By Jordan Grantham, Catholic Outlook, December 2016
The prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei, known as Opus Dei, is an institution of the Church, devoted to the sanctification of its members through traditional norms of Catholic prayer and a spirituality that offers daily work to God.
St Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer founded Opus Dei in 1928 in Madrid, Spain. Opus Dei arrived in Australia in 1963 at the invitation of Cardinal Gilroy, initially establishing Warrane College at the University of NSW.
Since the early 1990s, members of Opus Dei have organised youth formation activities in Western Sydney, which grew into the Lowana Study Centre in Penrith. The centre opened in 2008.
Members of Opus Dei have also started other vibrant study centres for students, tertiary institutions and schools, which have a significant contribution to the Church in the Diocese of Parramatta. These organisations are not governed by Opus Dei but are influenced by its charism.
Famously, Kenthurst Study Centre hosted Pope Benedict XVI before World Youth Day in 2008. Images capture the special moment of the Holy Father celebrating Mass in the centre’s beautiful neo-gothic chapel, with mahogany reredos and renaissance images for altarpieces.
The vocation to Opus Dei is for single and married, young and old, priests and lay people.
Elizabeth Sofatzis is a young member of Opus Dei, who found God was calling her to join, and live a life solely devoted to him.
“I got to know Opus Dei more deeply when I was a university student and was attracted by the idea that I could find God in my study, which I did a lot of back then!” Elizabeth shared.
Friends involved in Opus Dei inspired her with their example. “They were really putting the message of Opus Dei into practice – they were hard workers, they clearly loved God and others, and tried to help all types of people to get closer to him,” she said.
Opus Dei members come from all walks of life. Whether working in a factory, or a surgery, all people can find sanctification of their life and work.
This sanctification comes from incorporating significant prayer into the life of members. Daily Mass, daily rosary, silent prayer and other foundational Catholic prayers and practices guide members’ lives.
“We make our own time to pray every day, we receive the sacraments regularly, have weekly talks (circles), spiritual direction, an annual course, an annual retreat, time set aside each month for prayer and reflection (recollection),” Elizabeth said.
Elizabeth now lives at the Lowana Study Centre, which offers many programs to encourage the human and spiritual formation of students.
Study programs, talks, tutoring, camps, community service and social activities benefit primary, secondary and tertiary students. Parallel to the spiritual program, professional development and service opportunities are offered to people in the workforce.
The dedication to service is impressive. Nursing homes in Penrith, St Marys and Rooty Hill have all benefitted from visits from the young women of Lowana. Lowana participates in other charitable activities such as Operation Christmas Child, Vinnies Night Patrol and an ongoing Wagga Service Project.
For Opus Dei, whether in international projects, local student support or ongoing professional development, responding to the world’s challenges begins and ends with Christ’s mission for the salvation and sanctification of souls. St Josemaria wrote in his popular work The Way, “These world crises are crises of saints. God wants a handful of men ‘of his own’ in every human activity. And, ‘pax Christi in regno Christi – the peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ’.”
Bishop Javier Echevarría Rodríguez was the Prelate of Opus Dei since 1994 and died Monday 12 December 2016. He served as Chancellor of the University of Navarre and other universities founded by Opus Dei and also wrote several devotional books. The revered figure was the third Prelate of Opus Dei, following in the footsteps of Bl. Alvaro del Portillo and St Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei.