Dora del Hoyo Biography

“Una Luz Encendida” (A Lighted Lamp), first biography of Dora del Hoyo, first Assistant Numerary of Opus Dei

I’ve just gotten hold of a copy of “Una Luz Encendida” (thanks, Gina & Chas!!!) and I’m enjoying it tremendously! 🙂

I’ve decided to do a provisional translation of the Chapter on her CALLING TO OPUS DEI and put it here. I hope you find it helpful.


Chapter III – The Calling

                In 1939, as soon as the Spanish Civil War was over, St Josemaría set up a Residence for male university students in Madrid, which could be an ideal continuation of the work he’d begun in October 1934, but which was destroyed in the war. It was set up at a flat along Jenner St., and activities went on until the end of the Academic Year 1942-43, as its owner had to take the property back since a son was getting married and was going to reside in the place with his wife and future family.

But this setback did not deter the apostolic zeal of the Founder. On the contrary, it encouraged him to further the apostolic work he was carrying out. After many searches, he found two small hotels along Moncloa Avenue, near to the Ciudad Universitaria, which could serve as the seat of the Residence [“La Moncloa”] …

St Josemaría likewise thought that the moment had come for him to give a push to one of the apostolic works specific and unique to the women in Opus Dei which he wanted carried out all over the world, and which he considered of such importance as to describe it as the “apostolate of apostolates”: attending to the domestic chores in the Centers, to ensure that touch of affection ―composed of human tone, cleanliness, good taste, care for little details, and many more―, which could turn any house into a warm, Christian home.  From the start, he had called this group of women in charge of these tasks of the home the “Administration.”

That was 1943, and there were only quite a few women in the Work.  For the Administration of La Moncloa, which was going to house around a hundred university students, the Founder only had three young women numeraries ―each was only a little over 20 years old―, with scant experience in these matters. In addition, Spain found itself in a situation of dire scarcity in all aspects: from food items to fuel, not to mention electrical appliances.  To all this, one had to add a complete lack of money; but they launched themselves out into the adventure, encouraged and strengthened by the fervor of St Josemaría who had so much trust in Divine Providence.

The beginnings were quite tough.  Add to the circumstances mentioned the fact that the first women hired to work in the Administration lacked even the most basic preparation and training and the women of the Work had to teach them from the start the most basic tasks. As if this weren’t enough, after only 3 months from the start of the Academic Year, some of these hired girls could no longer stand it and left.

In the face of such situation, St Josemaría had recourse to the religious Nuns of the Domestic Service [Congregación de las Hijas de María Inmaculada para el Servicio Doméstico y la Protección de la Joven] begging for help.  He explained his predicament to Mother Carmen Barrasa, who promised to send, the soonest possible, a person who she felt had all the requirements: she just found out that Dora, who was employed at the home of the Duke and Duchess of Nájera, was free during those times. Mother Carmen knew that Dora was an exceptional woman; she wanted to do St Josemaría this favor, since she admired his Priestly virtues.

Mother Carmen spoke to Dora, and she spoke with so much insistence that, even though she couldn’t convince her to stay and work permanently at the Residence, she managed to convince her to do so at least temporarily. Dora was to find out that the financial conditions of the place were much worse than the working conditions she was used to. With “two pieces of luggage and a nice dress, off she went to knock at La Moncloa’s door”.

As soon as she arrived and assessed the Administration area, “she realized, without any need for explanation, the huge amount of work and the scarcity of means that met her in that place.”  When she changed to the uniform given her, that was her first ‘baptism of fire.’ She was used to the servants’ uniforms proper of staff of the wealthy, aristocratic families (clean, well-ironed, with lace) and changing to that uniform, which besides didn’t fit her perfectly, made her a bit uncomfortable.

So she decided to stay there only for a week, in consideration of the kindness of the religious Nun who had asked her. The following Sunday came, and she went to see Mother Carmen to transmit her decision, but Mother Carmen fixed things and spoke in such a way as to convince her to work 8 more days. Afterwards, another week more…

That was repeated many more times, until such time as when the Nun had to tell her strongly, when she was insisting on leaving, “Mother told me to stop that hesitation and foolishness of mine, and to stay on at La Moncloa for good, since ‘the girls were quite nice, and the Founder was a Saint.”

