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Prehistory of the founding of Opus Dei (1917-1928)

Tags: October 2, 1928, Founding of Opus Dei, History, Footprints in the Snow, Vocation
Opus Dei was founded by Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer on October 2, 1928. At that point he was a 26-year-old priest. Up till that moment, there is no history of Opus Dei as such. There was a prehistory, which was the story of its Founder’s life and which had different stages: his “presentiment”, or realization, at around age 15, that God was asking something of him; as a consequence of this, his decision to become a priest, because he understood that this was the best way of preparing to fulfil God’s will, and his unceasing prayer, mortification and study to find out what that “something” was… The prehistory came to an end in Madrid in 1928.

The “presentiment”
Several autobiographical passages from the writings of St Josemaría, taken from his “Personal Notes” or subsequent recollections, summarize this period. His “Personal notes” convey many aspects of his own spiritual life and the first steps of his apostolate. They were almost all written contemporaneously with the events they describe, between 1930 and 1940.
Recollections by the Founder of Opus Dei, in a meditation he preached March 19, 1975

I began to get presentiments of Love, to realize that my heart was asking me for something great and that this was love (…) I didn’t know what God wanted of me, but it was clearly a choice on his part. Whatever it was, would come in time… In the process, I realized my own uselessness, and I made up that litany which is not false humility but mere self-knowledge: I am worth nothing, I have nothing, I can do nothing, I am nothing, I know nothing…
Note by the Founder of Opus Dei in his Personal Notes, n. 290 (September 1931)

Jesus unquestionably wanted me to cry out from my darkness, like the blind man in the Gospel. And I cried out for years, without knowing what I was praying for. And I often shouted the prayer “Ut sit!” (“That it may be!”), that seems like a prayer for a new being.
Recollections by the Founder of Opus Dei, in a meditation he preached February 14, 1964

God brought me to birth in a Christian home as was usual in my country, of exemplary parents who practised and lived their faith, and who gave me my freedom from childhood, while at the same time keeping a careful watch over me. They gave me a Christian upbringing (…)

Everything was normal and ordinary, and so the years went by. I never thought of becoming a priest, or of dedicating myself to God. The problem simply hadn’t arisen because I thought that that was not for me. But God our Lord was preparing things, giving me one grace after another, forgiving me for my defects and errors in childhood and adolescence (…)

Time went on, and then came the first signs from God: that sense that he wanted something, something (…) There come to my mind so many manifestations of God’s love. Our Lord was preparing me in spite of myself, through apparently innocuous things that he made use of to put that divine uneasiness into my soul. And that’s why I can understand so well the love, so human and so divine, of St Theresa of Lisieux, who was deeply moved when she came upon a picture of the Redeemer’s wounded hand among the pages of a book. Things of that kind happened to me too, and they moved me and led me to daily Communion, purification, Confession… and penance (…)

God our Lord, out of that poor creature who did not let himself be worked on, wanted to make the first stone of this new edifice, to which would come people of many nations, many races, all languages (…)

There were the axe-strokes of God our Lord, to shape that log into the beam that was going to serve, despite itself, to do His Work. And almost without realizing I would repeat: “Domine, ut videam! Domine, ut sit!” (“Lord, that I may see! Lord, that it may be!) I didn’t know what “it” was, but I carried on forward, without responding fully to God’s goodness, but waiting for what I was to receive later on: a collection of graces, one after the other, that I didn’t know how to classify and I called “operative graces”, because they dominated my will to such an extent that I hardly had to make any effort. Forward, without anything extraordinary, working with just medium intensity. Those were the years in Saragossa.


Extracts from Fuentes para la historia del Opus Dei, Federico M. Requena & Javier Sesé, Barcelona: Ariel, 2002