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Living the ‘holiness of normality’

Living the ‘holiness of normality’

At an age when people, especially millennials, seem to seek personal fulfilment through high-profile accomplishments, one woman has just been recognized as a model of sanctity through devoting her life to teaching chemistry—without fanfare.

She is Guadalupe Ortiz de Landazuri, the first layperson of the Opus Dei to be beatified, after Opus Dei founder St. Josemaria Escriva and Blessed Alvaro, his successor.

When a layperson—and a woman at that—gets “elevated to the altar of sanctity” in the Catholic Church, people tend to wonder “Why her?”  If she were a nun, they would wonder less, assuming perhaps that with the environment nuns live in it would only be natural (and easier) to be saintly.  And maybe, to a certain extent, they are right; it is really not that easy to behave like a saint when you are steeped in mundane matters 24/7.

When the call of God came to Guadalupe, she had a boyfriend, according to Spanish priest Fr. José Carlos Martinez de la Hoz who is responsible for the canonization causes of Opus Dei members in Spain.  He recounts that “One Sunday in January 1944, when she was at Mass in the Church of the Conception on Goya Street in Madrid, she became distracted and heard the voice of God inside telling her that although she had a boyfriend, He had something else prepared for her. She left Mass impacted by this and knew that was God’s call.”

This Aha! moment for the 27-year old Guadalupe was followed by a “coincidence”. Fr. Martinez de la Hoz says “On the tram going back home after Mass, she met Jesús Hernando de Pablos, a family friend, and she asked him if he knew of any priest she could talk with. He gave her Fr. Josemaría Escriva’s telephone numbers; and she started to go to him for spiritual direction.”  Guadalupe’s being led to the Opus Dei founder himself, and learning to discern from a great teacher, certainly proved that the finger of God was present in the direction of her life.  Fr. Escrivá (now a canonized Saint) taught her that Christ can be found in professional work and ordinary life.

On the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1944, Guadalupe joined Opus Dei as a numerary—which means she could not marry, for she was to be completely available for the work of the prelature.  Another “coincidence”—that she committed herself to celibacy on the day honoring the Patron Saint of women looking for a God-given husband?

During her first years as an Opus Dei member, Guadalupe’s work was focused on the Christian formation of young people in Madrid and Bilbao. In time she was to be entrusted to begin the apostolic work of Opus Dei in Mexico. 

Her life took yet another challenging turn when in 1956 she settled in Rome, where she worked with Fr. Josemaría in the administration of Opus Dei. But it turned out to be a short-lived assignment.  After two years, noting a pain in her chest, she moved back to Spain for a cardiac surgery.  In Madrid she resumed teaching and began a scientific research towards her doctoral thesis. 

Born in Madrid on December 12, 1916, Guadalupe studied chemical sciences and was one of five women in her graduating class.  Her award-winning thesis was on insulating refracting materials from rice husks—hardly a topic people would think as leading a person to sanctity. She taught Chemistry in many schools and institutes.  She was also engaged in many activities that educated women and children and benefitted communities, among which was organizing a mobile clinic that went from home to home, offering services to the poor who could not afford to go to doctors’ clinics or hospitals. Through her profession she helped many to approach God with joy, service and availability—qualities that endeared her to her superiors, and which served as witness to what Pope Francis would call “holiness of normality.”

At Guadalupe’s beatification rites held in her birthplace Madrid on May 18, 2019, Pope Francis lent his presence digitally, delivered his message, and asked the audience at St. Peter’s Square in Rome to applaud Blessed Guadalupe Ortiz “who placed her many human and spiritual qualities at the service of others, helping in a particular way other women and families in need of education and development… not with a proselytizing attitude but simply through her prayer and witness.”

Pope Francis went on to “encourage all the faithful of the Prelature, and all who take part in their apostolates, always to aspire to this holiness of ‘normality’, which burns within our hearts with the fire of Christ’s love, and which the world and the Church are so in need of today.”

At the age of 59, Guadalupe died of heart disease in Pamplona, Spain on July 16, 1975, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  Another “coincidence”?  Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is the patron of another great woman, Saint Teresa of Avila, who taught that sanctity may also be attained when one works lovingly in the kitchen, as “God also walks among the pots and pans.” It may sound silly or superstitious to some, but those whose lives have been touched by such “coincidences” may disagree, such as Blessed Guadalupe Ortiz who (unwittingly echoing her compatriot St. Teresa of Avila) showed us that “sanctity can be found amidst chemistry books and classrooms.”

And for millennials, however self-sufficient they may think they are, there’s no telling where or when God may surprise them with His call.  Maybe while they’re enjoying a pizza, or browsing the internet—who knows?  Ours is a God of surprises.  And that’s the truth.