When Father Joseph Muzquiz arrived in Chicago in 1949 to establish the first U.S. center for Opus Dei, he had little money, an image of Mary and the blessing of now St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of the personal prelature. He also had faith.
Muzquiz’s adventure in Chicago is chronicled in “Everyday Holiness,” a new documentary about Servant of God Joseph Muzquiz. The film premiered around Chicago the weekend of Jan. 18.
Born in Spain in 1912, Muzquiz was one of the first three priests ordained for Opus Dei in 1944. He was a handsome, intelligent man and an engineer by trade.
In 1949 he travelled to the United States with three other Spaniards who were members to introduce Opus Dei to the people.“
It’s pretty impressive if you think of a guy with very little English skills coming into a huge country like the U.S., getting his bearings, getting used to the culture, selling this thing that no one had really heard of really, Opus Dei, and getting it started,” said John Paulson, director of “Everyday Holiness” and a Glenview native.
Opus Dei chose to begin its mission in Chicago because it found a receptive community here, which included Cardinal Samuel Stritch.
Opus Dei, which means “work of God,” is a Catholic institution founded by St. Josemaría to help people turn their work and daily activities into occasions for growing closer to God, serving others and improving society, according to the institution’s website. There are priests and lay members of Opus Dei.
Today in the Chicago area, Opus Dei staffs St. Mary of the Angels Parish, operates Northridge Prep and Willows High schools, the Embers Elementary School, Lexington College and Midtown Educational Foundation, along with its centers.
The documentary features a brief interview with Cardinal George who talked about Chicago at the time Muzquiz arrived here. The cardinal recalled the Catholic Church being strong in its faith life with active involvement in social action and family movements during that time.
“Chicago was a place open to the need of the church to be part of the world and to work for justice as well as for charity,” Cardinal George says in the film.
Muzquiz and his companions looked to establish centers near universities. Centers are places where members of Opus Dei live and offer classes, spiritual gatherings and Masses for its members and the wider community. It’s first center for men opened in 1949 at 5544 Woodlawn Ave., near the University of Chicago.
“They wanted to go the universities because they wanted to try to bring people who would be influential in the general culture into closer contact with the Lord,” Cardinal George says in the film.
Muzquiz’s faith and determination showed through in the purchase of the home in 1949. They had very little money and were able to secure a partial mortage from a bank. A supporter secured another mortgage but they still needed a down payment. The real estate agent was so impressed with Muzquiz and the other men that he donated his commission for the down payment. A center for women opened nearby in 1951.
Muzquiz spent 10 years in the United States, travelling all over the country, meeting with bishops, priests and laypeople and planting the seed of Opus Dei.
“The stories we hear is that he tried to keep the message very simple,” Paulson told the Catholic New World at a screening for the film Jan. 18 at St. Mary of the Angels Parish. “It’s really a message of ‘How do you find God in your ordinary regular life? How can you be deeply spiritual, really connected to Jesus Christ and his teachings, in the middle of what you’re doing?’”
Opus Dei Father Peter Armenio, vicar of Opus Dei for the Midwest, first met Muzquiz in 1976 when the former was studying for the priesthood in Rome. Muzquiz had just been named vicar for Opus Dei in the United States.
“For me he was famous because I knew in 1949 he came with another Spaniard named Sal Ferigle and they started Opus Dei in Chicago,” Armenio said.
Muzquiz struck Armenio as kind, humble and obedient since the prelate of Opus Dei was sending him back to the United States when he was in his 70s.
Muzquiz asked Armenio where he was from and for his parents’ phone number.
“It was basically a five to 10 minute exchange and then he called my parents just to tell them that he had seen me,” he said. Muzquiz also sent Armenio a letter every year on his birthday while the latter was in Rome.
“He was not a flashy person. I wouldn’t say that he was an electrifying preacher, but his example was so overpowering,” Armenio said. “It wasn’t an example of somebody who was super charismatic because he wasn’t that either, but the example of a very simple, humble, loving person.”
Armenio met up with Muzquiz again in the 1980s when he was serving at the U.S. headquarters in New York City. It was discovered Armenio needed one more class to be ordained that year but no one was free to tutor him. Despite being very busy himself, Muzquiz offered to teach the young priest.
“What was extraordinary is that he gave expression to the commandment to love one another as I have loved you. His witness was very palpable and noticeable,” Armenio said.
Muzquiz’s witness helped draw many people to Opus Dei in the United States.
“If he came to Chicago today maybe he wouldn’t recognize what he had started. In other words there he was struggling to get a little residence off the ground in 1949-1950 and now you have a pretty well developed work of evangelization throughout the country, and in a special way in Chicago,” Armenio said.
Paulson said that a film can never articulate the “genuine holiness” of Muzquiz.
“As a filmmaker he was like the worst possible subject you could be handed. There’s no film footage. There’s a handful of pictures. And so the film really relies on the personal testimony of people who knew him,” Paulson said.
“You can’t just cut to a clip and there he is moving people with an eloquence of a homily and something like that. There’s no Fulton Sheen in this guy whatsoever. Yet he’s moving souls just like a Sheen.”
What was Muzquiz’s example to the people?
“Silent sacrificial work. This is the phrase that Don Alvaro, the successor to Josemaría, used for Father Joseph because he was a quiet man. He was not eloquent by any means,” Paulson said.
The title of the movie is taken from Muzquiz’s example.
“It’s such an ordinary kind of phrase. But if you think about it. Every. Day. Holiness. This is what the guy did every single day of his life,” Paulson said. “From what I hear from all of the testimony he never betrayed that. That’s a challenge to everybody who wants to be holy.”