dei moved into Salto di Fondi. These were
mainly those whose professions were related to agriculture - an engineer, a veterinarian, and
some farmers. They were to assist in the implementation of the transfer of land to the locals,
and to maximize, from the agricultural point of view (i.e. production of vegetables , milk, meat),
that part of the property that would remain for the Roman College. The produce from the
property helped to ease in no small way the straitened financial circumstances of Villa Tevere
for several years.
The plan likewise envisaged
activities for human,
professional, and Christian
formation for the locals, many
of whom "retained fond
memories of Don Alvaro, who
is regarded as a benefactor.
He also saw to it that the
families could count on proper
spiritual care, especially as far
as compliance of their Sunday
obligation and getting the
Figure 80: The Dec. 22, 1965 Italian edition of L'Osservatore Romano praising the catechesis needed was
efforts of Don Alvaro to promote genuine "land reform in the catholic spirit."
concerned." [532] In 1955, the
Photo credits: Saxum: Remembering Alvaro del Portillo
project merited praise from L'
Osservatore Romano which
called it "a vast program of social and apostolic activities (...), land reform made in the catholic
spirit." [533]
The deed of sale was signed on October 2, 1951, and from the summer of 1952 students of the
Roman College of the Holy Cross could already use the new house. Material conditions were
very basic, but the property was near the sea - then, there was yet no tourism on those beaches
- and that fact made up for the other shortcomings. Cardinal Julin Herranz, who arrived in
Rome in October 1953, remembers very particularly the times when St. Josemara,
accompanied by Don Alvaro, went to see them at Salto di Fondi: "They were extraordinarily
intimate and fun get-togethers. The Father was interested in the progress of the subjects we
239

were studying, joking, and he told us news about the Work in all regions where we were. It was
a day trip from Rome and back, in conditions that were anything but comfortable: humid heat
usual to that season on the shores of the Tyrrhenian sea, a car without air conditioning, etc., but
with the constant good humor of Don Alvaro and a delicate capacity on his part to ensure that
the Father rest and distract himself for few hours because they were going to continue working
in the heat of the Roman summer."[534]
The problem of where students could rest was thus solved [535], yet the financial difficulties in
the construction of the headquarters continued. On October 26, 1952, St. Josemaria
consecrated Opus Dei to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, begging for "economic peace also,
because as we proceeded with the construction we had nothing." [536] On July 6 and 7, 1954,
in the summer, St. Josemara and Don Alvaro made a trip to Bari to entrust to St. Nicholas the
resolution of their financial problems.
His prayers were answered, and from 1955 troubles became less pressing. The Lord answered
those pleading prayers by sending an "economic peace", personified somewhat in Leonardo
Castelli.
Leonardo Castelli was the son of Leone Castelli, a builder who, at the time of Pius XI had built
many projects in the Vatican for the project of the the Piedmontese architect Giuseppe Momo,
such as the "Palazzo del Governatorato", or the famous spiral staircase with the double helix, at
the entrance to the Vatican Museums that was inaugurated in 1932. Don Alvaro met him rather
fortuitously. He contacted him through the phone book [537], and he spoke of the construction
work that was being carried out in Villa Tevere. He explained that they had already put up some
of the buildings, though there was still much to build. He likewise explained the spirit of
sanctification of work of Opus Dei, which brings the search for perfection to the human level,
taking great care of the details, for love of God and ones fellowmen. Those houses would have
to last for centuries and, for that, one ought to use the best materials.
Castelli thoroughly appreciated what Don Alvaro expounded to him. More especially, he was
won over by his engaging personality. Immediately he decided to help in the construction of Villa
Tevere, and on April 20, 1955, the company continued the work that was already being done,
even as Castelli offered an easier payment scheme: payments needed to be made only every
sixty or ninety days [538].
The professional relationship soon led to a great friendship, and Leonardo Castelli "became a
very generous cooperator. He had no objection to delaying the collection of payment, and from
time to time, without lowering the price previously arranged, he gave contributions that eased
the financial burden that was ever present." [539] "For him, Don Alvaro was not only a client...
He was the friend, the counselor, the person whom he had been searching for to get him closer
to God." [540]
Soon, the entire Castelli family had absolute confidence in Don Alvaro. He was asked to
participate in family gatherings and they sought his advice on spiritual and human concerns. In
1982, he attended to the spiritual needs of his friend Leonardo, who was in the point of death
from a heart attack.
240

Since 1955, with the new arrangement the tension brought about by the weekly payment of
workers had disappeared, although obviously money was still needed. The construction of Villa
Tevere was thus well on track, though it would still take several years until the last stone was
finally blessed on January 9, 1960. In any case, Don Alvaro would now have more time and
tranquility to help St. Josemaria in pushing forward the apostolic expansion of Opus Dei in many
countries.
6. Doctorate at the Angelicum
In addition to all the work mentioned previously, from his early Roman years Don Alvaro was
completing a doctoral degree in his ecclesiastical studies, as what St. Josemara had laid out for
priests incardinated in Opus Dei. For this reason, during the academic year 1946-1947, he
enrolled at the Faculty of Canon Law at the Lateran Pontifical University [541]; and during 194748 academic year he transferred to the Angelicum Pontifical Athenaeum [542].
It was not easy to combine his studies with his other occupations. In fact, in February 1948, in
the beginning of the second semester, he sent a letter to Cardinal Lavitrano, Prefect of the
Sacred Congregation for Religious, requesting to be exempted from the obligation to attend
classes [543]. The Cardinal, in view of the reasons given by Don Alvaro (reasons the Cardinal
knew well), arranged for the waiver with the authorities of the Angelicum. It was granted on
March 2 [544]. He took examinations for the Licentiate in Canon Law on the 27th and 30th of May
1948; he received the grade of Magna cum laude. [545]
A year later he obtained the PhD [546]. On June 13, 1949 he took the preliminary examination;
and on the 18th, he presented his doctoral thesis, which was titled A new juridical state of
perfection: The Secular Institutes. He was an authority on the subject, and he received the
mark of Summa cum laude. [547]
The path to acquiring his doctorate was hard because he had to find time where there was
none, and he did so with a strong dose of self-sacrifice. In the diaries and letters of those years,
comments to this effect frequently appeared: lvaro was working from morning to night as
usual. He went with Chiqui [548] for a while to St. Peters, but aside from that hes had no time
to rest. We're used to that work schedule of lvaro, but from the very time he came to Rome (...)
its impressive to see how he works and moves about despite his poor health. [549]
His way of working was not only noticed in Villa Tevere; in the Angelicum he left his mark in the
classroom as well. Five years after obtaining his title, he was still remembered among his
teachers. We read in the diary of Villa Tevere that on February 19, 1954, on his birthday, "In the
Angelicum, where Don Alvaro obtained his doctorate in canon law, on the feast day of his
patron saint20, the Dean of the Faculty (Fr. Severino Alvarez, OP, his former teacher),
interrupted the class to say that "the best student Ive ever had" ended the class thirty minutes
from vacation time." [550]
20

Saints day: Until recently, name days in Spain and Latin America (called onomsticos or da de mi/su santo)
were widely celebrated (Wikipedia) more than birthdays. This day was the feast day of the saint from whom ones
name was taken. In the case of Don Alvaro, Feb. 19 was the feast day of Blessed Alvaro of Crdoba of whom an
earlier reference had already been made.

241

When, years later, following an old university tradition, a wall of Villa Tevere was decorated with
the names of some faithful of the Work the first of each nationality who had obtained their
ecclesiastical doctorate in Rome, the Founder wanted the name of Don Alvaro to figure
prominently on that wall.
FOOTNOTES:
[459 ] St. Josemara , Letter to the members of the General Council , 16 -XII- 1946 AGP series
A.3.4 letter 461216-2 .
[ 460] St. Josemara , Letter to the members of the General Council , 16 -XII- 1946 AGP series
A.3.4 letter 461216-2 .
[461 ] See Diary of Citt Leonina , Entry 24 -XI- 1946 AGP series M.2.2 , D 426-19 .
[ 462 ] They had to make arrangements personally, because they had no money to go to
intermediaries : cf. Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p.
122-123 .
[463 ] St. Josemara , Letter to his daughters of the central advisory , 31 -I- 1947 AGP series
A.3.4 letter 470131-1 .
[464 ] Del Portillo, . , Remarks at a family get-together, 29 -VIII - 1988 , AGP , Series T- 880
829 B.1.4 .
[465 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 124-125
.
[ 466] Del Portillo, . , Remarks at a family get-together, 21 -IX- 1985 AGP series B.1.4 T850921 .
[467 ] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together , 6 -VI- 1976 . AGP , Library, P01 , 1976
, 464.
[468 ] Ibid.
[469 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 124 .
[470 ] Diary of Citt Leonina , entry 7-I - 1947 AGP series M.2.2 , D 426-20 .
[471 ] Ibid. , Entry 14 -I- 1947.
[472 ] Ibid. , Entry 18 -I- 1947. And the Diary points out, "Don Alvaros molar has been pestering
him and, as the Father says, when he mentions it its because it must be hurting really bad."
[473 ] Ibid. , Entry of 23- I- 1947.
[474 ] Ibid , entry for 29 -I- 1947. ; One reads the same the next day.

242

[475 ] St. Josemara , Letter Casciaro , 31 -I- 1947 AGP series A.3.4 letter 470131-2 . Prof.
Faelli was the doctor in Rome who treated St. Josemarias diabetes .
[476 ] St. Josemara , Letter Casciaro , 17 -IV- 1947 , cit. in Vzquez de Prada, A. , The
Founder of Opus Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , p. 80 .
[477 ] See Diary of the Roman College of the Holy Cross , Entry 27 - V - 1956 AGP series M.2.2
, D 428-6 .
[478 ] The same day Bishop Eijo y Garay went to visit him, accompanied by the Nuncio ,
Archbishop Gaetano Cicognani .
[479 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 125 .
[ 480 ] Testimony of Alberto Taboada , AGP, APD T- 15743 , p. 5-6.
[481 ] Ibid.
[482 ] Ibid.
[483 ] Diary of Villa Tevere , Entry 13 -VIII - 1947 AGP series M.2.2 , D 436-09 .
[484 ] Ibid. , Entry 10-X - 1947.
[485 ] Ibid. , Entry 13-X - 1947.
[ 486 ] He had the power, granted by the Holy See, to celebrate two Masses on a regular basis.
He used to say one in the center of women and another in that of the men.
[487 ] Diary of Villa Tevere , Entry X - 1947 - 27 , AGP series M.2.2 , D 436-10 .
[488 ] Ibid. , Entry 28 -X- 1947.
[489 ] Ibid. , Entry 31 -X- 1947.
[490 ] Ibid. , Entry 17 -III- 1948.
[491 ] Ibid. , Entry 25 -XII- 1947.
[ 492 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 887888.
[493 ] St. Josemara , Letter 11 -III- 1948 : AGP , EF 480311-2 .
[494 ] Diary of Villa Tevere , Entry 20 -II- 1948 AGP series M.2.2 , D 436-11 .
[495 ] Ibid. , Entry 3 -IV- 1948 AGP series M.2.2 , D 436-12 .
[496 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 481216 APD .

243

[497 ] St. Josemaria commissioned members of Opus Dei who were architects and engineers
to do the architectural design of the buildings; the others did the accounting, while others the
graduates of Fine Arts - prepared paintings and sculptures to be used in the decoration of these
houses. Everyone was surprised by the good taste and visionary outlook with which the
Founder of Opus Dei visited bric-a-brac stores or stalls, acquiring religious and secular objects
at low prices that were used for the headquarters. In these, he was also assisted by Don Alvaro.
As the idea was to make everything very Roman, lvaro acquired many remains of columns,
architraves, capitals, etc. which would be useful in various parts of those buildings, and he did
so while spending very little. (Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T19544 , p. 129).
[498 ] See Testimony of Francisco Monzo Romualdo , AGP, APD T -0512 , p. 8.
[499 ] Del Portillo, . , Remarks at a family get-together, 21 -XI- 1982 , AGP, B.1.4 T- 821121
series . The dealings of Don Alvaro with workers were always cordial, as one of them, Orazio
Vittori, recounted to people of the Work whom he knew: cf. Testimony of Ignacio Urrutia Celaya
, AGP, APD T- 19254 , p. . 4 Among the many that happened, he narrated the following
anecdote on one occasion: "During the work on this house, there was a guard. I once asked him
fondly about his son, and he replied that he was very happy, that he had found a job that gave
him great satisfaction. I asked him what it was, and he said he was employed with urban
cleaning: he was a town garbage collector, and that was what gave him many reasons to be
happy." And immediately, Don Alvaro drew out a supernatural consideration: "Realize that
everything can be sanctified; God can be found in everything. "You see, it's all relative. The
point is to do whatever with love of God, with a desire to offer it to the Lord." (Del Portillo, . ,
Remarks at a family get-together , 1- I- 1976 AGP series B.1.4 T- 760101 , and 22-III-1989 ,
AGP, B.1.4 T- 890322 ) series .
[ 500] See Testimony of Joaquin Alonso Pacheco , AGP, APD T- 19548 , p. 156 .
[501 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , p. 118 .
[ 502] "Alvaro went to Spain about a month ago to see if we could resolve some economic
concerns we have in Italy. I do not know how he could find a solution because there, thanks be
to God, they also have water up to their necks." (St. Josemaria , Letter 29 -VIII - 1949, cit. In
Vzquez de Prada, A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , p. 119). And lvaro wrote to
Msgr. Jos Lpez Ortiz, Bishop of Tuy: "You already know how we remember you in Rome,
from where I left some twenty days ago; I come wandering through northern Spain looking for
rooms." (Del Portillo , . Letter to Archbishop Jos Lpez Ortiz , AGP, APD C- 490824 ) .
[ 503] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Jos Luis Miguel Mzquiz , AGP, C- 490901 APD .
[504 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Jos Ramn Lacalle Madurga , AGP, C- 490923 APD .
[505 ] Del Portillo, . , Remarks at a family get-together, 20 -XI- 1977 , AGP, B.1.4 T- 771120
series .

244

[506 ] St. Josemara , Letter to his children of the General Council, 14 -I- 1950 , cit. in Vzquez
de Prada, A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , p. 227
[ 507 ] St. Josemara , Letter Casciaro , 23 -IX- 1950 , cit. in Vzquez de Prada, A. , The
Founder of Opus Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , p. 227 .
[508 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 128 .
[509 ] Words cited in Bernal , S., Memories of Alvaro del Portillo , op. cit. , p. 103 .
[510 ] Ibid.
[511 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. . 128 And
Francisco Monzo, one of his collaborators of those years, added: "He was directly in charge of
everything that involved the financing of the construction and the problems it entailed, which
meant carrying it out without money or the human hope of have it someday. They were hurrying
us in such a way that I found it very difficult to explain how he got bank loans which were used
up immediately -, (but it also occurred to me) how great his faith in God and our Founder was to
engage in so much debt... One day when I said we were going to prison at any time, he replied:
If this happens, bring me a typewriter while in jail, and lots of paper." (Testimony of Francisco
Monzo Romualdo , AGP, APD T -0512 , p.5 . ) .
[512 ] Testimony of Conchita Areta , AGP, APD T -0344 , p. 9.
[513 ] Del Portillo, . , Remarks at a family get-together, 20 -XI- 1977 , AGP, B.1.4 T- 771120
series .
[ 514] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p 171. It
was also at this time 1950 that he had to undergo an operation for appendicitis, as would be
narrated later.
[515 ] St. Josemara , Letter to Jos Luis Miguel Mzquiz , 16 -X- 1952 , cit. in Vzquez de
Prada, A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , p. 223 .
[516 ] The Holy See had authorized St. Josemaria to move to Rome, while the rest of the
General Council was still in Madrid.
[517 ] St. Josemara , Letter to the members of the General Council , 21 -IV- 1954 , cit. in
Vzquez de Prada, A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , p. 224 .
[518 ] Testimony of Alfonso Par Balcells , AGP, APD T- 17695 , p. 16 .
[519 ] Ibid. , P. 17 .
[520 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 128 .
[521 ] Testimony of Francisco Ponz Piedrafita , AGP, APD T -0755 , p. 27 .
[522 ] Testimony of Rivero Mara Marn , AGP, APD T -0933 , pp . 1-2 .
245

[523 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 127-128
.
[524 ] St. Josemara , Notes taken from his preaching, 11 -III- 1973: AGP , Library, P01 , 1973 ,
49.
[525 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , p. 133 .
[526 ] Don Alvaro was Rector of the Roman College of the Holy Cross until 8 -II- 1954.
[527 ] The current prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Echevarra , recalls the conversation he had with
Don Alvaro before he joined the Roman College of the Holy Cross, and the support he received
from him during his first months in Rome ( cf. Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez
, AGP, APD T- 19544 , pp.140 -141 ) .
[528 ] See Ibid . , P. 138 .
[529 ] Testimony of Jos Mara Ramrez Casciaro , AGP, APD T- 0961 , p. Three .
[530 ] Testimony of Don Alvaro del Portillo , in Romana et Matriten . , Beatificationis Et
Canonizationis Servi Dei Iosephmari Escriva de Balaguer, Positio Super vita et virtutibus ,
Biographia documentata , p. 897 .
[ 531] "Our Father, joyfully and visibly pleased, said: D. Alvaro has already found something
that may help. An estate by the sea in Terracina: Salto di Fondi. It is owned by one of his (...)
friends. He is offering us an estate of many acres which could be an opportunity for social work,
by parceling the property and offering plots to farmers who could become owners of their plots,
after paying for annuities, etc. It could be possible to start the financing with bank loans that
farmers would amortize with payments in the future.'"(Testimony of Alfonso Par Balcells , AGP,
APD T- 17695 , p. 13).
[532 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 144-145 .
[ 533] L' Osservatore Romano, 22 -XII- 1955 , p. April .
[534 ] Testimony of Cardinal Julin Herranz Casado, AGP, APD T- 19522 , p. 7.
[ 535 ] The estate of Salto di Fondi was used until 1966. With the development of tourism, that
place ceased to be fit for quiet study and rest, and the summer home of the Roman College of
the Holy Cross was moved to a village in the mountain, in Abruzzo, near L' Aquila. This new
place is called Tor d'Aveia.
[536 ] Del Portillo, . , Remarks at a family get-together, 21 -XI- 1982 , AGP, B.1.4 T- 821121
series .
[537 ] See Testimony of Encarnacin Ortega Pardo , AGP, APD T -0136 , p. Three .
[538 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 130 .

246

[539 ] Ibid. , Pp . 130-131 .


[540 ] Testimony of Encarnacin Ortega Pardo , AGP, APD T -0136 , p. Three .
[541 ] Cf Tessera Adscriptionis the " Pontificium Institutum Utriusque Iuris " of the Lateran
University , as a regular listener (Rome, 30 -X- 1946): AGP, D- 19429 APD .
[542 ] Cf Adscriptio Angelicum in Rome (10 -XI- 1947) : AGP, D- 10248 APD .
[543 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter to Cardinal Luigi Lavitrano , AGP, C- 480 209 APD .
[544 ] See Letter from the Prefect of the Congregation for Religious , requesting exemption from
attending classes, and the reply of the Rector of Angelicum ( AGP, D- 18976 APD ) . Around the
same time he obtained his international driving license ( AGP, D- 17051 APD ), thinking it would
be useful to move more easily from Villa Tevere to the palace of the Congregations and the
Angelicum .
[545 ] See Certificate for the study of the Licenciate ( academic year 1947/1948 ) at the Faculty
of Canon Law at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas " Angelicum " , Rome, 20-I 2003: AGP, D- 18663 APD .
[546 ] "He faithfully studied and prepared his doctoral thesis in the belief that he fulfilled the will
of God this way. He certainly had great intelligence, but he did not neglect the obligation to
study and to write the thesis with the greatest possible perfection; as a result, and I see it as a
result of his faith, he obtained the highest score on the PhD exam." ( Testimony of Bishop Javier
Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 406-407 ) .
[547 ] See Certificate of doctoral studies ( academic year 1948/1949 ) at the Faculty of Canon
Law at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas " Angelicum " , Rome, 20-I -2003: AGP,
D- 18662 APD .
[548 ] This refers to the Servant of God Jose Maria Hernandez Garnica .
[ 549] Diary of Villa Tevere , Entry 22 - 1948 -X , AGP, M.2.2 series , D 436-14 , .
[550 ] Diary of the Roman College of the Holy Cross , Entry 19 -II- 1954 AGP series M.2.2 , D
427-21 .

247

Chapter 12: Years of apostolic


expansion
1.
2.
3.
4.

First apostolic fruits in Rome


Counsellor of Opus Dei in Italy
Along the roads of Europe
The definitive approval of Opus Dei

From its foundation in 1928, Opus Dei was universal, catholic. No wonder that as early as 1936,
St. Josemara was already preparing the apostolic expansion to some cities in Spain and Paris.
But the Spanish Civil War, then afterwards the Second World War, prevented these projects
from moving forward.
As soon as the guns fell silent and the last bullet whirred, he began apostolic work in Europe
and America. The first member of Opus Dei who crossed the borders of the Iberian Peninsula to
live for an extended period of time in another country was Jose Orlandis, who moved to Rome
in 1942 for professional reasons. By 1946 a few others were already living in Portugal and
carrying out stable apostolic work; and in Christmas of that same year the first one to go to
England arrived. In October 1947 some members arrived in Dublin and Paris to do their
university studies. In 1949 apostolic work started in Mexico and the United States; in 1950,
Chile and Argentina; in 1951, Venezuela and Colombia. In 1952, the Work began in Germany;
1953, Guatemala and Peru; Ecuador in 1954; Switzerland and Uruguay in 1956; Austria, Brazil
and Canada, in 1957; El Salvador, Kenya and Japan in 1958; Costa Rica, in 1959. In the next
decade, Opus Dei began in the Netherlands (1960), Paraguay (1962), Australia (1963),
Philippines (1964), Nigeria and Belgium (1965), and Puerto Rico (1969).
This expansion proceeded, in the words of the Founder, at God's pace. In 1951 some people
had commented: see how fast Opus Dei is going! For his part, St Josemara, while giving thanks
to the Lord for how his children were spreading the good odor of Christ throughout the world,
wrote: "They do not know that I have tried everything possible for the Work not to go fast; we
have reined in this young horse, so that it could not rear up." [551]
1. The first apostolic fruits in Rome
Since he began to reside permanently in the Eternal City, Don Alvaro sought to develop an
intense pastoral activity to the extent that his other obligations allowed it. At first, his attention
was focused on the friends of Salvador Canals and Jose Orlandis, who had been living in Rome
for some time. The fruit of that apostolic work, as already mentioned, was the incorporation to
Opus Dei of Vladimiro Vince and, later on, of Anton Wurster, both Croatians. Soon the first
Italians would arrive.

248

The first to join Opus Dei of Italian descent was Francesco


Angelicchio, who requested admission on November 9, 1947.
After him the following were incorporated to the Work: Renato
Mariani on January 26, 1948; Luigi Tirelli on February 22 of that
same year; and Mario Lantini on February 29 [552]. Soon the
number of university students who came for spiritual direction in
the Pensionato or attended meditations and retreats preached by
Don Alvaro significantly increased.
In January 1948, St. Josemaria, accompanied by Don Alvaro,
made a quick trip to Loreto the first in a series over the years
to entrust the expansion of the Work in Italy to Our Lady. They
arrived in the afternoon of January 3, and then spent some time
in prayer in the Holy House which according tradition was the
house in which the Blessed Virgin lived. In that brief visit, Don
Alvaro once again showed the profound union of his affections
and intentions with those of the Founder. Upon leaving the
Figure 81: Francesco Angelecchio, the
basilica, St. Josemara asked, "Alvaro, what did you ask from the
first Italian numerary, was later
ordained in 1955. Photo credits:
Virgin?" "You want me to tell you?" replied Don Alvaro. Given the
opusdei.it
affirmative gesture of the Founder he said, "Well I asked for the
usual thing, but doing it as if for the first time. I told her: I ask you for what the Father asks."
[553].
Immediately, they began to lay the foundation to further promote the apostolic work. A week
later, on January 11, they departed for Milan to greet Cardinal Ildefonso Schuster (who would
be beatified by John Paul II on May 12, 1996) and explore the possibilities of starting apostolic
work in that city [554]. On the 11th they were in Pisa, and on the 12th they spent the night in
Genoa. On the 13th they did the Serravalle- Pavia-Milan route [555] and there, in the Lombard
capital, they met with Blessed Schuster and also with Father Gemelli. On the 14th they went to
Piacenza; on the 15th they went through Rimini, and finally by the 16th they were back in Rome.
On June 18 they made another (more tiring) journey to Calabria and Sicily, also in order to
prepare the future work of Opus Dei in those regions. After passing through Naples, they spent
the night in Scalea, a town in Calabria. The next day they arrived to Reggio de Calabria, where
they visited Archbishop Antonio Lanza. On the 20th they crossed the Strait of Messina in order
to sleep in Catania. On the 21st, Don Ricceri, the parish priest of Our Lady of Mercy, who had
affectionately cared for them in the city, wanted to take them to see Mt. Etna, the famous
volcano. After this short excursion, they started their way back: they entered the peninsula and
that night slept in Palmi (Calabria); on the 22nd they arrived at Salerno in the Campania; and on
23rd, they were back in Rome. It was a tiring journey of a thousand miles, with five people
crammed into a small car [556].
Throughout 1948, Don Alvaro personally took charge of imparting the ascetic and apostolic
formation to faithful of the Work in Italy [557]. A phrase from the diary of Villa Tevere shows the
extent of his priestly zeal: "lvaro was weary the whole day, and yet he has not stopped
249

chatting with people, giving meditations, and working." [558] Indeed, he tried to convey the love
of God and of neighbor, not minding the discomforts brought about by his poor health, or the
material limitations of the small house in which they lived. The Lord rewarded this generosity by
pouring abundant graces on those who sought spiritual direction from him, heard his preaching,
or attended his Mass [559].
We can see, for example, the effects produced during the retreat he preached from December
26 to 30, despite suffering a severe toothache at that time [560]. Bishop Mario Lantini has
recorded this testimony. "The preaching of Don Alvaro in those days was definitely effective for
my soul. I've always remembered: December 31, Rome once again; I repeated, with great
spiritual intensity, phrases and words of the Gospel which I had meditated on in the days
preceding the preaching of Don Alvaro. Words of apostolic commitment used by St. Paul, as
that omnia possum in Eo qui me conforta" [561].
And speaking of the devotion with which Don Alvaro celebrated the Eucharist, Bishop Lantini
pointed out: Even after many years, I still see Don Alvaro del Portillo walking to the altar to
celebrate Mass. A preparation that was attentive, prolonged, prayerful, thoughtful, serious, and
at the same time showing the festiveness21 of his filial relationship with Jesus Christ. (...) He
prayed with a clear, normal voice; he read the missal with emphasis on the proper places. He
touched the consecrated Host in deep recollection, and as he raised It, it seemed that he was
not content to simply do so physically, but wanted to lift It beyond the reality of this world." [562]
2. Counsellor of Opus Dei in Italy
On October 27, 1948, St Josemaria erected the region of Italy as a circumscription of Opus Dei
and appointed Don Alvaro as its Counsellor [563]. The latter took on this new assignment with
his usual generosity and dedication [564]. From January 1949 he pushed members of Opus Dei
to make several apostolic journeys to various major Italian cities, taking advantage of the
weekend, so they did not have to miss classes in their respective universities [565]. Upon
arriving at their cities of destination, they would inform their friends or acquaintances, meet up
with them, and gave them the means of Christian formation, helping them to know the spirit of
Opus Dei and encouraging them to do apostolate with others.
The list of trips he made in a single year, almost always by train hours and house, using a
railway system that still clearly bore the marks of the war to Bari, Naples, Palermo, Catania,
Genoa, Pisa, Bologna, Milan, Turin... As well, the number of university students who requested
admission to the Work at that time, calls ones attention. Don Alvaro himself recalled years later,
"Truly, the Lord abundantly blessed those trips. We went every week, always in pairs, like the
disciples of the Lord, following what the Father told us." [566]
Not content to simply encourage the young members of the Work in the apostolic expansion, he
personally went to these cities himself, also in order to visit their corresponding bishops [567].
Thus, between February 18 and 21 he was in Milan and Turin; and one week later, Feb. 28 to

21

The original Spanish festosidad is a made-up word and appeared with quotation marks. It clearly comes from
the Latin festus which means festive, joyful, merry.

250

March 2, in Palermo and Catania. A significant anecdote happened in the capital of Sicily.
Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini, knowing that Don Alvaro was going to be in town, told the Catholic
youth associations of the diocese who were around, to listen to him so that as he said it,
undoubtedly with a little less tact - "he would teach them how they should do their apostolic
work." Don Alvaro needed every bit of wisdom and affection in order to explain to his listeners,
without contradicting the cardinal, that he wasnt there to teach them anything but to learn from
them and to let them know the message of Opus Dei. [568] In December 1949 they a few
members of the Work began to live in Milan and Palermo [569].
The growth of the Work in Rome made it advisable to acquire a venue where retreats, seminars
for doctrinal formation, and theology and philosophy classes could be held properly. In March
1948, Don Alvaro had met an old lady, the Countess Campello, who had a home in Castel
Gandolfo where number of refugees from European countries especially Rumania had
sought asylum during the Second World War, in order to escape communist rule. The property
was large, but was in very bad shape. There, in May, he preached a retreat for university
students, and found that with the necessary repairs it could meet the conditions required for
apostolic activities. Actually, the aristocrat was only the proprietor of the buildings, because the
land belonged to the Holy See.
At that time, the doctors had indicated
that St. Josemara should exercise
more because he was suffering very
badly from diabetes. As it was easy to
comply with the doctors advice in
Rome, sometimes after a long day of
work, he would go with Don lvaro to
Castel Gandolfo for a walk in the vicinity
of Lake Albano, near the Villa where the
Pope stayed during some periods in the
summer. In those excursions, they were
convinced that indeed the house of the
Countess Campello could be very
useful for the apostolic activities.
St. Josemaria, recalling that, before
Figure 82: View of Lake Albano and Castelgandolfo from Villa delle
Rose. Photo credits: josemariaescriva.info
moving to Rome, Bishop Leopoldo Eijo
y Garay had spoken to him precisely
about this countess (who played the harp, and promoted many apostolic activities), began to
pray for this intention to be fulfilled. "In all truth our Father was sure that these buildings are the
fruit of their prayers. He came to Castel Gandolfo and (...) prayed one Hail Mary after another so
that this instrument of apostolate would become reality. I joined my petition to his with all my
soul." [570]
Their prayer produced the desired results. The following year, the Countess gave the house,
and lvaro undertook the necessary arrangements with the Vatican authorities. In July 1949,
251

Pope Pius XII ceded the property to Opus Dei. [571] Hardly a month later, a course of
theological formation for members of Opus Dei in Italy and other countries, that lasted almost
the entire month of September was held in Villa delle Rose the name given to the Center. St.
Josemara and Don Alvaro came from Rome daily, in morning or evening, to assist in the
ascetical and doctrinal formation of the participants.
When the summer of 1950 began, St. Josemara expressed the hope that the region of Italy
would have a center in Rome, other than Villa Tevere, as soon as possible. He told his Italian
children to look for one, warning him that if they didnt find one "they would go live under a
bridge along the Tiber." He said this as a joke, but he also said it to push them because,
although he knew it wasnt easy to get a suitable property, it was necessary to do so for the
apostolic work to move ahead. Soon, they got a "villino"- a small independent house - on n. 9
Pompeo Magno St., at the of corner Virginio Orsini; but the price was too high for their
possibilities: a few million liras, they didnt have. In any case, they set an appointment with the
owner.
The day before the interview, they only had a few hundred thousand lire for the intended
purchase. That afternoon, the person in charge of the negotiations came to see Don Alvaro to
explain the situation. His response was, "You have done everything possible; the Lord will do
the rest. Go and pray." The next day, a benefactor who wished to remain anonymous sent the
Founder the amount they needed [572]. The center Pompeo Magno still exists today.
3. Along the roads of Europe
During his stay in Burgos, between 1938 and 1939, St Josemaria sometimes took some walks
in the outskirts of the city, along the Arlanzon River. There, while looking at the horizon lay
before his eyes, his thoughts ran to the ends of the world, to the places where he ought to carry
the message that God made him see so clearly. As a reflection of this yearning, he wrote in The
Way: "Do you remember? Night was falling as you and I began our prayer. From close by came
the murmur of water. And, through the stillness of the city, we also seemed to hear voices from
many lands crying to us in anguish that they do not yet know Christ. Unashamedly you kissed
your Crucifix and asked him to make you an apostle of apostles."[573].
Ten years had not passed since he wrote those lines, when this was fulfilled. Objective and
serious difficulties that were present did not stop him: Europe was still a wreck from the war;
economic problems were immense; forging the juridical path while overcoming all sorts of
obstacles ... and his health which left much to be desired. Yet his faith and generosity moved
mountains: thus, "in Rome and from Rome", as he liked to say, he began planting the seed of
Opus Dei worldwide.
The Founder, accompanied by Don Alvaro, made it his business to personally do the
"prehistory" of the apostolic work in almost every country of the Old Continent. As Bishop del
Portillo explained that, the prehistory means that, long before the first center of Opus Dei was
established in the various countries, our Father, with a lot of anticipation I have witnessed this
myself had fertilized that land with his prayers and mortifications; he had crossed cities,
prayed in churches, dealt with the Hierarchy, visited countless Marian shrines, so that, over
252

time, his children would find the field in his or her new country already plowed. Plowed and
planted, because, as he often said, he had sown lavishly on so many highways and byways of
these countries the seed of his Hail Marys, those songs of human love turned into prayer, his
aspirations, and his joyful penance full of faith. [574]
He traveled many thousands of kilometers of battered roads in uncomfortable cars. Those trips
were both Marian and penitential. Bishop Echevarra, who usually accompanied them in
successive years, explains, "In all those trips they never missed to visit some Marian shrines, to
place at the feet of the Virgin prayers for the Church, for the Pope, for priests, for the faithful, for
the apostolates of Opus Dei. Without wasting time, they went out of their way to spend the
necessary time in these Marian shrines, offering the sacrifice needed since it was no picnic
walking for miles on roads in very poor condition. Specifically they made visits to the shrines of
Loreto, Fatima, Lourdes, Mariazell, etc."[575]
They made their first steps beyond the borders of Italy
in late 1949. St. Josemara and Don Alvaro departed
on November 22 for Genoa, Milan, Como, Turin and
Bolzano. On the 29th, crossed the border over to
Austria, and stopped in Innsbruck, where they made
the acquaintance of the rector and some teachers of
the Catholic University of that city. On the 30th, they
entered Germany, and came to Munich, where
Cardinal Faulhaber welcomed the Founder with great
affection and asked that apostolic work of Opus Dei
already begin in Bavaria as soon as possible. On
December 1, they headed back home through
Innsbruck, Trento, Venice and Bologna. They arrived
in Rome on December 4 [576].

Figure 83: St. Josemaria and Don Alvaro in the


crossroads of Seefeld in their trip to Austria in
1955. St. Josemaria's prepared the apostolate in
the Old Continent by sowing Hail Mary's in the
streets of Europe. Photo credits:
josemariaescriva.info

Afterwards, over the years, they made many more


similar journeys: they were quick trips, as apostolic
missions are, which did not allow any room for
tourism. To give an idea of the pace of work they
imposed on themselves and the impetus they gave to
the apostolate in the respective countries, it would be
enough to take a quick glance at the schedule they
followed when they first went to England in the
summer of 1958 [577].

On July 23, the founder of Opus Dei, Don Alvaro and Don Javier Echevarra left Rome for
London by car, passing through Milan, Lucerne, and Paris; they arrived on August 4 [578]. It
was just over ten years since the beginning of the apostolic work in Britain.

253

During his stay in the capital of England, St


Josemaria had deeply intimate experience,
which he would later comment on in Rome,
during a meditation he preached to his
children: "A little over a month ago I was in
a country that I love very much. Its one
swarming with sects and heresies, and a
serious indifference to the things of God.
This whole panorama disconcerted me and
I felt incapable, powerless: Josemara,
here you can do nothing. I was right:
alone, I would achieve nothing; without
God, I would not even manage to lift a
straw from the floor. All my poor
ineffectiveness was so obvious, that I was
Figure 84: St. Josemaria and Don Alvaro in London, 1958. Photo
credits: josemariaescriva.info
almost sad; and that's not good. Why
would a child of God be sad? One could
get tired, pulling the cart as a faithful donkey; but sad, no. Sadness is a bad thing! Suddenly, in
the middle of a street where people from all over the world were coming and coming, I felt
swelling within me, in my heart, the strong arms of God: you can do nothing, but I can do
everything; you are ineptitude, but I am Omnipotence. I will be with you, and there will be
efficacy! We will bring souls to happiness, to unity, to the way of the Lord, to salvation! Here as
well, we will sow peace and abundant joy!" [579]
He understood that God reproached him affectionately. It
was as if He were saying, work more; apply more the
human means, because you can count on the help of
grace, which is always effective. The Founder of Opus Dei
responded to the divine motion with an impressive
apostolic activity. In just over a month, he pushed for the
setting up of the new headquarters of the Regional
Commission in England, he began the process for building
a student residence in Oxford, which would get along the
following year; and he began looking for a church in
London that could be entrusted to priests of Opus Dei.
For these efforts he leaned on Don Alvaro for support in a
special way in. As regards the church, they considered two
possibilities. "[In] one, which was close to the University of
Figure 85: Netherhall House, residence for
students in London inspired by St. Josemaria, London, (...) all ministers (...) said that there were bishops
and when the last one died, the world - no less ! would
1952. Photo credits: josemariaescriva.info
end. We wanted to see it, intending to take care of it,
though we had no money. We were not allowed to visit it for being Catholics. The second was
near Oxford Street, in Hannover Square. I exerted much effort to get the money, because the
Father asked me. But negotiations fell through."[580] The project did not work then, but rather
254

forty-seven years later, when the diocese of London entrusted to priests of the Prelature the
pastoral care of the church of Saint Thomas More.
During that period in England, Don Alvaro undertook another
initiative out of filial affection, which would impact on
thousands of souls with the passage of time. He mentioned in
July 1980, during a brief stay in London: "Our father and I
were walking along New Bond Street and I saw a photo
studio. I said, 'Father, we have no good picture of you; why
not have one taken? Yes, he replied; but have one taken of
yourself as well. We went in without an appointment or
anything. The studio was on the first floor and the
photographer was a little old man... We made some
arrangements, and came back the next day dressed in our
cassocks. He took our photographs, which were very good.
(...) The father was very serious. Whenever he was in fornt of
Figure 86: Roman Catholic Church of
the camera, he tended to put on that camera face: a face
St.
Thomas More was entrusted to the
thats sort official, serious. And that old photographer must
Prelature of Opus Dei by Cardinal
have thought we were crazy, because I made funny gestures,
Murphy-OConnor in 2005. The first
Parish priest is Fr. Gerald Sheehan.
until the Father smiled a little. The photographer took
Photo credits: ohmynews.com
advantage of that moment to take the picture." [581] Since
1975, that picture has been used in many editions of the prayer card for devotion to St.
Josemara.

Bishop Echevarra remembers they also made visits to


Westminster Abbey, to pray for the unity of Christians, and to
Canterbury, to pray before the relic (the head) of St. Thomas
More, in the Anglican Church of St. Dunstan [582].
On September 16 they headed back to Rome on a trip that took
them through Brussels, The Hague, Cologne and Zurich, where
they encouraged the then nascent apostolic work in those cities.
On September 30 they were back in Villa Tevere [583].
The furrow of Opus Dei was opening in these new countries,
fertilized by the prayer and penance of St. Josemara, with the
spirit of the Gospels. He could not provide the financial means
to those he sent to begin the Work for the simple reason that he
Figure 87: St. Josemaria and Don Alvaro did not have any. When time to leave came, he would say: "My
praying before the relic of St. Thomas children, I am sorry that I cant give you any material help. But I
More. Photo credits: opusdei.org.uk
give the best I have: a cross, an image of the Blessed Virgin,
and my father's blessing." [584] Then, from Rome, he proposed
opportune advice on governance, the best way to channel the efforts of those in the front line of
the apostolate in these new countries. He also wrote many letters to them [585], written in a
conversational tone that manifested a fathers prayer for his children and his desire to
255

accompany them in their everyday life and help them grow in faith. He encouraged them to
overcome the difficulties that logically accompanied starting in places very different from their
countries of origin. Frequently, the Founder started off the letters and Don Alvaro added a few
words, urging unity with St. Josemara all [586].
4. The definitive approval of Opus Dei
The approval of the Holy See and the universal scope afforded by the Decretum Laudis of 1947
facilitated the apostolic development of Opus Dei in other countries; but paradoxically it did not
end the "contradiction of the good." Indeed, it became more manifestly virulent. In a letter to his
children, dated December 8, 1949, the Founder wrote: "Since the end of 1947 - when I thought
that they would already be quiet - more severe, constant, and organized slanderous attacks
have risen!" [587] This time the eye of the storm was in Italy, where some ecclesiastics spread
the lie that the juridical approval received by the Opus Dei was only provisional, and that the
final approval would be denied it. [588]
Before this piece of gossip which called into question what Opus Dei had done until then, St.
Josemara considered carefully whether he would apply for that final approval of the Holy See
or, on the contrary, it was wiser not to make any moves at that point because it was clear that
some members of the Congregation for Religious saw secular institutes quite differently from
them, and it was possible these latter would attempt to distort the spirit that God wanted for
Opus Dei.
But the traps multiplied. So after considering everything in God's presence, he decided to
request for a new approval in order to obtain for the Work a "greater stability by its own right,
integrating into one unified document statements and rescripts of the Holy See obtained after
the Decretum Laudis and (...) a final papal sanction of the goodness of the institution, with the
full recognition by the Church that Opus Dei was a true path to holiness "[589].
In the aforementioned letter, dated December 8, 1949, the Founder wrote: "The final approval,
daughters and sons, will give a new stability, serve as a defensive weapon, facilitate the
apostolic work; and reaffirm the fundamental principles of the Work: secularity, sanctification of
work, the fact that we are ordinary citizens and, especially, especially in the spiritual part, our
belief that we are children of God." [590] From these words it appears, without a doubt, that the
crux of the matter was the recognition of the secular character of the members of the Work and
their apostolate.
As on previous occasions, St. Josemara requested the collaboration of Don Alvaro in drafting
the Codex of Opus Dei and the procedures involving the departments of the Holy See [591]. He
provided this assistance with his usual humility, and with the firm conviction that his role was
only second to St. Josemara, who was the repository of the foundational charism. The Founder
said that while he was writing the statutes, he asked Don Alvaro, who was reading them, if it
seemed to him that all was well-expressed. Whenever he made a suggestion on any matter - for
example, changing a word which did not affect the content - lvaro commented with respect,
"Father, do not mind me if you're not happy because you are the one who has the light of God."
[592]
256

The final approval of the Holy See came with the decree Primum inter, issued on June 16, 1950
[593], which included two very steps forward for Opus Dei: the possibility for married people to
be incorporated into the Work, and for diocesan priests to be associated with the Priestly
Society of the Holy Cross, without disturbing in the least their incardination in the diocese and
dependence on their Bishop [594].
FOOTNOTES:
[551] St. Josemara, Letter 14-IX-1951, n. Two., Cit. in Vzquez de Prada, A., The Founder of
Opus Dei, vol. III, op. cit., p. 317.
[552] See Diary of Villa Tevere, AGP series M.2.2, D 436-10, 436-11 and 436-12, entries of
those months.
[553] Del Portillo, , Spoken words 3-I-1948. AGP, Library, P01, 1977, 41.
[554] Cardinal Schuster urged that the Opus Dei begin its apostolic activity as soon as possible
in the Lombard Archdiocese: cf. Capucci, A., St. Josemara e il Blessed Ildefonso Schuster
(1948-1954), Studia et Documenta 4 (2010) pp. 215-254.
[555] On that day, the Founder found the means through which married persons could belong to
Opus Dei, as provided for by the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia. The bridges
over the River Po were still destroyed, and he had to cross the river on a bridge made of
barges. It was a day of thick fog, the visibility was nil, and passengers knew they were crossing
it only by the noise and rattle of the car. "It was a dark and foggy day ... And at the height of
Pavia, more or less, our Father exclaimed: They fit! The Lord enlightened him: he had found
the canonical solution, the path for the supernumeraries. Then came the approval of the Holy
See "(Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together 11-X-1980. AGP series B.1.4 T-801011).
[556] Cf Scorpiniti, A., The Calabria of Escriv. Viaggio sulle tracce the Fondatore dell'Opus Dei,
Progetto 2000, Cosenza 2007, p. 50-63 and 73-78.
[557] Bishop Luigi Tirelli notes that "in 1948, he was practically the only priest of the Work in
Rome, and the first Italians talked with him." (Testimony of Luigi Tirelli, AGP, APD T-15526, p .
5. The original text is in Italian).
[558] Diary of Villa Tevere, entry 11-V-1948 AGP series M.2.2, D 436-12.
[559] See Testimony of Mario Lantini, AGP, APD T-17237, p. 1 (the original text is in Italian).
[560] "Throughout the entire retreat a toothache constantly tormented Alvaro which he had been
suffering for some time; this made it necessary for Juan Bautista to substitute him on various
occasions." (Diary of Villa Tevere, AGP series M.2.2, D 436-14). The priest Juan Bautista
Torello, who had just moved to Rome is the substitute referred to.
[561] Testimony of Mario Lantini, AGP, APD T-17237, p. May.
[562] Ibid., P. Three.
257

[563] Vid. AGP, D-APD 18,964. The Counsellor - now called regional Vicar the territorial
circumscriptions in Opus Dei, which usually refers to the country itself. Don Alvaro was
Counsellor of Italy until May 6, 1951.
[564] "From the beginning, he struggled to learn in depth the Italian language, which he
mastered quite well, also in writing. That very passion for language, helped him to get more
friends or acquaintances, as they appreciated his efforts to be an Italian among the Italians."
(Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T-19544, p. 131-132 )
[565] Thus narrates Bishop Mario Lantini, then a young engineering student in Rome, "He
organized in detail the tasks that each of us tasks had to carry out: collecting addresses of
families, college students, etc." (Testimony of Mario Lantini, AGP, APD T-17237, p. 7).
[566] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together. AGP, Library, P02, 1994, 147.
[567] See Testimony of Mario Lantini, AGP, APD T-17237, p. 7.
[568] See Testimony of Luigi Tirelli, AGP, APD T-15526, p. 11.
[569] See Testimony of Mario Lantini, AGP, APD T-17237, p. 7.
[570] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together, 12-XII-1977. AGP, Library, P02, 1977,
1328.
[571] "July 21-Castelgandolfo. Laus Deo!" St. Josemaria writes in his agenda notebook (cf. St.
Josemara, Agenda, entry 21-VII-1949, D-18859). Pius XII gave the land in usufruct; later, in
1959, John XXIII granted ownership.
[572] Cfr.Testimony of Alberto Taboada del Rio, AGP, APD T-15743, p. 8 and Testimony of
Francesco Angelicchio, RHF, T-299, 1.
[573] St. Josemara, The Way, op. cit., n. 811.
[574] Del Portillo, Instrument of God. Del Portillo y Diez de Sollano, , Piedrafita Ponz, F.
Herranz and Rodrguez, G., In memory of Rev. Josemaria Escriva, Scepter, Princeton 1976. , p.
36.
[575] Echevarra Rodrguez, J., ibid., P. 159.
[576] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T-19544, p. 152.
[577] Cf Vazquez de Prada, A., The Founder of Opus Dei, vol. III, op. cit., pp. 340-349.
[578] Cf Agenda with chronological data of Saint Josemara Escriv de Balaguer (D-18859).
[579] St. Josemara, Meditation 2-XI-1958: AGP, P01 Library, 1981, 350-351.
[580] Del Portillo, ., Remarks at a family get-together, 19-VII-1980, AGP, B.1.4 T-800719
series.
258

[581] Ibid.
[582] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T-19544, p. 161.
[583] See Diary of Villa Tevere, entry 30-IX-1958, AGP, D-18016 APD.
[584] Vzquez de Prada, A., The Founder of Opus Dei, vol. III, op. cit., note 34 p. 324.
[585] One example among many is correspondence with Juan Larrea Holgun (1927-2006), the
first Ecuadorian faithful of Opus Dei, who happened to be the only member of the Work in his
country (cf. J. Larrea Two years in Ecuador (1952-1954): Memories about some letters of St.
Josemaria Escriva, Studia et Documenta 1 (2007), pp. 113-125.). Bishop Larrea was
Archbishop of Guayaquil and law professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador. For
his abundant scientific contributions, he was made a member of the National Academy of
History of Ecuador, the Ecuadorian Academy of Language, as well as academic correspondent
of the Royal Academy of the Language of Spain (cf. Vzquez, A., Juan Larrea: A ray of light on
gray, Palabra, Madrid 2009, p. 270).
[586] Dr. Diego Martnez Caro lived in Paris from October 1954 to 1956. On March 7, 1955 he
began living in a center of Opus Dei, on the Boulevard St. Germain. He remembers that "With
Don Alvaro, he wrote me periodically. St. Josemaria always wrote some lines in the letters that
gave us courage and pushed us to do an intense apostolate at the Sorbonne and the Faculty of
Medicine "(Testimony of Diego Martnez Caro, AGP, APD T-1279, p. 4).
[587] St. Josemara, Letter December 8, 1941, n. 4: cit. De Fuenmayor, A. Gomez-Iglesias, V.,
Illanes, JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei, op. cit., p. 221.
[588] As established by Article VII, paragraph 3, of the Lex peculiaris or regulations of the
Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia, the final approval of the Secular Institute and its
Constitutions should follow the approval ad experimentum: cf. AAS 39 (1947), pp. 114-124.
[589] In Fuenmayor, A. Gomez-Iglesias, V., Illanes, JL, The Canonical Path of Opus Dei, op.
cit., p. 221.
[590] St. Josemara, Letter December 8, 1949, n. 19, cit. ibid.
[591] See Testimony of Fernando Valenciano Polack, AGP, APD T-18489, p. 7.
[592] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T-19544, p. 639.
[593] For this topic, cf. Fuenmayor, A. Gomez-Iglesias, V., Illanes, JL, The Canonical Path of
Opus Dei, op. cit., pp. 235-237; Decree is in ibid., Appendix 31, p. 544-553.
[594] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez, AGP, APD T-19544, p. 121.

259

Chapter 13: Sorrows and joys


1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

A dangerous appendicitis
The most insidious trap against the Work
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita...22 [ 623]
Baculum et solacium vit nostr23
A desire of Pius XII: A Knight of the Order of Malta
A new sickness

Referring to the supernatural and human unity of affections and intentions that existed between
St. Josemara and Don Alvaro, Cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur said that even while possessing
a distinct character, Alvaro seemed like a duplicate of the Founder. However, he was not an
inert copy; rather he was a living and faithful portrait. He had sculpted the Founders teachings
into his mind, and, more importantly, he had assimilated his examples in his soul to the point
that one could not distinguish in Don Alvaro what was his own or what came from his contact
with the Father. One then understands that such a distinction could not be made: Alvaro made
deeply his own everything he learned from St. Josemara. He made it part of himself, his life. He
was the best example of the virtue of fidelity. [595]
Monsignor Antonio Maria Travia, whom Don Alvaro met in his early days in Rome, used a
similar image: He was like a photocopy of St. Josemaria, in the sense that he was a faithful
reproduction of the most characteristic features of the Founders charism. [596]
1. A dangerous appendicitis
In February 1950, Don Alvaro suffered from appendicitis. At first, the condition did not seem
very serious, but it got St. Josemara concerned enough, as can be read in these lines written to
his children in Madrid: Alvaro is in bed with an attack of appendicitis. Its not serious, but
bothersome enough. Today they took x- rays, and it seems that the doctors are suggesting
surgery. This thing is already quite advanced as you know, but these days the appendicitis has
become acute; and he has been silent, so as not to stop working, until he could not bear the
pain any longer. You already know him. Pray for him, because, even if its only a simple
operation, for us it is a serious setback. I do not have anyone who can replace him in carrying
out the heap of tasks he has in the Work. [597]
After several days of intense pain, the Founder wanted him to see Dr. Faelli, who realized that
an operation was urgently necessary. He was admitted into the clinic on February 22. Don
Alvaro remembered many years after that in those days, "the Father did not leave my side until
it was time for me to enter the operating room. I felt a few extremely sharp pains, and he tried
through out the time to distract and make me laugh a little. He began to improvise some kind of
a really funny dance in front of me. Later on he confided to me what he was thinking in those
moments. He knew that I was prepared for death, and was very close to God through His
22
23

Italian: In the middle of the way of our life


Latin: The staff and comfort of our life

260

mercy. I did not need, then, spiritual considerations to console or encourage me. On the other
hand, it was clear that I was not going to die; the only thing I needed was to forget the pain.
Thus, before me and another person, the Father had the great charity and humility to improvise
that dance. And it worked, because I began to laugh, I was enjoying myself, and I forgot my
pains. [598]
Don Alvaro underwent surgery on February26. Unfortunately, it was much more complicated
than expected. The surgeon was confronted with a difficult clinical picture it was retrocecal
appendicitis, with many adhesions and he decided to close him up without doing anything; it
seemed to be a case impossible to solve. However, Dr. Faelli, who was in the operating room,
told his colleague, "This man is my brother, and therefore you have to see this surgery through."
Thank God, the surgeon changed his mind and the operation went well. [599]
As the whole procedure took longer than expected, it was necessary to increase the dose of
anesthesia. For this reason, it took longer than usual for Don Alvaro to regain consciousness
after the operation. It was in these circumstances that an incident happened which had a clear
spiritual meaning. Encarnacin Ortega narrates it: "After the surgery he was taken to his room,
and the surgeon, approaching the bedside, began to call his name to wake him up: Don Alvaro!
Don Alvaro! But he remained still, with no sign of having heard. Then the Father, from the foot
of the bed, said softly: Alvaro, my son! And Don lvaro opened his eyes. When he told us this
story, the Father said proudly, Even while anesthetized Don Alvaro obeys." [600]
The story is completed by Joan Masi who wrote about another incident. "One day after the
surgery, our Father asked me to accompany him to visit the sick. In that room there were only
the three of us, including Don lvaro who was still delirious (...). He kept repeating this phrase: I
want to work with the Father, with all my might, to the end of my life. As he was saying these
words over and over again, our Father and I were overcome with emotion, and we had to leave
the room almost in tears." [601]
2. The most insidious trap against the Work
After the final approval of Opus Dei by the highest Authority of the Church, one would have
thought that the attacks directed against the Work by some ecclesiastics would finally
disappear. However, within months, the devil came back to unleash another attack: perhaps
even more dangerous than those made in previous years, because it was going for the head.
People outside of Opus Dei set up a plot so that the Supreme Pontiff would expel from the Work
its very own Founder. To make a close analysis of the facts is beyond the scope of this book
[602]; it would be enough to set out a brief summary.
On April 1951 five Italian parents instigated by a religious sent a complaint to the Pope
alleging that their children, ever since these got in contact with Opus Dei, "had lost the moral
values on which they had built their childrens education." They appealed to the Roman Pontiff
to remedy this situation. On learning of this denunciation, as was his usual reaction in these
circumstances he prayed, forgave, kept silent, and did reparation - St Josemaria decided to
resort primarily to supernatural means. On May 14, he consecrated the families of the faithful of
the Work to the Holy Family of Nazareth, asking for gaudium cum pace, i.e., joy and peace, for
261

the relatives of the members of Opus Dei. Immediately the fruits of the consecration became
apparent because within two days one of the complainants withdrew his signature from the
document to be signed; others also realized soon after that their concerns were unfounded and
stopped putting obstacles to the Christian vocation of their children. So the storm passed.
Soon after, some influential ecclesiastics of the Roman Curia, who did not accept the spirit of
Opus Dei and the secularity of its members sought to divide the Work into two entities - one for
women and another for men - and leave it headless by expelling the Founder and President
General [603]. The maneuvers were carried out in secret, but for some unexplainable reason,
St. Josemara perceived that something was afoot against the Work. Despite not knowing any
concrete data about this insidious plan, he began to experience great interior anxiety. While not
aware of what exactly was happening, but he saw noticeable signs symptoms that the devil
was moving: "I do not know what's wrong, but something is happening. I'm like a roaring lion
(...), keeping watch so that the devil does not bite us," he wrote [604]. Among these symptoms
a few may be mentioned. Some archbishops, for example, Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo, and
Cardinal Segura of Seville, who until then were enthusiastic that Opus Dei would begin apostolic
work apostolic in their dioceses, started to show an open antipathy. Someone from Rome had
been busy sowing discord among them.
In the summer of 1951, St.
Josemara remained in Rome
as he did the previous
summer. In the midst of his
interior unease, having no one
to turn to on the earth, he went
to his Heavenly Mother [605].
In the first place, he requested
all his children repeat often the
aspiration Cor Mari
dulcissimum, iter para tutum!
[606] ("Sweetest Heart of
Figure 88: St. Josemaria renewing the consecration to the Sweetest Heart of Mary.
Photo credits: surioctavo.blogspot.com

Mary, prepare for us a safe


path!"). Then, on August 9, he
sent them a letter informing them that, on the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, he would go
to the Shrine of Loreto to consecrate Opus Dei to the Sweetest Heart of Mary, and he begged
them to join him spiritually in that act. He left Rome with Don Alvaro by car on the morning of
August 14, spent the night in Ancona, and on the 15th, at 9:00 a.m., said Mass in the Holy
House [607]. Don lvaro celebrated Mass after him, and it was during this time that the
Founder, remaining on his knees in the narrow corridor behind the altar, made the consecration.
He returned to Rome much at peace. However, he continued praying to the Mother of God. On
August 21, as always accompanied by Don Alvaro, he went to the Marian shrine of Pompeii,
and the next day, the 22nd, they were at Divino Amore in Rome. On October 6 and 7 they were
in Lourdes, on the 9th in Pilar, and, finally, on the 19th in Fatima.

262

Meanwhile, in September, Cardinal Schuster of


Milan wanted to talk to some members of Opus Dei
who lived in his city. He asked: - How is the Father?
They answered that, thank God, he was doing quite
well. They did not realize that holy Cardinal wanted
to convey message of warning.
Several more months passed until, on January 5,
1952, Don Alvaro del Portillo, as Procurator General
of Opus Dei, received an official letter from the
Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Religious ,
Monsignor Larraona, in which he was asking for a
copy of the Constitutions of Opus Dei and the
Internal Rules of the Administration, with a written
explanation doctrinal and practical of the rules of
the Institute in its two Sections, as well as the
concrete way that the unique collaboration of these
Sections was sanctioned by the Constitutions. [608]
Don Alvaro sent his reply the next day, January 6,
enclosing a copy of the Statutes of Opus Dei and the
Internal Rules of the domestic Administration, as
well as a ten-page document in which he explained,
exhaustively, how the men and women in the Work
lived separation. The document also explained the
rules governing the relationships between the
members of the two Sections.

Figure 89: Cardinal Ildefonso Schuster of Milan was a


loyal supporter of Opus Dei. The holy prelate was
later beatified by St. John Paul II on May 12, 1996.
Photo credits: it.wikipedia.org

In recounting this event in his biography of the Founder of Opus Dei, the historian Vazquez de
Prada asks, "Why ask for a copy of the particular law of Opus Dei? (...) Had it not been
scrupulously and carefully examined, studied, approved, and sanctioned? It is evident that the
Statutes obtained the nihil obstat of the Holy Office in October 1943, and were later subjected to
rigorous scrutiny by the Sacred Congregation of Religious on the occasion of its diocesan
erection in 1943; and again upon granting it the Decretum laudis in 1947; and yet again in 1950
before giving the final approval to Opus Dei. [609] And that domestic service carried out by the
women in the administrations of the centers of Opus Dei: had it not been specifically blessed
and enriched with indulgences by Pius XII in the Papal Brief Mirifice de Ecclesia of 1947?"
[610]. Obviously, a plot against the Work was being concocted.
On January 15, Cardinal Schuster reiterated to the members of the Work in Milan, "Does the
Founder now have a cross hes carrying?" without adding any explanation. On February 18, he
could not wait any longer and warned them again, this time more clearly: "But isnt he bearing a
big cross on his shoulder right now? Tell him in my behalf to remember his countryman, St.
Joseph Calasanz, and to start moving." [611]. The Cardinal was referring to a well-known event

263

in the life of this saint: in his very old age, because of a slander, he was tried by an
ecclesiastical court and expelled from the religious congregation he had founded.
Upon receiving that notice, St. Josemara understood perfectly the snare they were plotting: to
behead and split the Work into two distinct institutions for men and women. With that
information, he prepared a letter to the Pope, dated March 12, and entrusted it to Cardinal
Tedeschini who held the office of Protector of Opus Dei [612]. It was agreed that he would give
the letter to Pius XII, who would read it a week later. In that document, the Founder explained
the spirit of Opus Dei and its manner of carrying out its apostolate, while denouncing with
charity, but without mincing words the intrigues some individuals had started behind the
Roman Pontiff.
Undoubtedly, it was a bold step, but, as Vzquez de Prada noted, "It was necessary for the
message that would reach the Pope to be straightforward and clear, because they were many
reasons to suspect that those who were pulling the strings of this dark plot, had direct access
directly to the office of Pontiff" [613]. Don lvaro insisted on writing his signature next to the
Founders: it was yet another act of human and supernatural loyalty, and of faith in the divinity of
the Work [614]. It was also a way of affirming that the entire Opus Dei was united to the
Founder.
When Pius XII heard the letter read by Cardinal Tedeschini, he exclaimed: "Ma chi mai ha
pensato prendere a nessun provvedimento?" [615] ("But who would have thought of taking such
action?") The Pope had never considered the possibility of taking any action against Opus Dei
or against its Founder, and immediately the serious ambush was frustrated. St. Josemaria had
arrived in time to grind the insidious operation to a halt.
But still the persecution did not cease that which the Founder called the contradiction of the
good. Moreover, humanly speaking, in mid-1952, the situation was more difficult than ever. On
top of the economic distress that the unsustainable debts from the restructuring of Villa Tevere
were causing, a theological misunderstanding was added further. Don Alvaro explained this,
years later, during a family gathering. "There were obstacles, much more serious than the
material: intellectual and spiritual. There were times when Opus Dei was wearily opening its
path, and some people did not understand the spiritual and legal phenomenon that the Lord had
raised in the middle of the world. The devil was determined to make war, moving what our
Father - with his superabundance of charity - called the contradiction of the good, which is like a
seal on the works of God. Certain people, putantes obsequium se praestare Deo24 (cf. Ioann .
XVI, 2), zealously slandered the Work and the Father. Our Founder did not care about attacks
on his person; what grieved him was the offense to God these attacks could carry, and also the
fact that - without realizing it these men were playing on the side of the devil. They were
spreading lies that, although they didnt take away our serenity, sucked out from us precious
time, which we could have spent on the apostolate; instead we were using it to dissipate the
smokescreen that prevented others from seeing our spirit clearly and transparently. So our
Father asked all his children to repeat the short prayer: Cor Jesu Sacratissimum, dona nobis
pacem!"[616]
24

Latin: thinking that they are rendering a service to God. (John 16:2)

264

As on previous occasions, St. Josemara went to Heaven for aid. On October 26 - that year it
was the feast of Christ the King - he consecrated Opus Dei to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. It
was a simple ceremony, officiated in a chapel of Villa Tevere which was still under construction,
and attended by only two people: Don Alvaro and Francisco Vives.
Outside Rome problems
arose as well which, once
again, became
opportunities that
highlighted, the expertise
and skill of Don Alvaro.
That same year, 1952, he
had to travel to Ireland
because the Archbishop of
Dublin, Archbishop John
Charles Mc Quaid did not
want to grant the
permission to erect a center
of Opus Dei in his diocese.
To seek the permission of
the Archbishop, St.
Josemara first sent Jos
Ramn Madurga, who had
Figure 90: Archbishop John Charles Mc Quaid (right), who was unmoved by the other
resided in that country for
members of Opus Dei sent to plead with him, was immediately won over by Don
three years, from 1947 to
Alvaro. Photo credits: thefarsight2.blogspot.com
1950, before being
ordained. Afterwards he sent Don Pedro Casciaro, and finally, Don Jos Mara Hernndez
Garnica. Even the Nuncio in Ireland had supported the request. But it was useless: Archbishop
Mc Quaid proved immovable.
So, in August, the Founder asked Don Alvaro asked to go to the island of St. Patrick to explain
anew to the Archbishop the nature of the Work and its apostolates. It was not easy mission.
"Archbishop Mc Quaid received him, willing to listen, but he had some ideas that had caused
some misunderstanding. Yet, he listened with great interest to the explanation offered by Don
Alvaro, and so pleased was he by the latters simplicity, by the clarity of his explanations, by the
love and veneration which he showed him, that from that moment he began to support and
appreciate all the good that the faithful of the Work contributed to his Archdiocese." [617]
Jos Ramn Madurga recounts that "Don Alvaro won him over in an instant. He was invited to
lunch in the Archbishops house a rare thing; they became friends; he arranged everything
(...). This incident was so surprising that this has endured in my memory. I have before me
while writing an article which appeared in a Dublin newspaper, (the formerly Protestant) The
Irish Times, dated May 4, 1994, on Don Alvaro del Portillo. I reproduce verbatim a couple of
paragraphs: As one of the hands that rocked lvaro del Portillos cradle was that of his Irish
nanny, it came as no surprise to see how much he felt at home in Ireland when I met him in
265

1952. He had come to see Archbishop Mc Quaid about the setting up of Opus Dei centres in the
city. They got on so well that the Archbishop invited him home for dinner.25 [618] Its no wonder
that I still remember this well forty -two years later." [619]
The effect of Don Alvaros meeting with Archbishop Mc Quaid was the granting of the
permission to open not one but two centers in Dublin: one for women and one for men. [620]
In those days in Dublin, an Irish priest who learned of his trip to the Island expressed a desire to
speak with Don Alvaro. For reasons still unknown, he had learned that Don Alvaro was a doctor
in canon law, and he wanted to ask him a question. He told him that he had fought in the war,
and "when the order came to cease fighting, he, who was chaplain, went fighting. It must have
been around 1916 or 1917. The poor old man was concerned whether or not he was
excommunicated, and he came to consult with me. I reassured him. By chance I talked to the
bishop, who told me that there was no penalty at all." [621]
Something similar happened four years later in Portugal. Cardinal Cerejeira, Patriarch of Lisbon,
knew Opus Dei and had given the permission to erect two centers of the Work in 1951 and
1952. Suddenly, in early 1955, misinformed by some people, he said he was withdrawing his
permission for Opus Dei to continue its apostolic work in his diocese. After several failed
attempts to clarify the situation, St Josemaria sent Don Alvaro to Lisbon to speak with the
Cardinal. They spoke at length on May16 and 17, and again on July 30. As a result of these
meetings, the Work was given permission to build a third center in the city [622].
3. Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita... [623]
Don Alvaros life in Rome
continued its usual rhythm:
carrying out his tasks of
governance in the Work,
financial matters related to
the construction of Villa
Tevere, attention to the
students of the Roman
College, pastoral work...
Throughout 1952 and 1953
they made frequent visits to
Salto di Fondi, where
Carmen Escriv, Saint
Josemaras sister, was
attending to the domestic
chores: Don Alvaro tried to
Figure 91: The memorial stone put up at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fair Love in
Molinoviejo to commemorate the silver anniversary of Opus Dei. Photo credits:
padrejosemedina.blogspot.com
25

The original article was in English, hence the text in italics.

