Christian Parents

Esther Toranzo

Tags: Barbastro, Cross, History
Saint Josemaría was born in Barbastro at about ten o’clock at night on January 9, 1902. His parents were José Escriva and Dolores Albas.

José Escrivá and Dolores Albás Escrivá, Josemaria’s parents
José Escrivá and Dolores Albás Escrivá, Josemaria’s parents
The Escrivas came originally from Narbonne in France, but had been settled for centuries in the Catalonian district of Balaguer. José’s parents had been landholders in Fonz, and when still a young man he moved to Barbastro to establish himself as a merchant. He began working in the “Cirilo Latorre” textile company, and later, with two others, set up a company known as “Successors to Cirilo Latorre,” which afterwards became “Juncosa and Escriva.”

The family of Dolores Albas was from Ainsa, capital of the Sobrarbe region of Spain in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Her paternal grandfather, Manuel Albas, moved to Barbastro, where he married. He had four children, of whom the oldest, Pascual, married Florencia Blanc. The couple had fifteen children, of whom the next to last was a girl, Maria Dolores, who became the mother of the founder of Opus Dei.

José Escriva and Dolores Albas were married on September 19, 1898, in the Cathedral of Barbastro, and moved into an apartment adjacent to the central plaza. Their first child, Maria del Carmen, was born there, and their second, José Maria (who years later, out of devotion to St. Joseph and our Lady, joined his first two names into one). Afterwards came three girls—Maria Asuncion, Maria de los Dolores and Maria del Rosario—and when the family was residing in Logroño, another boy, Santiago.

Doña Dolores was a pious woman, graced with a natural dignity and serene beauty. Those who knew her described her as patient and good natured, open and friendly in her conversation. She was a tireless worker, and had a lot of common sense.

José Escriva was enterprising, methodical, hardworking and honest. At home he was very affectionate and devoted to his family. He was a man with many friends, sincere, generous and cheerful, elegant in his dress and measured in his conversation. He was generous to the poor, a great alms-giver, as saint Josemaria used to say. He was especially kind towards his employees. His concern for their religious life led him to organize Lenten conferences for them, which they were free to attend or not. The Escriva’s were highly esteemed and well-liked in Barbastro, where they had many friends and, on Doña Dolores’ side, numerous relatives. Their financial situation was quite comfortable and their future seemed to be secure.

Saint Josemaria was born healthy and strong, but at the age of two he suffered a grave illness. The doctors gave up hope for him, and one night they told his father, José, that the child would die within a few hours. His parents begged our Lady for his cure with great intensity. Doña Dolores promised our Lady of Torreciudad, a title of the Blessed Virgin much venerated in that region, that she would bring the child on a pilgrimage to her shrine if he was cured. On the following morning, one of the doctors asked, “What time did the boy die?” Don José replied, “He didn’t die, in fact he’s perfectly well.” The boy was brought by his parents to the shrine of Torreciudad and offered at the feet of our Lady. Recounting this great favor of our Lady, his mother used to say, “My son, you were more dead than alive. God must have left you on earth for something great.”

As a Christian family, the Escrivas observed certain practices of piety in common. These included Mass together on Sundays, praying the rosary, taking part in Saturday devotions in a nearby church, midnight Christmas Mass.… From a very early age, Josemaria learned his first prayers from his parents. Doña Dolores personally prepared her son for his first confession and accompanied him to confession on the set day.

The boy was a great friend of his father. He awaited impatiently for his father to return from work, and opened the door for him or went out to meet him. He would often put his hand in his father’s coat pocket looking for a piece of candy or, in winter, hot chestnuts. Don José would take him to fairs in Barbastro and neighboring towns or simply walk around the city with him. The walks provided an opportunity for intimate father-son conversations, answering the boy’s questions and exchanging confidences.

But deep sorrow soon entered the Escriva home. Between 1910 and 1913, the three youngest children all died, in reverse order starting with the youngest. Seeing his family suffer, Josemaria began to realize the depth suffering can sometimes reach, while also learning, from his parents’ example, how to face up to it in a Christian way. He became more reflective. And one day, thinking of the order of his three sister’s deaths, he told his mother: “Next year it’s my turn.” His mother replied: “I’ve offered you up to our Lady. She will take care of you.”

Then came the suffering brought on by the collapse of Don José’s business. His father was forced to start out anew in Logroño, where he moved with his whole family in 1915.

Saint Josemaria’s first years in Logroño were divided between the Institute for Secondary Education and his family. The move to the new city was difficult for him at first. But he soon adapted, thanks to his father’s example and advice, and his own ability to win friends, a fruit of his loyalty towards his companions. During these years, he dedicated many hours to the study of history and literature, reading broadly in these areas. In 1918 he obtained his diploma at the Institute of Logroño with excellent grades.