Sainthood cause opened for priest who brought Opus Dei to US

Sainthood cause opened for priest who brought Opus Dei to US

Fr. Bryan Parrish, the representative of Cardinal O'Malley, speaks at the opening of the cause of canonization of Fr. Joseph Muzquiz. Courtesy of Opus Dei
Fr. Bryan Parrish, the representative of Cardinal O'Malley, speaks at the opening of the cause of canonization of Fr. Joseph Muzquiz. Courtesy of Opus Dei


On June 2, the Archdiocese of Boston opened the canonization cause of Father Joseph Muzquiz, a priest who helped establish Opus Dei in the United States.

“The spirit he lived was precisely the spirit of Opus Dei,” said John Coverdale, who wrote a biography of Muzquiz entitled “Putting Down Roots: Fr. Joseph Muzquiz and the Growth of Opus Dei,” and is himself a member of Opus Dei. “That message which comes across very strongly in his life is one that's very important for our society.”

Opus Dei is a Catholic organization founded by St. Josemaria Escriva, a Spanish priest whom Blessed John Paul II referred to as a “saint of ordinary life.”

The organization promotes spiritual growth and discipleship among Catholic laypersons, teaching them  to use work and ordinary activities as a means of encountering God.

Fr. Muzquiz met St. Josemaria in 1934, at the insistence of a friend, when he was a 22 year-old engineering student in Spain.

“There was talk about this priest that was particularly dynamic and a great preacher and doing interesting things,” Coverdale recalled. “(Fr. Muzquiz) mostly went out of courtesy and curiosity.”

Josemaria Escriva, the future saint who had established Opus Dei in 1928, made a strong impression on the engineering student. Very early into their meeting, he told Fr. Muzquiz: “There is no greater love than the love of God.”

Fr. Muzquiz began attending St. Josemaria’s formation classes while continuing his engineering studies. A top student, he graduated in 1936 and began work as a railroad engineer.

Even as he was working, he “sought to sanctify his work … and carried out an extensive apostolate among his peers,” said Rev. David Cavanagh, the postulator of Fr. Muzquiz’s cause, in the June 2 tribunal's opening remarks.

The Spanish Civil War broke out six months after his graduation, and Fr. Muzquiz spent the next three years in the army as an engineering officer.

His conviction to dedicate his life to God and the Church grew during these years, and he joined Opus Dei shortly after his demobilization.

Fr. Muzquiz became the one of the first men to be ordained a priest of Opus Dei in 1944.

Fr. Cavanagh said it was his “human and supernatural maturity, and the sincerity and generosity of his response to God's call” that led to St. Josemaria “relying heavily on him.”

In 1949, the Opus Dei founder commissioned Fr. Muzquiz to bring Opus Dei to the United States. When he and two other members arrived, they had no money, knew no one, and could hardly speak any English.

“It was quite an uphill battle,” Coverdale said.

The message of the universal call to holiness that he came to spread was also unfamiliar to the United States.

Despite the difficulties he faced, Fr. Muzquiz had “complete confidence that Opus Dei was a work of God and that therefore it would succeed,” said Coverdale. 

Fr. Muzquiz worked to jump-start the U.S. branch of the organization that now boasts nearly 3,000 members across the nation. Within 10 years, he had established Opus Dei centers in St. Louis, Milwaukee, Boston and Washington.

He also laid the foundations for the organization in Japan and Canada.

Opus Dei has become a well-established part of the global Church since Fr. Muzquiz's death in 1983.

Its focus remains the same, giving lay Catholics spiritual and practical support in the quest to become saints. Members strive to live out a prayer-filled plan of life that includes daily Mass, recitation of the Rosary, times of prayer and meditation, and regular confession.

Fr. Muzquiz's cheerful attitude and gentle, patient manner helped to make Opus Dei's intense spirituality accessible to Americans.

“He always lived in such a way so as to avoid attracting attention to himself or seeking any special consideration, even though many were extremely grateful to him for his role in bringing Opus Dei to this country,” said the postulator for his cause, Fr. Cavanagh.

The tribunal that met on June 2 considered first-person testimonies about Fr. Muzquiz, seeking to determine the holiness of his life. A separate tribunal will examine evidence of possible miracles.

“We are happy that the Archdiocese of Boston is taking this step,” said Brian Finnerty, U.S. communications director for Opus Dei. “Fr. Joseph helped spread to many thousands of people … the message that we are called to try to be saints.”

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