266

organize these outings with the Founder, wishing to make him rest.
They spent the summer of 1953 in Rome and, among other tasks, they went to Castelgandolfo
on many evenings to provide means of formation to the faithful of the Work attending a course
of theology at Villa delle Rose. On September 24 he went to Spain by car and made a stop at
Lourdes. On October 2, the silver anniversary of the founding of Opus Dei, St. Josemara
wanted to celebrate this anniversary with a group of his older sons in the retreat house of
Molinoviejo. These were days of gratitude to God and His Blessed Mother for so many graces
received in those 25 years of work . They also exchanged ideas and experiences with each
other about the progress of the apostolates in different countries. To commemorate those days,
a memorial stone with the following inscription was put up: "Here in Molinoviejo, and in this
chapel of Mary, Mother of Fair Love, after spending days of prayer, silence, and work in peace
and joy, the Founder of Opus Dei, with his General Council and representatives of the various
regions who came from distant lands of Europe, Africa, and America to celebrate the silver
anniversary of the Work on October 2, 1953, renewed the consecration of Opus Dei to Sweetest
Heart of Mary, which had been made in the Holy House of Loreto on August 15, 1951."
On October 8, they left for Coimbra, Oporto and Lisbon. On the 14th, they returned to
Molinoviejo, and finally on the 21st of the same month they made their way back to Rome via
Bilbao, Paris, Milan, Varese, and Lugano-Locarno, where they stopped for several days. In
Milan and Switzerland they made some visits to ask for financial aid. On November 7 they were
back in the Italian capital.
On March 11, 1954 Don
Alvaro turned 40. The
anniversary was an invitation
for him to take stock of his
life so far. Some of his
thoughts could be gleaned
from a letter he sent to his
mother days after. "I have
enough work, thank God,
and I am in perfect health:
every time, I remember less
that I have a liver [624]. But
at the same time, I notice
Figure 92: A portion of the letter of Don Alvaro to his mother, Doa Clementina.
Photo credits: Saxum: Remembering Alvaro del Portillo
more that I am too fat,
because as soon as I walk a
bit, I feel each time the weight of more than the necessary kilos. Nevertheless, despite the fact
that Ive crossed my little Rubicon of 40 years a month ago, I am each time getting younger and
happier. But I'm getting old, Mom! I guess - better yet, I know - that on March 11 you
remembered to pray especially for me, as I do for you.
"I would like to tell you details of my life, but there is little to say. In the mornings, I am dedicated
to working primarily in the Roman Curia: affairs of the Holy See; reports on matters that the
267

Sacred Congregations entrust to me for study; interviews with cardinals and prelates of the
Curia, etc. (...) Through these, I have the joy of putting my two cents in the things that concern
the universal Church, from its very center, which is the Holy See. In the evenings, I work
exclusively, as a general rule, on things of the Work. Concerns, of course, are not lacking: but
they are concerns that do not cause worry, because I know that I have a lot of help. Specifically,
(I count on) your prayers for the Work and for me.
A unique episode [626], related to the acute diabetes suffered by Saint Josemara for more than
ten years, happened on April 27 of that year. Bishop del Portillo himself narrates the story. "The
doctor who treated him, Dr. Faelli, had prescribed a new brand of delayed acting insulin,
indicating that we put a hundred and ten units. As usual, I was responsible for giving the
injection. I had made sure to read the labels of that medicine carefully, and I read in the patient
information leaflet that each dose of this new type of insulin was equivalent to more than twice
the normal. It seemed to me that a (dose of) hundred ten units was too much, and as high
doses of insulin increased our Founders migraines, I reduced the dosage, despite the doctor's
orders. However, it unleashed an allergic type of reaction of which I was unfamiliar. I spoke with
Dr. Faelli, and he told me to continue with the treatment.
"On April 27 I injected the insulin five or ten
minutes before eating. Then we went to the dining
room. As the diet which the Father followed was
very strict, at that time only the two of us had lunch
together, so as not to embarrass anyone or force
them to eat less. After all, they were served food
that the Father could not take, such as potatoes,
pasta, etc. Shortly after blessing the table, while
gasping for breath, he exclaimed: lvaro, the
absolution! I did not understand him; I could not
understand it. God allowed that I did not
understand his words. Then he repeated: the
absolution! And for the third time within a few
seconds, he said: the absolution! Ego te absolvo...
and at that moment he lost consciousness. I
remember that at first he turned intensely red and
then beige, an earthy color. And he looked really
shrunk." [627]
St. Josemaria had undergone a very serious
Figure 93: The miraculous cure of St. Josemarias
anaphylactic shock. In these really difficult
diabetes occurred on the Feast of our Lady of
circumstances, Don Alvaro did not lose his peace.
Montserrat. Photo credits: en.wikipedia.org
The first thing he did was to attend to St.
Josemara spiritually by imparting absolution.
Then, while he made indications for someone to urgently call a doctor, he introduced some
sugar into the Founders mouth, because he thought it was an acute insulin-induced
hypoglycemia. Inexplicably, after ten minutes, the Founder came back to his senses, except that
268

he was blind for several hours. From then on he was healed from the serious diabetes that had
afflicted him for years. [628]
In the following weeks, mysteriously, all symptoms of the disease gradually disappeared. It was
an unexpected event that Don Alvaro did not stop highlighting. He wrote many letters in the
succeeding months to some of the oldest members of the Work who knew of the Founders
sickness. Through these, he kept them abreast of the improvement of St. Josemarias health up
until he could finally affirm the cure of the diabetes. [629]
It was thus that the many years of the Founders illness ended years in which Don Alvaro had
put all his effort to take care of St. Josemaria and to relieve him, as far as possible, of its
inevitable inconveniences. He had learned to give injections, regulate insulin doses, know the
different types of necessary medicines and diet food... all with great naturalness and, at the
same time, professionalism. [630]
The year 1955 was a sad year for Don Alvaro. On March 10, a Thursday, his mother died
suddenly in Madrid because of a stroke. It was something quite unexpected because Doa
Clementina was in good health. The news arrived in the evening. "On March 10, 1955 - Don
Alvaro explained - a telegram arrived with the news of my mothers death. Our Father read it
and, as it was night time, he did not communicate the sad news, so I could sleep peacefully.
The next day he showed me the telegram and said: It came last night; I wanted you to sleep
and so I have waited until now; but I've said in your behalf those prayers you were going to say.
And moreover, Ive also said my own for your mother; and now lets celebrate Mass for the soul
of your mother, who was so good." [631]
To the pain that a child naturally feels in these circumstances was added his inability to travel to
Madrid in time to arrive for his mothers funeral. A few days later he wrote a long letter to his
siblings, which was a great source of comfort for them:
"Dear all: You can assume that the pain you feel for moms death is likewise mine. We know
that life brings this inexorable law of death, but this was so unexpected! And even if we had
expected it, the void left by the absence of Mom is tremendous. I had always known that priests
- who must do without so many legitimate human affections licit for others - put their heart, with
all their need for love, on their mother. I have realized, from personal experience, how true this
is. So you can imagine the pain that this sad news has brought me. I learned about it when I
was about to say Mass at seven -fifteen, so I got to celebrate it for her, almost immediately after
she died. I have never prayed with greater devotion, and the words of the liturgy have never
given me more peace: vita mutatur non tollitur. For those who believe in God and try to pattern
their behavior according to their faith, death is not the loss of ones life, but rather the beginning
of Life.
"And in all the years that the Lord wanted to keep her on earth for us, Mom was a real saint. I
know of truly heroic details, lived naturally, with deep humility, without anyone noticing. We all
know of her desire to do everything well, of her resignation to the many sufferings she had to
undergo, her self-giving to family duties which, for her, was her way of surrendering herself to
God, of fulfilling her vocation to be a saintly mother. Therefore, we can be certain that she has
269

received their reward. The Lord has given me an assurance that is almost more physical than
moral, that Mom is now in heaven. And this assurance brings with it a profound peace, although
not without pain. If they were not strange words I would say that it gives joy amid sorrow. But my
grief is immense indeed: not for Mom, but for myself, for all the good I did not do, and for
everything I may have done wrong. For all this I ask pardon from God, from Mom, and from you
for my faults against Mom.
"Of course I wanted to immediately leave Madrid, as the Father told me. But I could not get
there until Sunday night, and I had to offer to God the pain of not being able to kiss our Mother
one last time and to embrace you as well." [632]
It seems as if the Lord wanted to ask from him the sacrifice of being physically separated from
his family in moments of special suffering. This had been the case when his father died during
the Spanish Civil War, and in January 1948, when his brother Pepe died after a long illness. The
same would happen in February 1956 upon the death of his brother Paco.
In each case lvaro offered up a lot of prayers for his deceased relatives, comforted those
living, and also offered to God the pain that came from separation from his loved ones. Yet he
never stopped working. St. Josemaria made reference to this fact to members of the Work who
were in Rome in 1948, when Don Alvaro's brother, Pepe, died. In the diary of Villa Tevere one
reads: "In the morning lvaro was joking with and talking to the young members of the Work.
Then he spent five or six hours meeting with and talking to Monsignor Fernandez. And the rest
of the day he was working intensely with the Father. We would not have noticed anything out of
the ordinary had not the Father told us afterwards that Pepe was a brother whom Alvaro loved
in a special way and to whom he had always been very close since childhood. The Father told
us that 'he kept the storm within' and even while bearing a crushing grief he had spent the whole
day with the Father with his usual cheerfulness," [633 ] a fact which did not mean that his grief
at the news was any less.
Family joys and sorrows were ever present to him. As soon as he could to travel to Madrid, he
took the opportunity to be with his siblings and to baptize a nephew who had just been born.
[634] In May he once again spent several days in the Spanish capital to greet some relatives.
Also, from around these years his letters to his siblings, in-laws, and nephews became more
frequent, as if he took up the role of being the head of the family from where he was, after the
death of Doa Clementina.
Meanwhile, Saint Josemara, driven by his fatherly and motherly heart, looked for some way for
his son Alvaro to take a little breather. He thought that a short trip to see Opus Dei in Milan
could serve as a form of rest. He wrote the following in a letter to Madrid: "Today I have forced
him [Alvaro] to go to Milan tomorrow so we could celebrate Mass in Loreto - a total of around
four or six days." [635]
The trip took longer than initially expected, probably because the Founder realized that, besides
being a break for Don Alvaro, it allowed them to meet many faithful of the Work. They went to
Milan on April 22, and on the 24th they went to Switzerland, to pray to the Virgin at the shrine of
Einsiedeln. They later proceeded to Zurich, Basel, Lucerne, and Geneva; on the 30th they
270

arrived in Germany. Originally,


they had planned to cross from
Switzerland to Austria, but at the
last moment they changed their
itinerary. Alfonso Par tells what
happened: "On May 2, 1955 our
Father, accompanied by Don
Alvaro and Giorgio, who was
driving the car, showed up in
Bonn without previous notice. It
was a surprise. ( ... ) They were
not coming to Germany; rather,
they had wanted to go to
Switzerland and Austria. And so
they did, but passing through
Figure 94: Don Alvaro with St. Josemaria in Lake Lucerne (Switzerland), 1956.
Photo credits: Saxum, Remembering Alvaro del Portillo
Bonn, where they stayed from
May 2 to 4. The heart of Don Alvaro led him to convince our Father to take this detour of more
than a thousand miles! He brought our Father to us, so that he could encourage us, confirm us
in faith, and give new impetus to our apostolic work. It was great. It was the first visit of our
Father to his children in Germany. We have to thank the heart of our then older brother, Don
Alvaro, for that."[636]
In Germany, they also passed through Cologne, Mainz, and Munich. On May 7, they arrived in
Vienna, where they remained until the 10th. The city was still divided into four zones - French,
English, Russian and American - as a result of World War II. In the streets they found soldiers of
the Soviet Army, who brought back memories of their sufferings in Spain during the civil conflict.
In The Graben, a square near the cathedral, they discovered a monument in honor of the
Blessed Trinity which awakened in them a lot of devotion.
In the Austrian capital something happened that involved local customs and manners. After
some business they had to do, they wanted to return to the hotel where they were staying,
located in the American zone; but they were lost. "I knew Don Alvaro narrated in 1980 that if
we reached a street, from there I would orient myself and asked - it was dark - the first man we
would find. I began speaking to him when our Father warned me: not this one since he seems
drunk. I spoke to him in Castilian, but my interlocutor, who was completely drunk, must have
understood something despite the wine, and told me, in German: 'I'm Viennese, and therefore
Catholic; and we are all very friendly to foreigners, so will not only tell you where that street is,
but I will accompany you, provided that that gentleman - referring to our Father - shut up. I
translated it for our Founder, who was amused, and allowed the man to lead us." [637] On May
12, after another visit to the Marian shrine in Loreto, they arrived in Rome.
On July 7 he celebrated the 20th anniversary of admission to the Work. That date was a motive
of thanksgiving for Don Alvaro, and so he renewed his determination to reach holiness. In a few
lines he wrote that day, one reads: "Today I mark 20 remarkable years since I asked for

271

Admission: ask the Lord that those that follow how many they may be may be spent a little
better." [638]
His health did get better as compared to his early years in Rome, but they continued causing
problems from time to time [639]. The doctor constantly recommended to St. Josemara and
Don Alvaro to spend some time in Montecatini, near Florence, to benefit from its therapeutic hot
springs. In September of that year, they were finally able to carry our the doctors prescription,
and they went to the spa on September 2 and stayed there until the 17th. It was, at least, a
change of scenery and a few days of rest for both, eve if the treatment itself did not seem to
enthuse them. "I had never seen such a spectacle, (...) although I'm still having fun all morning
seeing the hundreds and hundreds of people, all walking with a glass of purging solution in
hand, which they drink in small gulps. They say it leaves one refreshed, but it didnt work for us."
[640]
Christmas 1955 was bittersweet in Villa Tevere. The joy of the season was marred by the
sudden death of Ignacio Salord, a Spanish student of the Roman College of the Holy Cross,
who did not survive an emergency operation for stomach ulcers. He died on December23. St.
Josemaria accompanied him several times in the hospital, along with Don Alvaro, who wrote the
24 members of the General Council residing in Spain: "This morning we held the funeral of
Ignacio Salord. This Christmas Eve he will undoubtedly be already in heaven because he was
good and faithful until his death, which is what the Father prays to the Lord for all of us to be.
Half an hour after he died, the Gregorian Masses began: and the Father and I have offered for
his soul the faculty of the privileged altar [641]. Yet though convinced that now he will be
pushing the Work from Heaven, we still truly suffer. Thanks be to God, in the Work we have
hearts." [642]
4. Baculum et solacium vitae nostrae
This phrase ("the staff and comfort of our life"), which the Vulgate26 puts on the lips of the
mother of Tobias referring to her son, could very well be said by St. Josemaria of Don Alvaro.
Indeed, the Founder shared with him all his joys, with the certainty of being able to lean on his
fidelity. Through Don Alvaros full identification with the spirit of the Father and generosity with
which he took upon the less pleasant or even annoying concerns, he was for St. Josemaria an
invaluable support and source of rest [643]. Moreover, the Founder was convinced that God
spoke to him though his son: this was what Jos Ramn Madurga heard from the Founder
himself in Molinoviejo in 1948. In the course of a meeting (...), with the end of putting down in
writing certain praxes and notes of experience, our Founder wanted to gather some ideas; and,
for this, he wanted to hear out what we had to say. I was really struck when upon hearing a
suggestion made by Don Alvaro, he replied in a low voice, but we all heard anyway: My son,
whatever you tell me, comes from God. [644]
On August 22, 1956 the second General Congress of Opus Dei began at Einsiedeln
(Switzerland), at the Shrine of the Virgin [645]. As a result of that meeting the General Council
was transferred from Madrid to Rome [646], and Don Alvaro was appointed Secretary General
26

Vulgate: Latin version of the Bible written by St. Jerome

272

[647] and Custos of St. Josemara. Custos is the term used in the Statutes of Opus Dei for the
two people tasked to be with the Prelate to help him in his spiritual and material needs. Don
Alvaro was the Custos of the Founder for everything related to his spiritual life. Around that time,
when Don Alvaro wasnt present, St. Josemara remarked that if anyone in Opus Dei could be
considered a collaborator in the tasks of the Founder, it would be precisely Don Alvaro del
Portillo [648].
In fact, it can be said that
since 1939, even without
a formal appointment,
Don Alvaro played that
role with dedication and
affection; and he did so
not from sheer affectation
or expediency and selfinterest. His support for
the Founder was full of
respect and filial love, but
also of fortitude, as
shown in the following
episode narrated by Pilar
Urbano: "One day, during
Figure 95: The shrine of Our Lady in Einsiedeln, where the 2nd General Congress of Opus
Dei was held. Photo credits: josemariaescriva.info

the construction of the


buildings of Villa Tevere,
[St. Josemara] was chatting with several of his daughters while showing them the progress of
the work being done. Alvaro del Portillo was there as well. At one point, the Father stopped and,
while leaning on the railing of a scaffold, he confided to them: 'Today Don Alvaro gave me a
correction. And it took me a lot of effort to accept it. It was such that in no time I walked to the
oratory and, once there: Lord, lvaro is right, and not me. But immediately: No, Lord, this time
I'm right... lvaro doesnt let anything go... and it does not seem to be affection, but cruelty. And
later: Thank you Lord for placing me close to my son Alvaro, who loves me so much... that he
does not let anything go. He turned to Del Portillo who was behind him and had listened in
silence. He smiled and said, God bless you, Alvaro, my son!" [649]
For years the faithful of Opus Dei were aware of the special role that Don Alvaro played beside
the Founder, and that St. Josemara was preparing him to be his successor. [650] Moreover, on
one particular occasion in 1948, the details of which cannot be narrated here, the Founder
wanted to make a graphic testimony that such was his wish. Pilar Urbano also narrates it: "The
Father made a strange request to a son of his who was an amateur photographer. He wanted to
take a very special photo, at that time a rather modern one. It showed what he had been
thinking for some time. No face was going to appear: only a close up of the hands of lvaro del
Portillo, with outstretched palms, receiving from the Father's hands little wooden donkeys... The
donkey - meek, humble, and hardworking - has always been an animal loved with affection by

273

everyone in the Work. The Father saw himself as a donkey, ut iumentum."[651] The meaning of
the gesture was clear and needed no explanation.
In 1957 a particularly painful
opportunity to express his support
to the Founder presented itself. In
March of that year Carmen, the
sister of St. Josemara who had
contributed generously to the
apostolates of Opus Dei, was
diagnosed with advanced cancer.
Doctors gave her two months
more to live [652], and Don Alvaro
was responsible for breaking the
news to the patient, who received
it with supernatural vision. "Alvaro
transmitted the sentence to me,"
Figure 96: St. Josemarias hand putting wooden donkeys on the palms of Don she commented afterwards with
Alvaro. Photo credits: Saxum: Remembering Alvaro del Portillo
good humor. [653]
Throughout the weeks of her illness, lvaro was again next to the Founder, accompanying him
in his suffering and in his prayer. He likewise made sure that Carmen was well attended to
materially as well as spiritually. "Our Founder asked me to find among my friends in Rome a
refined and pious priest who could assist her spiritually during those months. I spoke with Father
Fernndez, an Augustinian Recollect, who was a person with a deep interior life. He accepted
the assigment and, after agreeing with Camen, he came in to visit her once a week; we were
going to look for him by car." [654]
In mid-May, accompanied by Don Alvaro and Don Javier Echevarra, St. Josemara went to
Florence thinking of doing his retreat there, and then move on to France to address some
concerns in the apostolate. Taking advantage of the situation he decided to pass by Lourdes to
ask the Lord, through the intercession of Our Lady, for the cure of his sister. But her sickness
ran its course, and on June 18 Carmen received the Anointing of the Sick. St. Josemara
wanted to personally administer it, and began to pray the prayers of the Rite. However, after a
few sentences, he was overcome with emotion and could not continue. Upon the Founders
request, Don Alvaro took over and finished the administration of the sacrament. Afterwards, the
Founder addressed himself to the women of Opus Dei, who had been present at that time, to
apologize for giving them bad example - in his words - by crying. Immediately, with words filled
with filial spirit, Don Alvaro told him, "Father, you have taught us that we have to have a heart,
and on this occasion you have shown us that you have one: in this you have also given us good
example." [655]

274

Carmen Escriv died on the morning of June 20. St.


Josemaria was with her at the time: it was the second
night that he had kept watch over her. Don Alvaro, who
had been with him the night before, had gone off to rest,
but came at once when told that the end was near [656].
Immediately, he made arrangements so that she could be
buried in one of the (underground) crypts of the chapel of
Our Lady of Peace (today Prelatic Church of Opus Dei) in
Villa Tevere.
On April 7, 1958, in Zaragoza, he went to officiate the
wedding of Santiago Escriva with Gloria Garca- Herrero.
St. Josemaria, following his usual manner of hiding and
disappearing, wanted to offer to God the sacrifice of not
attending the wedding of his brother, and asked Don
Alvaro instead to officiate the wedding. [657] His homily
during the Mass moved the participants, as can be
learned two days later when one of those present wrote,
"The mother of Yoya arrived yesterday from Miraflores to
bring flowers for the chapel, and two boxes of candies
(...). She told us how impressed the whole family had
been by the words of Don Alvaro." [658]

Figure 97: Carmen Escriva, called fondly by


members of the Work as Tia Carmen, was an
indispensable help in the apostolates of
Opus Dei in the early years. She had a great
fondness for Don Alvaro. Photo credtis:
fluvium.org

5. A wish of Pius XII: Knight of the Order of Malta


One of those whom Don lvaro befriended shortly after arriving in Rome was Prince Carlo
Pacelli, nephew of Pius XII. He and his wife, Marcella, invited him to their home quite often for
family and social gatherings [659] In 1957, Prince Pacelli told him that the Pope wanted to
appoint him Knight of Honor and Devotion of the Order of Malta. The instinctive reaction of Don
Alvaro was to not accept the offer: "The idea did not sit well me. This title did not attract me as a
layman, and now as a priest, it seemed out of place. I talked with the Father about this, and he
replied, If Prince Carlo Pacelli gets back to you to speak in behalf of the Holy Father, you must
obey."[660]
A few months later, Carlo Pacelli insisted, begging him to collect the documentation necessary
for his appointment, which included documents concerning his ancestors. He also hinted that
Pius XII wanted him to collaborate in the spiritual care of the old military order. Given this
insistence, St. Josemara told Don Alvaro that the indication must have come from the Roman
Pontiff himself, and therefore he could not disregard it. [661]
So, on May 25, 1958 Don Alvaro went to Spain, accompanied by Don Javier Echevarra, to
collect the data needed. They had to make inquiries "through northern Spain, going to small
towns in Asturias, Santander, lava, and Vizcaya, to collect the certificates of baptism and
marriage of many of his ancestors, which were required in those proceedings." [662]

275

Don Alvaro took advantage of the trip to


deal with the pastors of the places he
went to in search of documentation, "he
chatted with them as brother to brother,
showing interest in their pastoral
activity, their living conditions, their
families, their dealings with other
priests from neighboring parishes, etc."
[663]
He also linked up with the mayors of
those towns, and took the occasion to
meet some distant relatives, with whom
he struck up friendships that have
lasted over the years [664]. There was
Figure 98: Coat of arms of the Knights of Malta, from the faade of
no
shortage of unforeseen events, such
the church of San Giovannino dei Cavalieri, Florence. It is said that
that the eight points of the cross represent the eight Beatitudes.
as what happened in Zaya. They were
Photo and caption credits: Wikipedia.org
going to stay up late to do research,
and the custodian of the archives, seeing that they were trustworthy people, left them the key.
He left them to lock up the room themselves once they finished, and then just surrender it the
next day. "Don Alvaro, despite being a man of extraordinary delicacy, was not so skillful with his
hands. The key they had given us was large and quaint, one of those antique-looking locks. Don
Alvaro wanted to lock up the room himself, but he did so with such force that he broke the key in
two. We went to deliver the remnants of what used to be the key and the mayor, quite amused
by the strength of his guests hand, heartily downplayed what happened, and said they had
other spare keys." [665]
It was a tedious undertaking, but it did provide them with funny moments, as when they copied
some documents which they had to authenticate. Don lvaro dictated as Bishop Echevarra,
who had good penmanship, wrote down what he said. The language used in these papers was
often the typical bureaucratic rhetoric. For example, one of the documents that pertained to one
of his ancestors stated that the person in question was born "exactly at midnight on the dot, at
12, more or less." [666]
For this particular business, Don lvaro followed the usual pace of work he always kept. We see
this fact in one of the letters he wrote to St. Josemara at this time: "We spent a few days in a
huge rush, leaving at 8 a.m. to search for documents in parishes and historical archives, and we
arrive for dinner at 11 at night. It was a task that could only be done by the person concerned.
(...) On Saturday I will have everything ready, with about 60 documents, the petition signed by
four who are nominating me, the drawings, etc., and the index of documents. So, once the two
missing documents arrive, Ill insert them into their proper place, and then present everything."
[667]
On June 8, after sending the file to the Order of Malta in Spain [668], they returned to Rome.
Sadly, while Alvaros documentation were still being studied in Madrid, before being sent to
276

Rome, the Grand Master of the Order, Pius XII died, on October 9 [669]. We can imagine the
pain that Don Alvaro must have felt considering that, since 1943, when he moved to Rome to
begin the work on the juridical path of Opus Dei, he had experienced firsthand the affection and
understanding of Pope Pacelli. Surely, his mind must have been flooded with fond memories of
the Pope: the times when he was received in private audience, the Popes attention to Opus
Dei, and his fruitful ministry in the service of the Church and of humanity.
Don lvaro raised the possibility withdrawing his request to be made a Knight of Malta; but the
Founder of Opus Dei advised against it out of respect for the wishes of Pius XII. So, a few
months later, on 20 March 1959, he was appointed as a Knight of Honour and Devotion of the
Language of Spain of the Order of Malta. [670] It was a distinction indeed, but one which, in the
end, slept "the sleep of the just", i.e., it was never used. The important thing for him was to obey
an indication of the Pope to the end [671].
One last thing that must be noted is the fact that Don Alvaro did not forget to thank those who
helped him in the process. One example: "Thank you for all the affectionate interest you took in
assembling my dossier as fast as possible; and in a very special way, the waiver you applied to
me, for the Donning of the Mantle: for I assure you that, given my personal circumstances, a
priest and one who lives abroad, this venerable Ceremony was not without a cause of concern
for me." [672]
6. A new sickness
On October 25, 1958 the conclave to elect the successor of Pius XII in the See of Peter began.
On the 28th Cardinal Angelo Roncalli, Patriarch of Venice, was chosen; he took the name John
XXIII. Like all Catholics, Don Alvaro was overjoyed with the election [673]. Very soon he found
himself in the presence of the new Pope when the latter made some visits to departments of the
Roman Curia. These occasions helped him renew his devotion to the visible head of the
Church. Those who lived with him recalled the ardent affection for the new Pope which he
conveyed. For instance, aware of the advanced age of the Roman Pontiff he was nearly 77
years old when elected Don Alvaro would ask for prayers for his health. In some of those
Papal encounters, he would talk to the Pope briefly about the apostolic activities of Opus Dei
[674].
In late December, lvaro again began to suffer severe pain, accompanied by high fever [675].
The problem was serious, and on January 3, 1959 he had to be admitted to the Sanatrix Clinic,
in Rome, and the next day underwent surgery for an abscess in the prostate gland [676]. St.
Josemaria became seriously concerned about this new sickness. Leone Maria Castelli recalled
that he went with his parents and siblings to visit Don Alvaro, and they found the Founder of
Opus Dei in the hospital room. He took Leones father aside and said, "Leonardo, I am very
concerned about lvaro. I cannot lose him. Alvaro must not die. I know he cannot die now."
[677]
Alvaro stayed at the clinic for several weeks, until February 10. In those days two or even three
probes had to be inserted into him. At the suggestion of St. Josemara, during that period two
priests of Opus Dei who were physicians, Jose Luis Soria and Julian Herranz (later Cardinal),
277

took turns in accompanying him. Meanwhile, the Founder came every day to visit him. Cardinal
Herranz points out that Don Alvaro suffered a lot of pain, "although he said nothing and neither
complained nor grumbled about anything." [678] To all this discomfort one more was added: in
order to treat a postoperative infection, an extractor had to be placed on him whose purpose
was to ring a bell, both day and night. Those who attended to him were often startled by that
noise. The patient, on the contrary, never lost his peace or betrayed impatience at any time.
After he returned home Don Alvaro was weak for
several days more. In a letter from him to the
Counsellor of Opus Dei in Spain on February 20,
he says, "Two letters to thank you - and through
you, everyone else - for the prayers, letters, and
phone calls, during my illness. Thank God I'm
home, though Im still convalescing. I continue
being in bed for many hours with a high fever for
days, etc. Would that I had taken advantage of all
this! But since then, I have tried to do so, and the
work in Spain and of all of you, with you at the
helm, was very much there in the clinic." [679]
An entry on February 18 in the diary of the
Roman College of the Holy Cross shows once
again how the Founder wanted his younger sons
to value the figure of Don Alvaro, and what he
meant for Opus Dei. It reads: "We have been
fortunate to be with the Father during the getFigure 99: Cardinal Angelo Roncalli chose the name John together. Tomorrow is the saints day of Don
XXIII upon his election to the See of Peter. Also known as
Alvaro, and he told us that all our older brothers
"Good Pope John" he was later canonized in 2014 by Pope
have grasped the spirit of the Work very well, that
Francis. Photo credits: comMsgr.wikipedia.org
they have been - and are - extraordinary in their
ordinary life. Yet, among all of them it is Don Alvaro who has best grasped the spirit of Opus
Dei." [680]
Don Alvaro gradually recovered. On March 23, when he was already quite revived, he asked for
an audience with Pope upon the indication of St. Josemaria, in order to offer the Holy Father
"the homage Opus Dei." [681] On April 28, he was received by Pope John XXIII.

FOOTNOTES:
[595 ] Testimony of Cardinal A. Deskur , AGP, APD T- 17532 , p. 1 (the original is in Italian).
[596 ] Testimony of Archbishop Antonio Maria Travia , AGP, APD T- 15853 , p. 1 (translated
from Italian).

278

[597 ] St. Josemara , Letter 15 -II- 1950 , cit. in Vzquez de Prada, A. , The Founder of Opus
Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , p. 217 .
[598 ] Del Portillo, . , Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei ... , op. cit. , pp . 106-107 .
[599 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 173 .
[600 ] Testimony of Encarnacin Ortega Pardo, RHF , T - 05074 , p. 49 .
[601 ] Testimony of Joan Masi Mas - Baga , AGP, APD T -0503 , p. Three .
[602 ] The description of these difficulties can be seen in Vzquez de Prada , A. , The Founder
of Opus Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , pp . 179-210 .
[603 ] For this episode, cf. ibid. , pp . 205 et seq.
[604 ] Words of St. Josemara , cit. ibid. , p . 199 .
[605 ] Words of St. Josemara , cit. Del Portillo, . , ... Letters , vol. 2, n . 356 .
[606 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 147148.
[607 ] See St. Josemara , Christ Is Passing By , Scepter , Madrid 1985 , n . 12.
[608 ] "Documentation on the contradiction that led to the consecration of Opus Dei to the Heart
of Mary, the 15 -VIII - 1951" , cit. in Vzquez de Prada, A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. III ,
op. cit. , p. 208 .
[609 ] Ibid .
[610 ] Vzquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , p. 209
[611 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 147-148 .
[ 612] That charge has disappeared many years ago. Cardinal Tedeschini had begun to perform
it a few days before these events : specifically, February 24, 1952 .
[613 ] Vzquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , p. 209 .
[614 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 149 .
[615 ] Vzquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , p. 209 .
[616 ] Del Portillo, . , Remarks at a family get-together, 20 -XI- 1977 , AGP, B.1.4 T- 771120
series .
[617 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 153-154 .
[618 ] As one of the hands that rocked lvaro del Portillos cradle was that of his Irish nanny, it
came as no surprise to see how much he felt at home in Ireland when I met him in 1952. He had
279

come to see Archbishop McQuaid about the setting up of Opus Dei centres in the city. They got
on so well that the Archbishop invited him home for dinner.
[619 ] Testimony of Jos Ramn Madurga , AGP, APD T- 15292 , p. 8-9 .
[620 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 153154.
[ 621] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together, 2 -I- 1980 . AGP , Library, 800102 B.1.4
T- series .
[622 ] Cf Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , pp . 359-365 .
[ 623] Alighieri , D., Divine Comedy, Canto I, 1 ( " In the midst of the path of life" ) .
[ 624] Reference to the frequent recurrence of his liver disease.
[625 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to his mother , AGP, C- 540 414 APD .
[626 ] As an example , and as being the most serious , Vazquez de Prada , A. , The Founder of
Opus Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , pp . 244-246 .
[627 ] Del Portillo, . , Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei ... , op. cit. , p. 243-244 .
[628 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. . 487
"People who witnessed the event Miguel Angel Madurga, a doctor ; Jos Luis Massot , Rector
of the Roman College of the Holy Cross , and Rosalia Lopez, who served at table , affirmed that
they were surprised at the calmness of Don Alvaro." ( ibid.).
[629 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letters to Xavier Ayala (19- X - 1954 ), Joaqun Madoz and Teodoro
Ruiz (5- XII- 1954) , Adolfo Rodrguez Vidal (6 -XII- 1954 ), Ricardo Fernndez Vallespn and
Fernando Maycas (7 -II- 1955) and Odo Moles ( 18 -III- 1955).
[630 ] See Testimony of Joaquin Alonso Pacheco , AGP, APD T- 19548 , p. 32 .
[631 ] Del Portillo, . , Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei ... , op. cit. , p. 107 .
[632 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to his brothers and sisters, AGP, C- 560315 APD .
[633 ] Diary of Villa Tevere , entry 1-II - 1948 AGP series M.2.2 , 436-11 .
[634 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 560227 APD .
[635 ] St. Josemara , Letter 21 -IV- 1955 AGP series A.3.4 , 267-02 .
[ 636 ] Testimony of Alfonso Par Balcells , AGP, APD T- 17695 , p. 24-25 .
[637 ] Del Portillo, , Remarks at a family get-together, 26 -III- 1980 . AGP , Library, P02 , 1980
, 404-405 .

280

[638 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Amadeo de Fuenmayor , AGP, C- 550707 APD .