The truth was that Dora was a treasure and gift from God for the Residence. Encarnita Ortega, who was one of the directors of the Administration, explained that “she had a heart of gold, and she worked divinely: she had perfect control of the flat iron and dry cleaning and sewing; she cleaned with extraordinary perfection; she served at table without the slightest failing; she knew the kitchen perfectly well.  In addition, her manner was respectful, natural, and she knew how to teach the other girls with authority yet with a lot of refinement. It’s true that she had quite a strong character but she struggled to have it under control.”

Soon enough, Dora was suggesting areas for improvement in the domestic services. For example, when it came to ironing, she herself recalled, “the starched men’s shirts, especially on the nape/collar portion and the sleeve cuffs, would wear out quite quickly; and since they had to look nice and neat on the boys, we had to starch all the shirts: lapel, cuffs, collars and all.  Afterward, we’d iron them while still wet; all this took a lot of time. Add to that the fact that we lacked charcoal; what we had was some roundish heater which we put inside the charcoal flat irons.

The number of shirts was huge; each week there were plentier, in proportion to the number of residents; and all they had were rather primitive manual irons: they’d heat them up at the kitchen oven. So, at one moment, without telling the directors so they won’t disallow them, Dora began taking away hours from her sleep in order to put out the clothes of the Residents.

“I’d stay up until 2 in the morning, given the amount of work that had to be done. Concha [Concepción Andrés, another hire in La Moncloa; who was to later on be the second Assistant Numerary of Opus Dei] would say, “I’ll just sleep a while, then I’ll join you.” Perhaps she’d sleep 5 minutes, then get up and say, “I’m OK. Now I go help you.” And we’d iron away the whole night. (…) But we never told the others, and these ones never knew because the ironing room was isolated from the dormitory area. We’d close the door tightly and we tried not to make any noise. When they finally found out, they really got quite mad at us; and Nisa became very serious. But I explained that, if we hadn’t done that, we couldn’t bring out the clothes. It was solved by narrating things; because everything’s fixed by talking about them. As our Father would always tell us, “speak, and the solution comes quickly.”

Each time Dora was getting quite fond of the Opus Dei women and the home, until one given moment, after one month of hesitating, she finally decided to unpack and remain in the Residence until the end of the Academic Year in June. What moved her to act that way? It is known that she was a very hardworking woman and that, at that time, she was intending to open up an inn in Madrid, along with her sister Isabel, as they had substantial savings between the two of them.

Thus, to the question “What really kept her at La Moncloa?” there is only one answer: Her big heart.  Her magnanimous character led her to exert herself and wear herself out “completely, with great generosity of time and a growing conviction that that work was very much of God and that she had to help: her professional work was indispensable in that family.”

Moreover, that decision of hers was very much influenced by two other factors. The first: the generosity that she saw in the women of Opus Dei who were directing the Administration of the Colegio Mayor. Years later, Dora was to affirm that she was moved at “how tough the women numeraries worked” and “many evenings they never slept and worked all night.” That generosity won her over, because it offered her a compleat and, thus, attractive image of the Christian vocation.

The second great reason that moved her to remain was definitely her having met the Founder of Opus Dei.

St Josemaría would go and visit his daughters at La Moncloa each week and, among other topics, he’d never tire of reminding them to take good care of the staff humanly and spiritually. He’d suggest to them to repeat some prayer during the morning and the evening, and some aspirations throughout the day; to invite them to pray the Rosary together; and to ensure that they fulfilled the Sunday precept always. Added were very concrete details of Christian charity: the numeraries always went ahead (set the example), choosing the tougher thing, going ahead in service, giving good example of cheerfulness and generosity. Everyone would take the same menu; they had to facilitate their rest, going out with them for a walk or doing some excursion with them, etc.

Afterward, he would devote some minutes attending to each one working there. In those brief conversations, he’d ask them if they ate well, if they were writing to their families; “he’d speak to them about the importance and necessity of their work, as necessary as that of a doctor or an architect; he caused them to feel quite proud of their being domestic helpers, to carry out their task professionally, and to love their uniform as a military officer or pilot or marine would.”

