Fr. John Kubeck, an Opus Dei priest from the Layton Study Center, Brookfield, describes St. Josemaria Escriva as a man of the people and a man who enjoyed life.

escriva1The future St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer blesses a baby in Altoclaro, Caracas, Venezuela on Feb. 8, 1975. (Submitted photos courtesy of the Opus Dei Communications Office)“He was a very open, fun-loving person,” Fr. Kubeck said. “He enjoyed being with (the seminarians) especially.”

St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer founded Opus Dei in Madrid, Spain, in 1928. It is established in about 66 countries and boasts about 87,000 members, including about 1,900 priests. There are about 100 members in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. The core idea of Opus Dei, Latin for “God’s work,” is to bring the Gospel into the secular world and to sanctify daily life as an act of service to God.

Pope John Paul II beatified Msgr. Escriva in Rome May 17, 1992, and canonized him in Rome Oct. 6, 2002.

His feast day will be observed in the Milwaukee Archdiocese on Tuesday, June 26, with a 6:30 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

Fr. Kubeck first met St. Josemaria Escriva in 1961 when he went to Rome to study. They lived in the office of Opus Dei together and he said St. Josemaria Escriva always spent time with him and other seminarians.

“He was trying to bring us closer to the idea that we had already committed ourselves to,” he said. “Explaining to us what it involves.”

He said St. Josemaria Escriva would hang out with them and listen to the music they were playing. He added that St. Josemaria Escriva would tell them that the music wasn’t his style but, “because you enjoy it, I enjoy it.”

Fr. Kubeck remembered once, early in 1961, being given a tour of the chapel by St. Josemaria Escriva with another seminarian in the Opus Dei offices. In the chapel was a special tabernacle in the shape of a dove and it was suspended from the ceiling with chains.

“The door to the tabernacle, the dove’s breast, is glass so it can be opened and you can see the host exposed there,” Fr. Kubeck said. On this tour St. Josemaria Escriva went around the chapel and explained to him the different “motifs.”

“The kneeler,” he said, “was one that St. Pius X had and that the family of St. Pius X had given it to St. Josemaria. He pointed these things out to us, so that was a memorable moment.”

St. Josemaria Escriva, Fr. Kubeck said, loved jokes.escriva2The future St. Josemaria Escriva is pictured in Fátima, Portugal. Nov. 2, 1972. (Submitted photos courtesy the Opus Dei Communications Office)

“He helped me to distinguish between what was a dirty joke and a funny story that involved human sexuality,” Fr. Kubeck said. “You couldn’t help but be at ease in his presence.”

John Coverdale, lawyer and Milwaukee native, spent six years with St. Josemaria Escriva, 1962-1968. He said St. Josemaria Escriva had a great sense of humor, but rarely told jokes.

“He often made funny comments,” Coverdale, an author who has written books about St. Josemaria Escriva and Opus Dei, said. “He certainly liked it when people told jokes to him.”

Coverdale said even during those humorous times, St. Josemaria Escriva always reflected on his faith.

“He had such a vivid, strong faith,” Coverdale said. “One minute you could be laughing, seamlessly he would be talking about Our Lady or the Trinity.”

As Opus Dei became better known, so did the popularity of St. Josemaria Escriva, and with that popularity came greater demands to run the organization. Despite all that work, Coverdale said he always had time for people.

“He had a very full plate, yet he was very focused on individual people,” Coverdale said.

One of the things Coverdale said he misses is the way St. Josemaria Escriva used to greet him.

“He would say, ‘Chon!’; he could never get my name right,” Coverdale said. “I could still hear the warmth of his greeting.”

Coverdale attended St. Robert Parish, Shorewood, and joined Opus Dei while at Marquette University High School. He went to Rome in 1960 to begin his studies.

Fr. Kubeck said he didn’t know what Opus Dei was until his sophomore year of college.

“I had never heard of Opus Dei in my life, up until that point,” he said. 

After learning more about the order, Fr. Kubeck said it was the teaching that God is present in everyday life that made him decide it was right for him.

“(Opus Dei is) taking your Catholic faith seriously,” Fr. Kubeck said, adding that St. Josemaria Escriva taught that God has to be sought in everyday life.

Bishop Donald J. Hying will celebrate Mass on St. Josemaria Escriva’s feast day on Tuesday, June 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, 812 N. Jackson St., Milwaukee.

Recently, Opus Dei was highlighted in the fictional book and later movie, based on the book, “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown. Its portrayal of the organization is controversial, but Fr. Kubeck said the publicity has helped Opus Dei.

“Many more people know about Opus Dei because of it,” Fr. Kubeck said. “It was a great help. I don’t know how many people I’ve met that have read it and said ‘it piqued my curiosity and I wanted to find out more.’”

St. Josemaria Escriva died in 1975 and was canonized in 2002. Fr. Kubeck traveled to Rome for the canonization.

“I looked up and thought, ‘Gosh, you know, Father (the name he always called St. Josemaria Escriva), I knew, but now it’s striking. I looked into those eyes for so long and I was looking into the eyes of a saint,’” Fr. Kubeck said. “Then it occurred to me that he was like telling me, ‘My son, I, too, was looking into the eyes of a saint.’ And that really caught me and I shed a few tears at that point.”