A Modern Lay Saint
The twentieth and twenty-first century have seen an increase in the number of lay men and women who have been beatified and canonized. One of these, Bl. Guadalupe Ortiz de Landázuri Fernández de Heredia (1916 - 1975), died less than fifty years ago and was beatified in May of 2019.
The Early Years
Guadalupe was born in Madrid, Spain to Manuel Ortiz de Landázuri, who was a career army officer, and Eulogia Fernández-Heredia. She was their fourth child and the only girl. Her parents chose her name because she was born on December 12th which is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Little did her parents know that one day their little girl would serve the Lord in the land of Mexico where Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1531.
The family was devout and passed on the faith to the children. Indeed, one of her older brothers, Eduardo and his wife, Laura, have been declared Servants of God. Like many military families, they relocated frequently as her father was reassigned to new locations. Because of that, the family spent time in several places inside of Spain and also in Morocco.
Following the family's return from north Africa to Madrid in 1932, Guadalupe was able to complete her high school education at the Instituto Miguel de Cervantes before she enrolled at the Universidad Central de Madrid. With her interest in the sciences, Guadalupe chose to study chemistry where she was only one of five women in a class of about one hundred. She was remembered as cheerful, strong in character, diligent, and a somewhat serious student.
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The Devastation of the Civil War
Guadalupe had not yet completed her chemistry degree when the Spanish Civil War began in 1936. She was forced to put her studies on hold.
The war brought tragedy to Guadalupe and her family. Her father Manual who was a colonel was falsely accused of treason and condemned to die. Although he was offered a pardon, he refused to accept it in order to not abandon the men under his command. Along with her mother and older brother Eduardo, Guadalupe was able to see her father one last time just hours before he was killed.
Instead of allowing himself to be consoled, Manuel gave words of comfort to his family. Guadalupe would develop that same strength of character which would serve her many times in the future. Eventually, she found the faith to forgive the men who had murdered her father. For the sake of safety, the family left Madrid and relocated to Valladolid where her older brother Manuel lived. Guadalupe would remain there until after the Civil War.
The Start of her Career and a Renewal in her Spiritual Life
After returning to Madrid in 1939, Guadalupe used her degree in chemistry to teach at two schools. In her faith life, she will also see a new beginning.
One day at mass in 1944, Guadalupe discerned a sign from God that He was calling her to a deeper relationship with Him. After mass, she ran into an old family friend. Following the leading of the Holy Spirit and believing she should act quickly on the inspiration she received at mass, she asked her friend for help.
The friend introduced her to St. Josemaria Escriva who had begun Opus Dei less than two decades previously in 1928. The central message of Opus Dei, which Fr. Escriva shared with Guadalupe, resonated with her--God awaits us in the midst of our daily lives and that is where we will find Him. She would make this message her own as she would spend the rest of her life striving to manifest the love of God through her professional work and day-to-day living.
After attending a retreat, on March 19, 1944, she wrote a letter to Fr. Escriva in order to ask to become part of Opus Dei. She would join and become one of the first women in the personal prelature. The following years would see her work closely with Fr. Escriva to help grow Opus Dei as it took root beyond Madrid in cities such as Bilbao and Saragossa. With her educational background, Guadalupe helped set up student residences and supported the new members as they grew in their spiritual life and learned how to serve others.
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A New Mission in Mexico
Fr. Escriva was very grateful for the work Guadalupe had done in the cities of Spain, and he recognized her talents in leadership, organization, and entrepreneurship and her love of God. In 1951, he asked Guadalupe to move to Mexico in order to plant Opus Dei there. She responded to this new challenge with her usual energy and faith. Soon she had set up a student residence and a vocational training center in Mexico City. Later, with the help of a doctor friend, Guadalupe would establish a free mobile medical clinic to help the poor receive medical care including medical tests and needed medicines.
Of course, she was also grateful to be in the country of her namesake, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Undoubtedly, through Our Lady's intercession Opus Dei became well rooted in the country that Guadalupe accepted as her own. While continuing to oversee the growth of Opus Dei in more cities in Mexico beyond the capital, Guadalupe had not forgotten her career. Instead, she continued the doctoral program in chemistry which she had begun in Spain.
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Return to Europe
In 1956, Guadalupe was called to come to Rome where Fr. Escriva had established the headquarters for Opus Dei. She was asked to help with the governance of the personal prelature. However, her stay would not be long as she experienced heart trouble after only being in the Eternal City for several months. The decision was made that it would be best for her to go to Madrid in order to receive the medical care she needed.
After her return to her hometown and a successful surgery, Guadalupe's condition improved and she assumed both a teaching position and a research position. In July of 1965, she earned her doctorate. Over the next decade, Guadalupe would take on additional administrative and leadership responsibilities as an educator and a research scientist. And then, in 1968, she oversaw the establishment of a new research center that she had planned. Throughout these same years, she would continue to help nurture the growth of Opus Dei as many young people benefited from her joy, experience, and mentoring.
In 1975, she again suffered heart trouble, and she agreed to undergo surgery. Although the surgery was successful, soon after the operation, she experienced respiratory failure and died on July 16, 1975 at the age of fifty-eight. Interestingly, Fr. Escriva with whom she had worked so closely for so many years had died only one week before her surgery on June 26th, and her own mother would die exactly a week after Guadalupe's death in the very same hospital.
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Feast Day: July 16 (Memorial)