In addition,  he advised them to “deal with the Virgin in a lively manner and to practice other devotions of piety, so that they may lead a spiritual life,” and “be very sincere, to recount everything to the numeraries, to be very happy; to do the cleaning out of love for God. Dora even recalled how he taught them to open and close windows with presence of God: he’d leave the windows with the chains taut so that they don’t bang against the wall.”

Dora understood at once that St Josemaría was a holy Priest, and she felt utmost respect for his person, which led her to listen to his every word with exquisite attention. She was likewise attracted to his nice human dealings, full of refinement and cordiality. “He was so nice that every Saturday we’d ask Nisa: ‘Isn’t the Father coming today?’ (…) And she’d reply: “If you’re well behaved, he’ll come; otherwise, he’s not going to come.” (…) We were very happy at his kindness and at his joy. Moreover, he’d tell us: “You have to be happy, but very happy, because you’re daughters of God —well, all of us, because I too am a son of God— and we ought to be joyful to overflowing.”

There is, therefore, no doubt that the esteem Dora already felt for St Josemaría also played an fundamental part in her decision not to abandon the Residence. “She would always think: ‘No, I can’t go; I must help the Father’; or also ‘I’m going to stay; I don’t want to displease the Father.” So, at the end of the Academic Year, Dora decided to stay on at La Moncloa one more year.

In 1945, the Founder thought of assigning to her daughters a new project, another “madness”: that of administering another Residence —this time in Bilbao—, which was to start in September of that year. They needed to train a team for the administration, and Encarnita and Nisa thought at once of Dora: Who else could ensure that the new project would turn out to be a success?

The two spoke to Dora about it, without mentioning the city, and the reply came with force: “I’m willing to go anywhere…except to Bilbao and to Zamora.” And, as we’ve seen above, the reason for Bilbao was that bad experience, while Zamora occurred to her as a tiny town.

But they knew that Dora could possibly change her mind. So, during the summer, when she was visiting with her parents, Nisa wrote her, repeating the request. Dora later told us that it was her father who passed on to her the telegram without opening it as it was addressed to her, but who said with certainty: “It must be about that Residence to which they want you to go.” Dora, after seeing that they were insisting on her going to Bilbao, declared: “I’m not going to that place!” But the father, equally strongly, spoke thus: “What do you mean you’re not going? You’ve given your word that you’re going. (…) So, you’re going to go…and if you don’t like it, then you return.” Exactly the opposite of what happened when she told him of her intention to go to Germany. Thus, much later, Dora was able to affirm: “I owe my being in the Work in a special way to my father.”

And she did go to Bilbao. And with her came another staff at La Moncloa: Concha Andrés. The situation in the new Residence was exactly the same as in Madrid in 1944: unfinished house construction, the kitchen wasn’t working properly, they were queuing up to use the bathrooms… There, “Dora did everything: she would cook along with Concha —especially when the cook refused to cook because she disliked the menu—, she did the cleaning and ironing. They managed to keep the wooden floors clean and bright through waxing.”

But they were very happy. On the 6th of January, she received a gift from the Three Kings which gave her much delight: a copy of The Way, the first book of St Josemaría which had just been published. She herself explained what significance it had for her spiritual life: “I was extremely delighted with The Way, and many times they’d read to us some portions for the reading. With every point that she would hear, she would say to herself: ‘this is for me.’ I liked it so much, and I read it in one sitting: I didn’t sleep until I finished reading it. The following day, [Nisa González Guzmán, the director] asked me: ‘Did you like The Way?’ And I answered: ‘A lot! When I began reading it, I couldn’t drop it until I finished it, because it was just so beautiful.”

Dora began to feel intimations in her soul of a calling from God: that He was asking her to give Him her heart entirely.  She was 31, almost 32. She explained to her parents that she was thinking of giving her life to God in celibacy, to seek sanctity in the midst of ordinary work; that she was going to live like the other women in the Work and that, even though she was going to be physically away from them, she would write them frequently.

Once again it was her father that advised her prudently and clearly. He said that she was already of age, and that she was free to make the most opportune decision, but that she ought to think about it hard, because deciding for God was for always, and that there was no turning back.

On 14 March 1946 she asked for admission in Opus Dei; on the 17th, Concha Andrés did the same. They became the first two Assistant Numeraries in the world, with a professional training and preparation to be household staff. St Josemaría received their petition on the feast of St Joseph, and he commented that “they were the best gift he ever received on his feastday.”


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