[639 ] See St. Josemara , Letters 1 -VI- 1954 and 13 -VI- 1955 , cit. in Vzquez de Prada, A. ,
The Founder of Opus Dei , vol. III , op. cit. , p. 224 .
[640 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to the members of the General Council in Madrid, AGP, C- 550909
APD .
[641 ] This refers to an ancient grant of plenary indulgence for the dead , which some priests
could apply through a privilege from the Holy See when celebrating the Mass in certain
altars.
[642 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to the members of the General Council in Madrid, AGP, C- 551224
APD .
[643 ] See Testimony of Francisco Ponz Piedrafita , AGP, APD T -0755 , p. 13 .
[644 ] Testimony of Jos Ramn Madurga , AGP, APD T- 15292 , p. 6.
[645 ] The first had taken place in May 1951 in Molinoviejo .
[ 646 ] Construction work in Villa Tevere was already advanced, so that space required for the
work of those who made up the General Council became available. The Central Advisory, which
helps the Prelate in the governance of the women, was already in Rome for several years.
[647 ] See St. Josemara , Letter to Card. Valeri 10 -IX- 1956 AGP series A.3.4 , 268-05 .
[648 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 163 .
[649 ] Urbano, P., Man of Villa Tevere , Plaza & Janes , Barcelona 1995 , p. 349-350 .
[650 ] "No doubt, he was the best son of our Founder; that one who best embodied the spirit of
Opus Dei; one in whom he could rely more, which is not to say that other older members were
less faithful and loyal; and one might even add that, being his masterpiece - having formed him
with such dedication and in such proximity - was the one would be able to best take over and
guide the Work as if the Founder himself were still living among us, occupying his usual place.
Escriva could go to Heaven "in peace" knowing that Don Alvaro, as no one doubted, would be
his successor. I've heard a high dignitary of the Church say, referring to the election of Don
Alvaro as head of the Work: He will be a good Father because he has been a good son," and
he was right." (Testimony of Julio Eugui , AGP APD T- 0213 , p. 4). "I think that all the faithful of
Opus Dei had a clear idea: the one taking over must be the person who, over many years, had
known, seconded, served, and kept the spirit that St. Josemara had received." (Testimony of
Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 200).
[651 ] Urbano, P., Man of Villa Tevere , op. cit. , pp . 83-84 .
[ 652] See Testimony of Mara Rivero Marn , AGP, APD T- 18545 , p. April .
[ 653] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 183 .
281

[654 ] Del Portillo, . , Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei ... , op. cit. , p. 94 .
[655 ] Del Portillo, . , Cit. Testimony of Mara Rivero Marn, AGP, APD T -0933 , p. 8.
[656 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 183184.
[657 ] "In 1958 , as head of the family, [St. Josemara] went to Zaragoza to ask for the hand of
his future sister-in-law, Yoya. However, to give hisr children an example of poverty and
detachment, he did not attend the wedding of his brother, but he asked me to do it instead,
taking advantage of the fact that I had to travel to Spain. Afterwards, until his death, he helped
his brother and his family with prayer and counsel, as the voluminous correspondence that we
have kept clearly shows."( Del Portillo, . , Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei , op. Cit . , p .
98 ) .
[658 ] Letter from Encarnacin Ortega to St Josemaria , 9- IV- 1958. Yoya was the familiar
name of Gloria Garca- Herrero.
[659 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 170 .
[660 ] Del Portillo, . , Interview on the Founder of Opus Dei , op. cit. , p. 199 .
[ 661 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 803.
Don lvaro explained to Card. Nicola Canali, Major Penitentiary, June 12, 1958: "I told him how
Monsignor Palazzini and Prince Carlo Pacelli had asked me to become a Knight of Malta to do
spiritual work. He said that if a waiver was needed to be admitted he would grant it. I replied that
I did not need to waive any of the requirements." (List of a visit to the Card. Nicola Canali , AGP,
D- 10255 APD ) .
[ 662 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 602-603 .
[663 ] Ibid. , P. 603 .
[664 ] Cf Del Portillo, . , Letter to Ramn Plaza Diez de Sollano, AGP, C- 580 606 APD .
[665 ] Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 169-170 .
[666 ] See Ibid . , P. 170 .
[ 667 ] Del Portillo, . , Letter to St. Josemara , AGP, C- 580603 APD .
[668 ] Cf Admission to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Madrid, 7 -VI- 1958 , AGP , D17041 APD .
[ 669] Indeed on October 9, 1958 Don Alvaro had to move to Spain, and on the plane coincided
with Bishop Ildebrando Antoniutti Nuncio of the Holy See in Madrid. Arriving in Barajas, he
received the news of the death of Pope Pius XII.

282

[ 670 ] Cf Admission to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Diploma of Admission ( Rome, 20
-III- 1959) and certificate (Rome, 24 -III- 1959) : original in AGP, D- 17042 APD .
[ 671 ] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 170 .
[ 672] Del Portillo, . , Letter to Paul Merry del Val , AGP, C- 590405 APD .
[ 673] See Testimony of Bishop Javier Echevarra Rodrguez , AGP, APD T- 19544 , p. 190 .
[674 ] See ibid.
[ 675 ] "There are moments in which he feels pretty bad, but he's always happy," said St.
Josemara on the last day of the year: Diary of the Roman College of the Holy Cross, entry of
31- XII- 1958 AGP series M.2.2 , D 428-11 .
[ 676 ] "Don Alvaro, in January 1959 , had to be admitted already to a Roman clinic, to be
operated on by Dr. Valdoni in the prostate glands. It was a long illness: he was admitted into the
clinic on January 3, on the 4th he had surgery, and remained in the hospital until February 10.
They were hard days for him. I went to see him several times. He was always calm and smiling.
(...) He had a lot of discomfort, but did not complain of anything. It was an example for doctors
and staff attending to him at the clinic "(Testimony of Joaquin Alonso Pacheco, AGP, APD T19548 , p. 33).
[ 677 ] Testimony of Leone Maria Castelli , AGP, APD T- 140505 (original Italian) .
[678 ] Testimony of Card. Julin Herranz Casado, AGP, APD T- 19522 , p. April. Immediately
before this paragraph, the Cardinal wrote that "with an admirable spirit of mortification, penance,
I've seen him stand the pain. I remember, for example, in January 1959, he was in need of
having a prostate operation with invasive techniques which were then used, and definitely much
more painful and stressful than the present (translators note: i.e., less invasive) ones." (ibid.)
[ 679] Del Portillo, . , Letter to the Counsellor of Opus Dei in Spain , AGP, C- 590220 APD .
[ 680] Diary of the Roman College of the Holy Cross , entry of 18 -II- 1959 AGP series M.2.2 , D
428-11 .
[681 ] The letter, in Italian, was addressed to Monsignor Mario Nasalli Rocca, Master of
Household of His Holiness , "Reverend Excellency: Fervently desiring to be received in private
audience by the Holy Father to present the homage of Opus Dei to His Holiness, I am pleased
to address your Excellency to beg you, with your good grace, to carry out the appropriate
procedures for this audience to be granted, whenever possible." (Del Portillo, . , Letter to
Monsignor Mario Nasalli Rocca di Corneliano , AGP, APD C- 590323 ) . In the AGP a large card
with the letterhead of the Pontifical Household is kept. It is dated 27 -IV- 1959, and mentions
that the Audience would take place the next day at 10:15 a.m. (cf. AGP, D- 10309 APD )

283

Chapter 14: The Second Vatican


Council
1.
2.
3.
4.

Early preparations
An increasingly inadequate juridical suit
The phase immediately prior to the Council
Years of the Council
a. The First Session of Vatican II
b. The election of Paul VI
c. The decree Presbyterorum Ordinis
d. The Last Session of the Council

The brief pontificate of John XXIII left a significant mark on Church history. The name of this
Pope is linked to two major social encyclicals, Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris, and,
above all, to the convening of the Second Vatican Council [682].
On January 25, 1959, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (the Apostle to the Gentiles), John
XXIII proclaimed in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls his decision to convoke a
Diocesan Synod for Rome and an Ecumenical Council for the Universal Church, which would
also lead to the desired and much awaited update of the Code of Canon Law [683]. The
announcement surprised many. The Pope added that he would convey the news to the
cardinals and bishops around the world, to ask them for suggestions for this great assembly
[684].
Don Alvaro received the news with great joy and enthusiasm. He saw in the decision of the
Supreme Pontiff the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Who continually animates and renews the
Church. Furthermore, we can imagine that with St Josemaria he fostered the hope that the
Paraclete would use the solemn assembly for the bishops all over world, with their authority in
union with the Roman Pontiff, to propose to all the faithful the message of the universal call to
holiness preached by the founder of Opus Dei since 1928.
1. Early preparations
On May 17, the Holy Father set up the Pontifical antepreparatory commission for the Council
[685], chaired by Cardinal Tardini, and composed of advisers and secretaries of the
departments of the Roman Curia. A month later, on June 18, Cardinal Tardini requested all
archbishops, bishops, abbots, and major superiors of religious orders and congregations to
send suggestions on possible issues to discuss in the Council. The invitation was also sent to
Catholic universities, faculties of theology, and Vatican congregations [686]. About 80 % of
those requested sent back their replies.
Previous to these events, the Holy See had already begun to choose certain individuals who
would help out in the Council; Don Alvaro was among them. On May 2, 1959 he was appointed
284

consultor to the Sacred Congregation of the Council, now known as the Congregation for the
Clergy [687]. It was the prelude to a new phase of his work in the various departments of the
Holy See and in the Second Vatican Council itself.
Then came the summer of 1959. In the middle of July, he once again accompanied St
Josemaria to London to attend to the formation of some members of Opus Dei and to promote
the apostolic work. While there, The Times expressed interest in publishing a biographical
sketch of the Founder of the Work for its People to Watch section. The journalist Tom Burns
did the interview, and the article was later widely distributed [688].
On August 10, Don Alvaro was appointed president of the 7th Preparatory Commission for the
Sacred Congregation of the Council, whose task was to study the subject of the Catholic laity
[689]. A few days later, on the 12th, he was also appointed a member of the 3rd Commission,
tasked with looking into the modern means of apostolate [690]. His years in the Congregation
for Religious and the dealings he maintained with many ecclesiastics had given him prestige in
the Holy See. So, it was not surprising that he was appointed to these positions. From that
moment, the time he spent working in the Roman Curia increased, as the beginning of Vatican II
approached: meetings, workshops, studying suggested ideas and articulating them, proposal of
the text...
In this long period, which lasted until the end of the Council, he continued being the Secretary
General of Opus Dei and one of the Custodes of St. Josemara. As before, he managed to fulfill
these duties based on self-sacrifice and a most efficient use of time. Bishop Echevarra notes
that Don Alvaro "was busy in the work of the different preparatory Commissions of the Council
of which he was part, devoting to them all the time necessary, without neglecting his work of
governance in Opus Dei. The years of the Council from 1962 to 1965 proved more difficult, in
terms of time requirement, since during this period he had to participate in Council sessions
every morning and not a few evenings, as an expert or peritus. On top of these, he also had to
attend Commission meetings that took place before or after the sessions." [691]
Therefore, it is not at all exaggerated when he wrote the following in November of that year to
his sister-in-law, Pilar: "Forgive this rather delayed reply to your last letter full of affection. Ive
been away from Rome for quite a while and have now a lot of accumulated backlog of work.
Besides these, the Holy See has entrusted me with a new commission, which takes every bit of
free minute I could have used for my personal concerns. [692]"
During this time, those who were around him consistently saw what was already noted by those
who lived with him back in the 40s: that the intensity of his work pace never made him nervous
or impatient or consider himself special or heroic. He took on new tasks with the attitude that the
Lord expects from those who wish to serve Him, as we read in the Gospel: "We are unworthy
servants; we have not done more than what we had the duty to do" (Lk 17, 18) Giving himself
with all his strength to fulfill what God asked him was something he considered "natural"; in this
case, through the Holy See. A brief phrase, written almost in passing, in a letter to a former
colleague of the Advanced School of Civil Engineering, drives home this point: "You say you
work a lot: it's true. I have to carve off more and more time from sleep; but I do it with pleasure,
to meet the demands of my vocation." [693]
285

The meetings of the two Commissions of which he formed part lasted from October 1959 to
March 1960. During that period, those who lived with him were aware that he had to work
overtime to catch up with everything, and they heard him ask for prayers to finish everything.
Yet, they never heard as much as a hint of what these tasks involved. He lived silence of office
with naturalness and due discretion [694].

Figure 100: Villa Tevere now. Photo credits: Dora del Hoyo: Recuerdos de Dora.

Meanwhile, on January 9, 1960


the last stone of the buildings
of Villa Tevere was finally put
into place. It bore an eloquent
and instructive inscription
chosen by the Founder: "Melior
quam principium est finis" To
finish is better than to start.
With it, St. Josemara and Don
Alvaro put to a close almost
thirteen years of great
economic hardship, with its
accompanying scaffolding,
bricks, and cement [695].

But the break was short-lived because in no time, they had to undertake a new project.
Specifically they had to transform Villa delle Rose (the retreat house of Castel Gandolfo, ceded
permanently shortly before by Pope John XXIII [696]) to being the seat of the Roman College of
Holy Mary. It was to be an international formation center for women, similar to the Roman
College of the Holy Cross. The project finished only in 1964.
2. An increasingly inadequate legal suit
In the first ten years since the enactment in 1947 of the Apostolic Constitution Provida Mater
Ecclesia, 49 Secular Institutes were approved, and 197 other institutions Pious Unions, Third
Orders, Confraternities, etc. had requested to be converted into Institutes [697]. Based on their
actual characteristics most of these institutions were religious in nature. More than that, in the
eyes of many, not excluding those in the Curia, they were perceived to be as such, in fact. For
example, in the index of the Synodal Constitutions of the Synod of the Diocese of Rome, which
took place before the Council, the Secular Institutes were included, along with the Society of
common life without vows, in Title III of Part Two: De religiosis (Concerning Religious). The laity,
on the other hand, were in the third; and associations of the faithful, in the fourth [698]. The fact
is that Secular Institutes had lost their secularity.
For St. Josemara this was cause for serious concern. In 1960 he had informally or privately
written Cardinal Tardini, asking whether it would be possible for the Holy See to take some
steps to change the juridical configuration of Opus Dei, since it was already clear that the status
of secular institute did not conform to its theological reality. The situation was impossible.
"Siamo molto lontani ancora" ("We are still very far"), was the response of Cardinal Tardini to
the Founder [699]. As stated before, back in 1943 he had already heard a high ecclesiastic say,
286

lOpus Dei era giunto a Roma con un secolo di anticipo (Opus Dei has come a century too
soon). Again he saw that the roads remained closed. [700]
Later, in January 1962, on the threshold of Vatican II, at the insistence of Cardinal Pietro Ciriaci,
St. Josemaria once again proposed the transformation of Opus Dei to a prelature nullius, though
he feared that the answer would again be in the negative and his reasons misunderstood. His
reaction was, as always, to comply with the decision of ecclesiastical authority, while signifying
his willingness to continue to seek a juridical solution which, in conscience, he deemed
necessary [701]. It would take more than twenty years until Opus Dei would obtain the canonical
configuration adequate to its founding charism, a solution that the Founder would not see in his
lifetime.
During these unsuccessful attempts, Don Alvaro stood faithfully beside the Founder, supporting
him in everything. At the time he worked in the Vatican he had tried to defend the genuine
essence of Secular Institutes [702], but could not prevent the jurisprudence of the Congregation
for Religious from giving way to a figure very different, in substance, from the Apostolic
Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia [703]. Within the Congregation it was often repeated that,
"after the approval of Opus Dei, the mold had been broken." [704] Don lvaro explained again
and again that Opus Dei, "at present has nothing in common with what is currently understood
of secular institutes." For this reason, "so much so that it can better serve the Church, as well as
out of an elementary sense of justice (...), and also to prevent it from losing its genuine spirit,
Opus Dei should neither be included among associations which are called secular institutes, nor
should it depend on the same Congregation as the secular institutes." [705]
Meanwhile, the third Ordinary General Congress of Opus Dei had been held in Rome, in
October 1961, in which Don Alvaro was again elected to the post of Secretary General and
Custos of St. Josemara [706].
3. The phase immediately prior to the Council
The May 30, 1960, John XXIII issued the motu proprio Superno Dei nutu, which laid down the
foundations for the next phase of preparation for the Council. Specifically, ten Commissions
[707] and three Secretariats (administrative, for mass media, and for promotion of Christian
unity) were set up. Some months later a new one was formed for the Ceremonies. These
entities were directed by a central Coordinating Commission consisting of 74 members, which
the Pope presided over at times. The official start of the work took place with the audience
granted by the Pope to the members on September 14, 1960 [708].
In August, Don Alvaro had been appointed member of the Commission for Religious in
preparation for Vatican II [709]. Between February 1 and June 30, 1961 this entity drafted a
Constitution on religious life which was then revised between November 1961 and April 1962,

287

for discussion in the Council Session. And just two months later, on October 26, 1960, he was
named Officer of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office27. [710]
As already noted, reconciling his work in the Vatican with his duties as Secretary General of
Opus Dei involved a remarkable effort. One proof of this is an entry in the diary of Villa Tevere,
in December 1961, a day when he had to stay in bed. Don Alvaro is better, but still in bed. We
are actually almost glad hes sick, because that has forced him away from the overwhelming
work that he has these days [711]. Days earlier, the same diary read: "Don lvaro has been
working nonstop on the tasks he has in the commissions for the Ecumenical Council. For
example, today he had to go both in the morning and evening." [712]
Don Alvaros spirit of friendship, brotherhood, and service which marked his dealings with
ecclesiastics in the Curia has also been referred to earlier chapters. This remarkable attribute
was once again highlighted at this time, and Bishop Antonio Piolanti testifies to it. In 1959, Pope
John XXIII had raised the Lateran Pontifical Athenaeum to the rank of University [713], and in
1961 the authorities decided to expand its academic facilities, located next to the Basilica of St.
John Lateran. Msgr. Piolanti knew that Don Alvaro was a civil engineer, so as the Rector and
friend of Don Alvaro he asked for expert advice on the project that they had taken on. He
received the opinion he was awaiting in no time, on January 23, 1962 [714].
On February 2, 1962, with the motu proprio Consilium, John XXIII set the opening date of the
Second Vatican Ecumenical Council for October 11 of that year [715], the anniversary of the
Council of Ephesus.
In those first months, Don Alvaro again found himself in rather delicate health: he suffered fever
and body malaise for several days. St. Josemaria took note of this on occasion, as the April 21
entry of the diary of Villa Tevere shows. "Don Alvaro is not well these days. The Father
remarked in the get-together he is a barbarian to everything that concerns himself. When
everyone would be sick in bed, Don Alvaro remains on his feet, working, and whats more
without anyone noticing." [716]
On April 29, the doctor diagnosed a recurrence of the prostate ailment from which he had
surgery three years ago, and the next day he was admitted to the Clinica Villa Margherita.
Thank God, they didnt have to operate again [717], and he was discharged in the first days of
May. This time, the builder Leonardo Castelli wanted to express his friendship with the patient
by footing the hospital bill himself [718].
On June 12, the Central Preparatory Commission of Vatican II held its seventh and final
meeting. A few days later, the 20th, the Pope presided at the closing session. Some of the

27

The oldest among the nine congregations of the Roman Curia, this was the name of this congregation, since
1904. It used to be called Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition but is now
known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (Wikipedia)

288

approved schemata28 were sent to the bishops, so that they could examine them and propose
suggestions they deemed appropriate.
4. Years of the Council
a. The First Session of Vatican II
After the summer that was partly spent in London with St. Josemara the Founders last in that
city , Don Alvaros attention was almost completely absorbed by the preparatory works for the
already-imminent Second Vatican Council. On October 4, a letter signed by Cardinal Amleto
Cicognani, confirmed his appointment as Counil peritus or expert. [719]

Figure 101: The Opening Session of Vatican II. Photo credits: Saxum: Remembering Alvaro del
Portillo.

