The Portrait of a Saint

Every time we think about a person who has passed away, we try to deepen their image in our imagination. Often, the easiest way to remember someone is to find people who had at least some contact with them. This applies even when the person we are trying to reconstruct is a saint.

Rosalía López, born on February 5, 1925, in Busnela (Burgos, Spain), answered her vocation to numerary assistant in Opus Dei while working in domestic service at the Work’s first residence in Bilbao, Spain. Her story is very simple. She moved to Rome in 1946, at the invitation of St. Josemaría Escrivá, and worked at the headquarters of Opus Dei until St. Josemaría’s passing into heaven on June 26, 1975. Rosalía passed away this year at the age of ninety-nine but was one of the few people of our current time to have met St. Josemaría.

What was her last memory of St. Josemaría?

“I saw him on the last day, at breakfast time, just before he left to go to Villa delle Rose, in Castelgandolfo, where he then had a meeting with his daughters from all continents. But my most vivid memory is from the day before. After finishing eating, before leaving the dining room, he thanked me, ‘Many thanks, Rosalía, my daughter, for taking such good care of us.’”

Rosalía says that he was always very grateful, but that time it seemed he said it in a different way, with a meaning that went beyond the service she provided. She was very moved, without understanding why, and she told Bianca Fontán, who was standing nearby: “Father thanked me in a different way.” Bianca did not give it much importance since Rosalía was inclined to being emotional. However, the next day, the Father passed away.

During his lifetime, St. Josemaría was a man of God who led others to God. Rosalía describes how with him, everyone had the capacity to learn to love the Lord. She remembers that one day, while she was dusting, he came up to her and asked, “My child, how many acts of love have you done?” Rosalía replied, “Father, what does that mean?” He said, “Listen to me: what you are doing, offer it to God our Lord and also say some loving words to Him.”

He was a true Father, who knew how to love and could be demanding. He loved each person deeply, he was close to everyone, and helped them. He was also a humble man. Rosalía recalls seeing him making beds, cleaning, and putting things in order. He didn’t distinguish between different kinds of work: all were important, and everything had to be done well, for God’s sake.

An Ordinary Saint or the Saint of the Ordinary

What St. Josemaría cared about most were his spiritual sons and daughters. In the summer of 1962, he spent a few weeks in London. Rosalía also went with others to take care of the Center where they lived. When he realized that the day they were to return to Rome coincided with the feast of St. Rosalía, September 4, he changed the tickets. “How can we leave on this daughter of mine’s name day?” he told the group.

Other Memories of a Simple Life

The first months in Rome were special for Rosalía. When she and her companions arrived, Fr. Josemaría and Fr. Álvaro del Portillo welcomed them at the airport. Before they arrived at the apartment in Piazza della Città Leonina, he had washed the dishes and tidied the kitchen so they would find everything in order. That evening, she remembered that they put on the table an omelet with potatoes and chicken, which they had brought on the plane because they knew there was a lot of scarcity in Rome and people were going hungry. It was in the post-war period; there were no means and no money. When the priests came, whom the Father invited to lunch to explain the Work to them, they cooked with the braziers used to heat the house. Basic necessities were lacking, but with a little ingenuity and St. Josemaría’s support, they managed to get by. While Rosalía was cleaning, she often saw him praying on the terrace, looking toward the papal apartments: it was clear that he was praying for the Pope.

Another memory of Rosalía dates back to April 27, 1954, when she believed the Father had died. When she entered the dining room, Fr. Álvaro was assisting the Father, who had a shock due to diabetes, trying to put sugar in his mouth. He told Rosalía to fetch the doctor. At that moment, she thought the Father was dead. That same afternoon, when the Father and Fr. Álvaro returned home, they entered through the door on Villa Sacchetti Street instead of Bruno Buozzi Street (which was the main door of the Center and which he usually used to enter). It seemed like a thoughtful detail to reassure everyone that he had recovered. Later, he asked for an omelet. But, the next day, as soon as he saw Rosalía, he said, “Now you can give me sugar because I am cured of diabetes.”

St. Josemaría would often tell her, “When you pass by the stained glass window with the image of Our Lady, ask her to listen to the Father.” Rosalía wanted to share her testimony to fully convey the depth of the Father’s faith. She described how he entrusted everything to prayer, knowing the Work was God’s. When difficulties arose, he would say, “You, pray.” Throughout this time, Rosalía saw how the Work grew.

“It was the Father’s faith: everything he said came true. He always acted with great hope: he was driven by the desire to get to Heaven and see the Lord, and with a lot of love for God and all people.”

It is interesting how the human brain can reconstruct past images, making them feel close to the present while also changing our perspective for the future. This was the case for Rosalía, whose life was completely changed by St. Josemaría Escrivá. In our efforts to honor those we care about during our journey in this life, we often remember them through the small details that made a difference to us all. This was also true for Rosalía, a simple woman remembering a great Saint.

Cover Photo | From left to right: Amelia Díaz Guardamino, Dora del Hoyo and Rosalía López Lontoossa (1958)
Source: Opus Dei Website

Alina-Maria Balaj Alina-Maria Balaj

Alina-Maria Balaj is the Communications Coordinator for Research Projects at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome where she is also a researcher and a PhD Candidate in the School of Church Communications. The focus of her research is on the communication of the responsibility of women in the Church and in society. She also has a BA in Journalism and International Relations and European Studies (University of Oradea, Romania) and a MA in Church Communications (Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome, Italy). She speaks Romanian, English, Italian, Spanish and French. Her research interests include: institutional communication, history of the Church, feminism, philosophy, and theology. 

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