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Dora del Hoyo and St Josemaria

Tags: calling, Administration, assistant numerary, Dora del Hoyo
Dora del Hoyo. 1947
Dora del Hoyo. 1947
What was the connection between Dora and St Josemaria? The following article describes Dora’s first contact with Opus Dei in 1944.

St Josemaria and Dora del Hoyo
By the end of January the construction and repair jobs were finished, and Moncloa was free of workmen. It was the first students’ residence set up under St Josemaria’s inspiration, in Madrid, Spain. He attached much importance to anything connected with the kitchen, since a poorly functioning kitchen would undermine the apostolate as well as the financial situation of the residence.
However, the food service, housekeeping and laundry work were still in a state of disarray, and it would, as it turned out, be several years before everything was running smoothly. In large part this was because of a lack of adequate means and experience. Most of the hired workers were inexperienced and had to be taught the basics of household work. To make that little staff an effective team would require not only their gaining some experience and professionalism, but it would be better still if they had some higher motivation.
It was about four years from then that it first happened that some of these women turned their domestic work into a means of sanctification and apostolate as members of Opus Dei.

Dora’s arrival at Moncloa
Students of Moncloa Residence
Students of Moncloa Residence

That happy event had been in the making since the days of the “disasters.” The 1943-1944 academic year had just begun, with nearly a hundred students living in the residence, when some Basque girls, having found that working there was more difficult than they expected, went home. Father Josemaria went immediately to the mother-house of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate for Domestic Service and explained the situation to Mother Carmen Barrasa, who promised to send help as soon as possible.
Mother Carmen had, as it happened, just heard that a young woman named Dora, who worked for the Duke and Duchess of Najera, was available. She was an exceptional person, and Mother Carmen wanted to do Father Josemaria a favor, so she approached Dora and talked her into working at the residence for at least a short time.
Wearing a nice dress and carrying a couple of suitcases, Dora showed up at Moncloa, much to the surprise of Encarnita, who was the one who opened the door. After saying that she had been sent by Mother Carmen, Dora gave a quick rundown on herself. She was twenty-nine; her name was Dora del Hoyo; she came from Riano, in Leon; and she had served in several private homes, most recently that of the Duke and Duchess of Najera. (What she did not mention was that she had come to the residence only in order not to hurt Mother Carmen’s feelings and was planning on an early return to the Najera household.)

Tomorrow I’m leaving

Saint Josemaria during a getogether with the students of Moncloa. Madrid 1972
Saint Josemaria during a getogether with the students of Moncloa. Madrid 1972
When Dora was shown the work area of the domestic staff, she immediately perceived the problem: too much work and too few hands. It pained her to see those young women trying to cope with untrained employees, and work up to their eyeballs. The pay was low, the workers lived in dorms, as was common then, and everything had to be done by the hundreds: the washing of clothes, the cooking and serving of meals. And all this, for what?
Dora had a big heart: at harvest-time in the summer, when the families she worked for were going away for their summer holidays, instead of going with them she used to ask for time off, and go back to her village to give a hand with all the farm-work there. She was moved by the sight of so much self-sacrifice. So she thought to herself, “All right, I’ll stay today and help as much as I can. But tomorrow I’m leaving.” Accustomed to the well-ironed lace-trimmed uniforms worn by maids in aristocratic houses, she felt strange at having to don a plain cleaning dress that did not fit very well.
When Sunday came, Dora went to see Mother Carmen to tell her she was quitting. But the good nun, suspecting what she had in mind, managed to be “not in at the moment.” And continued to do so week after week, whenever Dora came.

Dora del Hoyo and Asunción. Rome 1959
Dora del Hoyo and Asunción. Rome 1959
The latest fashion in shirts

In time, the sight of so much that she could do to improve things engaged Dora’s sense of professional honor and responsibility, and she decided to put off leaving. Encarnita, astonished at her domestic knowledge and abilities, felt that she was a gift from God. She said: “Dora had a heart of gold, and the way she worked was a wonder to behold. She was an expert at ironing, dry cleaning, and sewing. She cleaned with incredible thoroughness, served at table without making the smallest mistake, and knew a great deal about cooking. And her behavior was always respectful and natural. She was able to teach the other girls with authority but also with great delicacy. It is true that she had a strong character, but she also strove to master herself.
The first week we decided to take charge of the clothes, Dora suggested starching the fronts of the white shirts, which was then the latest fashion. We didn’t yet have an ironing room, so she organized the work by taking advantage of free periods-one in the morning and one in the evening-and using the kitchen and dining room tables. She taught the other girls how to do it, and the residents were very happy with the results. She grew so fond of the residence that she decided to stay until the end of the academic year.”

A final decision

Dora del Hoyo. Rome 1992
Dora del Hoyo. Rome 1992
Once the administration of the residence was running smoothly, Father Josemaria, who visited weekly, gave his daughters a green light to begin a deeper apostolate with the domestic employees. Perhaps God would give some of them the vocation to carry out this professional work as members of Opus Dei.
When the Abando Residence was set up in Bilbao in 1945, Dora del Hoyo and Concha Andres volunteered to work there. On March 18, 1946, both wrote to the Father asking to join Opus Dei. Their letters came the following day, the feast of Saint Joseph; and he said that “those two letters were the best present he had ever received on his saint’s day.”


On December 27, 1946, at St Josemaria’s request, Dora moved to Rome, where she lived till the end of her life. There she contributed, with her example and friendly manner, to the professional and spiritual training of young women from all over the world, and helped in the expansion of Opus Dei’s apostolates.
Immediately after her death on January 10, 2004, her widespread reputation for holiness became evident. Hundreds of signed accounts began to arrive, written spontaneously by faithful of the prelature and others, and these provided ample proof of her exemplary Christian life.

Dora del Hoyo in Opus Dei

Msgr. Javier Echevarria said recently: “Dora was of great importance for Opus Dei, because of her faithfulness and her perfectly-finished work, adorned with her humility in doing and disappearing. That is why she was so effective, right up till the end of her life. She didn’t want any glory, any special consideration, and all her life she gave one hundred per cent. She was a woman of faith. She was the first Numerary Assistant, and she put her trust in what God was asking of her through St Josemaria. She lived in hope, which led her to know that Opus Dei would grow and would become what we see today. And all of that was because of her love of God, a love so great that it prevented her from being self-centered. She was totally centered on God and other people.”

See further: A. Vazquez de Prada, The Founder of Opus Dei, vol. II, chapter 14, section 3.

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