On October 11, the


solemn opening
ceremony of the
Council was held in
the St. Peters
Basilica. In the
presence of the Pope,
Cardinal Eugne
Tisserant celebrated
Mass, asking the
assistance of the Holy
Spirit for the two
thousand Council
Fathers.

Don Alvaro was


assigned as an expert
to the Council's Commissions De disciplina cleri et populi christiani [720], De episcopis et
dicesium regimine [721] and De religiosis [722]. On November 8 he was appointed
Secretary of the first Commission mentioned, which was presided over by Cardinal Ciriaci [723].
Cardinal Herranz, then a young priest, who also collaborated on the Commission recalls that St.
Josemara shared with them his satisfaction over the high esteem which the Holy See showed
to Don Alvaro. He added that he had advised Don Alvaro to accept, in his own time, the onerous
responsibility and workload which the appointment would entail. He did that, of course, with a
well-founded hope that Don Alvaro could continue to perform his task as Secretary General of
Opus Dei, though obviously with more effort and sacrifice. And everything worked out. [724]
Don Alvaro once again showed his capacity for work and prudence in governance. The plenary
sessions and the works of the various Commissions filled his mornings, and often, evenings.
For his remaining free time, what awaited him was the study of some matters of the Work that
concerned him as Secretary General. Cardinal Herranz testifies that in the General Archive of
28

Schema (plural: schemata or schemas): technical term used in the Council to refer to the documents prepared by
the Commissions; in general, it means: a representation of a plan or theory in the form of an outline or model
(Google).

289

the Prelature of Opus Dei, there are numerous documents of government of Opus Dei
corresponding to this Conciliar period that have annotations of the Father such as the following:
for Don Alvaro to go over, ask Don Alvaro. [725]
John XXIII had stated that the primary purpose of Vatican II had to be "guarding and teaching
the sacred deposit of doctrine more effectively" [726], and this was the true north guiding the
collaboration of Don Alvaro in the task to which he had been assigned. Years later, Archbishop
Justo Mullor, who was Apostolic Nuncio in various countries, stated that "in that complex context
he never appeared partisan neither conservative nor progressive but rather a man of faith
and of the Church, admired by everyone. I always remember what Archbishop Angelo
Dell'Acqua said of him. This loved and admired ecclesiastic sincerely esteemed him and wished
that there were many more Don Alvaros." [727]
Dora del Hoyo: Recuerdos de Dora The work was intense and voluminous. Roger Aubert
explained that the first task of the experts was to write new schemata to replace those made in
the preparatory period, which had been considered by the Assembly as unsatisfactory, or by the
coordinating Commission as too extensive. In short, most drafts had to be rewritten. After these
were discussed in the Plenary Hall, the experts had to put in the amendments ("modi")
proposed by the Council Fathers. They also often received the task of preparing the
interventions of participating cardinals, archbishops, and bishops. Finally, some experts did one
more thing, which sometimes exerted quite an influence in the turnout of the Council itself: to
give lectures to groups of Council Fathers on issues under discussion [728].
Don Alvaro always created
a friendly climate around
him, where charity and the
spirit of collaboration
prevailed. Cardinal
Herranz saw how the other
members and experts
expressed great
confidence in Don Alvaro
and treated him with
particular affection. He
had a great ability to gain
the sympathy, esteem, and
friendship of those whom
he dealt with. I have
personally seen this so
Figure 102: Don Alvaros exemplary work at the Council left a mark in the memory of not
a few participants. Photo credits: Opus Dei (Information Office)
many times, especially in
his work in the Curia, as much in the Congregation of the Clergy, as later in the Conciliar
Commission for the discipline of the clergy, and then in the Pontifical Commission for the
Revision of the Code of Canon Law. I have heard many friends, common friends speak - when
Don Alvaro was not around, of course - of his virtues, especially of his humility and refined
charity. [729]
290

Monsignor Vives provides information of particular interest, which was frequently spoken about
during Vatican II by the very ones involved. "There were some Council Fathers who came to
him for confession. Something similar happened when he was Prelate of Opus Dei on the
occasion of the Synod of Bishops. Some of these Synod Fathers themselves have mentioned
that they came to him for confession." [730]. However, Don lvaro himself never made
reference to those instances.
His humility and simplicity made it easier for him to strengthen his friendships with many
ecclesiastics, and he invited a number of them to meet the founder of Opus Dei. By the end of
the Council sessions, he was accompanying one or several prelates to eat with St. Josemaria in
Villa Tevere quite often [731].
Although he had a considerable number of things in his hands [732], his dealing with the Lord
always came first: the celebration of the Holy Mass, periods of prayer, praying the Divine Office,
and other practices of piety. For sure, this habitual effort to be immersed in God made possible
not only the kind of work that he did, but carrying out with detachment everything that could
have been a motive for self-love or the pursuit of personal interests.
The First Session of Vatican II ended on December 8, 1962. This fact did not mean, however,
that Don Alvaro's dedication to the conciliar commissions ended as well. In the first months of
the Assembly no document was approved, though he had worked hard, and the direction for the
Second Session, to be held a year later, was settled.
In February 1963, in his capacity as Secretary of the Conciliar Commission for the clergy, he
had to go to Venice to discuss some issues with the Patriarch, Cardinal Urbani, who was part of
the Central Coordinating Commission. St. Josemara wanted to accompany him, and on the 4th
they left Rome by car. The next day they found that there was ice in some sections of the road
and traffic was dangerous. After passing through Rovigo, four kilometers from Monselice,
despite driving at moderate speed of about 40 km/h, the car skidded and took several turns on
the road (though without overturning) and went out of control moving toward a precipice. It hit a
stone marker on the side where the Founder was seated, and made a stop at the edge of the
slope. The door was shattered and only with great difficulty did they get out of the vehicle, which
was teetering on the slope [733]. They were saved only by a miracle. In 1981 Don Alvaro
recounted the event in a get-together, and described the reaction of St. Josemara and his own.
"What did our Father do during those terrifying moments? He began at once to make acts of
love, contrition calmly, with his heart and soul immersed in God. I tried to imitate him." [734]
Years later, he also remembered a little anecdote that occurred afterwards in Venice, showing
how much he took full supernatural advantage from even the most trivial events. "Very close to
the door of the hotel where we were staying, there was a stall selling scarves ... The vendor,
who knew no more than the English word very, used all the tricks of his trade to sell his goods
to some American tourists. He took one of his wares, put it on a lady and said, very, very... And
with that vanity that we all have, she understood it to mean that she was very, very pretty ...
And she bought it - all for a word." [735] The conclusion was that we should Christians should
behave with the same cheek and nerve of that dealer, when speaking about God to colleagues
and acquaintances.
291

b. The election of Paul VI


The progress of the Council was
dampened by the bad news of
the health of John XXIII, which
had gotten worse since March
1963. The Pope died on June 3.
The Church once again called
upon the Holy Spirit to choose a
new Vicar of Christ, and on the
21st Cardinal Montini was
elected to the Chair of St. Peter.
Hardly had Saint Josemara and
Don Alvaro learned of this news
than they celebrated the Holy
Mass to be offered for Paul VI
and his intentions. In Villa
Tevere, the one in-charge of
writing the diary noted that
"surely (...) they will have been
the first people in the world who
included the name of the newly
elected Supreme Pontiff in the
Figure 103: The crowning of Pope Paul VI June 18, 1963. He was the last pope to Canon.29" [736]. Of course, there
use the tiara. Photo credits: splendorofthechurch.com.ph
is no way to ascertain that they
did, in fact; but it is clear that
their love for the Pope led them to feel the urgency of praying and mortifying for him and his
intentions.
As we know, Don Alvaro greatly admired the spiritual and human qualities of Monsignor Montini
since he first met him in Rome. Therefore, it is clear that what he wrote to his Aunt Carmen del
Portillo, shortly after the Popes election, was more than circumstantial: "Im very happy with the
new Holy Father: Ive been dealing with him for many years, since he was 49 years old, which is
about my age now. He has always been very affectionate with the Father (who, by the way,
remembers you and blesses you), with me, and with the Work." [737]
With the death of John XXIII, the Council had to be brought to a close, as stipulated by canon
law [738]. Naturally, this situation brought about some degree of uncertainty as to what the
future of the Council would be. However, all doubt completely disappeared when Paul VI
announced the start of the second session for September 29 [739].

29

Canon of the Mass (Latin: Canon Miss, Canon Actionis) is the name given in the Roman Missal, from the first
typical edition of Pope Pius V in 1570 to that of Pope John XXIII in 1962, to the part of the Mass of the Roman Rite
that begins after the Sanctus with the words Te igitur (Wikipedia). The name of the present Pope is mentioned
within the prayer.

292

On January 24, 1964, the Pope received in audience the Founder of Opus Dei. After the
conversation, he went to greet Don Alvaro. St. Josemaria himself described the scene in a letter
a few days later. "As we ended, I told him that Alvaro had accompanied me. When they met, he
recalled with your brother, the dealings theyve had since 1946. The Pope told Alvaro: "Sono
diventato vecchio" (I have become old). And your brother replied with a response that once
again filled the Holy Father with emotion: "Santit, diventato Pietro" (Holiness, you have
become Peter). Before saying goodbye, with a long and affectionate blessing (...), he wanted to
have two pictures taken with us, while he murmured softly to lvaro: Don Alvro, Don
Alvro" [740]
In April of that year (1964), Alvaro received the new task of being a Consultor of the Pontifical
Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law in addition to the tasks he already had
in the Council and the Congregation of the Holy Office [741].
From the diary of Villa Tevere we read that a few weeks later he suffered a relapse of one of his
previous illnesses. The lines seem to suggest that the reason for this present state of affairs
was obvious: "It seems that as long as he cannot rest a bit, he will not fully recover. And with the
amount of work he has, unfortunately, this rest remains a rather utopian desire." [742]
Don Alvaro was docile to the instructions of the doctors, but his busy schedule did not allow time
for resting. He himself writes the doctor attending him to him: "Subjectively, Im fine. The
headaches are much less; I almost dont have them anymore. Ive only had slight pains in the
last ten or fifteen days. (...) Unfortunately, I cannot find the time to take a walk. Since Ive arrived
in Rome, I've only done so around five times, nothing more. Im following my diet strictly (...), but
I still seem to be getting fat. Im sending an update of my blood pressure. Thats about all; sorry
for being such a bother. I have not had any strong allergy attack." [743]
From mid-July to late August, he was with St. Josemara near Pamplona, helping him, among
other things, to draft and revise documents on the spiritual formation of the faithful of Opus Dei.
[744] There he underwent a complete medical examination at the Clinic of the University of
Navarra. He was diagnosed with neurogenic hypertension, a condition which would be with him
throughout his life [745].
c. The decree Presbyterorum Ordinis
Don Alvaro was appointed Secretary of the Commission De disciplina cleri et populi christiani,
on November 8, 1962. From the outset, the work pace was intense, both because the issues
relating to the life and ministry of priests were wide and varied, and they were given short
deadlines. Before the end of the year they had drafted three schemata for proposal to the
Council Fathers [746], but the Coordinating Commission, instituted by Pope John XXIII to
prepare for the Second Session of the Council, told them in January 1963, that they had to
summarize these in a single decree [747]. So they did. Months later, in November, the
Commission had decided to further compress the text, so that it was reduced to ten concise
theses [748]. One can imagine how great the disappointment of the members of the
Commission on the clergy must have been, to see what remained of their efforts.

293

Don Alvaro devoted the first two months of 1964 to summarizing the doctrine on the priesthood
in ten brief points, a truly difficult task from the theological point of view and, humanly speaking,
replete with headaches. Cardinal Herranz recalled that the Commission had "difficult meetings
where some people got worked up, because it was thought - as the facts proved afterward - that
the very theology of communion, on which the works of the Council were based, required a
deeper understanding of the theology of the priesthood and specifically of the order of priests30.
Moreover, ideas and initiatives that threatened the very identity of the Catholic priesthood were
already insinuating themselves in the works of some authors, and even carried out in practice in
some areas. (...) All these circumstances seemed to suggest that the Council ought to devote a
wide-ranging decree done with theological depth and precision on priests. That was exactly
what Don Alvaro and all of us wanted. However, our Commission faithfully followed the
guidelines of the Coordinating Commission of the Council, and so the ten very brief propositions
came about. [749]
On March 16, 1964 the new schema (De sacerdotibus) was sent to the Coordinating
Commission. The synthesis was the fruit of conscientious effort poured into it by everyone in the
Commission as well as Don Alvaros intense dedication [750].
The Third Session of the Second Vatican Council opened on September 14, 1964. On October
7, the schema De sacerdotibus was distributed to the Council Fathers. Everyone was surprised
at how the document was greatly condensed. It didnt seem possible that a matter of such great
import for the Church could be articulated so concisely [751]. On October 13, 14, and 15 the
proposal was discussed in the Conciliar Hall, and "the predictable happened: the Conciliar
Assembly decided that a topic as important as the ministry and life of priests could not be
completely covered in a written document as brief and inadequate as the one proposed, and it
was rejected." [752]
Don Alvaro received the news calmly and even, most probably, with deep joy. Such a reaction
would have been in keeping with his love for priests. His personal view was fully in line with the
Conciliar Fathers. Cardinal Herranz recalls that immediately he suggested to Archbishop Marty,
Archbishop of Rheims and rapporteur of the schema, to write a letter to the moderators of the
Council to request that our Commission develop a comprehensive and complete decree in the
desired form. Archbishop Marty was very happy when I brought him the outline of the letter,
which he accepted in full. Seven days later we received an affirmative response. Don lvaro
called for the members of the Commission and the experts of the subcommissions and
immediately to work. [753]
The succeeding days were filled with activity: he had to draft a document that adequately
covered all aspects of the life and ministry of priests, and then deliver it to the Council Fathers
30

In this sentence, the original Spanish used two words sacerdocio and presbiterado - which in English would be
commonly translated by the same word: priesthood. (The more logical translation of the latter, presbyterate is
hardly used in common language.) The first one actually refers to priesthood in general which would include
every male person who has received the sacrament of Holy Orders (bishops, priests, and deacons). The second one
refers only to what we commonly known as the priest, the one who belongs to the second rank of Holy Orders,
technically known as the presbyterate. For more of this distinction, you can read an article by Fr. Gary Coulter in
http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6553

294

before the end of the Third Session so they could study it during the last period in between
sessions. "They finished the job within just a few days: on the October 29, November 5, 9, and
12. Before the Third Session of the Council was over, the schema for the decree was ready."
[754].
The events happening in those days already evince
the effort that the members of the Commission had
to exert. Cardinal Herranz recalls the race to collect
the suggestions of the Council Fathers in those
days, then to study them and afterwards propose
new versions of the texts: all in a very short period
of time, since there were going to be no more
meetings of the Council. "There were not a few
days that Don Alvaro and his closest collaborators
in the Commission had to work way after midnight.
In those odd hours, all offices of the departments of
the Holy See were closed, and so we had to meet
in one of the residences of the Fathers and Council
Experts (Residence of St. Thomas of Villanueva in
Viale Romania, not far from Villa Tevere). There
they finalized the preparation of the tex