Conference on the First Women of Opus Dei
During the month of November, the historian Inmaculada Alva gave in several cities of Spain the conference “Women who broke barriers,” about the first women who, attracted by the message of finding God and serving others through one’s professional work, followed the spirit of St. Josemaría in the forties.
The decade of the forties began in Spain with bad news for women’s freedom. The new government restored the Civil Code of 1889, by which a woman was under the tutelage of her father or husband. With its marked protectionist character, a woman ran the danger of “becoming, in many ways, an eternal minor," Alva pointed out.
However, even amid that context, many women managed to attain access to a profession and excelled in it. Some of them came in contact with the spirit of Opus Dei and felt especially attracted by it. Josemaría Escrivá was already speaking at that time about the importance of his “daughters” (as he called the women in the Work) being present in such activities as culture, the press, entertainment, business, architecture, and medicine.
Inmaculada Alva cited some writings of Josemaría Escrivá dating from those years that show a mentality in favor of women and full confidence in their abilities, in open contrast to the dominant ideas of the time. “St. Josemaría saw women as having a role that went beyond the creation of a home, bringing a specifically feminine contribution to work and civil occupations.” An example of his initiative was opening a university residence for women in the capital of Spain, when the index of women in Spanish universities was less than 14% of the student body, and encouraging them to start a publishing house especially aimed at women readers.
Among the women who followed him in Opus Dei were “philologists, chemists, doctors, historians, domestic employees, researchers, nurses, writers, trade unionists, who usually worked in a world of men.” Many of these women left Spain to carry the message of Opus Dei to France, England, Portugal, Italy, United States, Colombia, Mexico and other countries, in addition to many Spanish cities.
Alva briefly traced the trajectory of two of these pioneers, “who stood out in their area of specialty.” One of them, the Murcian, Piedad de la Cierva, began her chemistry studies in 1928 and graduated in 1932 with the highest honors. From Murcia she traveled to Denmark to work in the Niels Boehr Institute of Theoretical Physics, where she became acquainted with five Nobel prize winners. Piedad pioneered discoveries in artificial radiation, and in the industrialization of optical glass and devices for night vision. In 1945 the reading of a small book by St. Josemaría, The Way, responded to her deep spiritual concerns: “It made a great impression on me. I saw that this work, which I enjoyed and liked so much, could make me a saint.”
The second woman, Lourdes Díaz-Trechuelo, from Seville, was a professor of Latin American History and co-founder of the School of Hispanic American Studies in Seville. Inmaculada Alva said it was “her breadth of vision and strong professional vocation that led her to connect with Opus Dei when she encountered it.”
“These were women who broke barriers. Not because they did great things, though in some cases they did, but because upon discovering the novelty of Opus Dei’s message, they launched out on a path beyond what a woman of the 40s could imagine.”
The conference was held on November 15 at the Law Association of Malaga; on November 16 in the Assembly Hall of the Diputación of Almería; and on November 17 at the Architectural College of Granada.
Romana, No. 65, July-December 2017, p. 327-328.