In the 1940s St. Josemaria Escriva formed a group a priests to serve the members of Opus Dei and built up the female branch of Opus Dei.
Father Josemaria invited three of his spiritual sons to study for the priesthood. He ensured them receiving the best possible formation. He later explained: “When I began preparing the first priests in the Work, I went overboard—- if one might say so —- with their philosophical and theological formation. I did so for many reasons. The second reason, to please God; the third, because many people were looking to me with affection, and I could not let them down; the fourth, because there were people who didn’t like us and were looking for an opportunity to attack us; and then, because I have always urged my sons to get the best possible professional formation and could not be less demanding in their religious formation. And the first reason (since I could die at any moment): because I will have to render an account to God for what I have done, and I ardently desire to save my soul.”
On February 14, 1943 during Mass, Father Josemaria felt the inspiration to organize the future priests for Opus Dei into the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. After making his thanksgiving, he asked for a sheet of paper. He drew a circle with a cross in its centre. The circle represented the world and the cross represented the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross.
Father Josemaria sent one of the future priests, Blessed Alvaro del Portillo, to Rome to seek the approval for the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. The longest serving member at the time, Venerable Isidoro Zorzano, was extremely ill. He offered up his sufferings for the success the future Priestly Society. He received the Last Sacraments from Father Josemaria and died on July 15, 1943.
On October 11, the Congregation for Religious granted the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross the nihil obstat, allowing it to be erected as a society of diocesan right. On June 25, 1944, the first three priests of Opus Dei were ordained in Madrid. The day after ordination, Father Josemaria asked the newly ordained Father Alvaro to hear his Confession. From that day on, Father Alvaro became the regular confessor of Father Josemaria. Soon after the ordination of the first three priests, Father Josemaria invited six other members of Opus Dei to study for the priesthood. Almost one thousand more members of Opus Dei would become priests during the lifetime of Father Josemaria.
The women members of Opus Dei established their first house in July 1942. They also looked after the students’ residence. Father Josemaria taught them that every task, no matter how insignificant it might seem, should be done as perfectly as possible for love of God.
Life was not easy for the women members, there was too much work and too few hands. Father Josemaria asked a nun, Mother Carmen Barrasa, for help. Mother Carmen persuaded a very capable young woman, Dora del Hoyo, to work at the residence for at least a short time. Dora stayed at the residence until the next Sunday and then went to see Mother Carmen to inform her that she was quitting. Mother Carmen knew Dora’s intention, and decided to be “not in at the moment”. She continued to be so week after week whenever Dora came to see her. Meanwhile, Dora began to see how much she could do to improve things and she decided to put off leaving. Father Josemaria and the members prayed for Dora’s vocation and in March 1946, she sent a letter to Father Josemaria expressing her desire to join Opus Dei. Dora died on January 10, 2004 and the her cause of canonization was opened on June 18, 2012.