VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis confirmed the election of Spanish Msgr. Fernando Ocariz as the new prelate of Opus Dei.

The 72-year-old monsignor, who had been auxiliary vicar of Opus Dei, was elected and confirmed by the pope Jan. 23, the first day of voting by Opus Dei’s electoral congress, a gathering of priests and laymen.

Spanish Msgr. Fernando Ocariz, pictured in Rome in 2016, was elected Jan. 23 as the new head of the prelature of Opus Dei. His appointment was confirmed the same day by Pope Francis. (CNS photo/courtesy of Opus Dei)

Opus Dei is a personal prelature, which is in some ways like a diocese without geographic boundaries.

Msgr. Ocariz succeeds Bishop Javier Echevarria, who died in December.

Born in Paris in 1944 to a family exiled during the Spanish civil war, Msgr. Ocariz graduated from the University of Barcelona with a degree in physical sciences in 1966.

Prior to receiving his licentiate in theology from Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University in 1969, he lived in Rome in an Opus Dei house along with St. Josemaria Escriva, the Opus Dei founder. He also received a doctorate in theology from the University of Navarra in 1971, the same year of his ordination.

Msgr. Ocariz serves as a consultor to several Vatican offices, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Clergy and the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.

The process that led to Msgr. Ocariz’s election began Jan. 21 with a consultation involving more than three dozen women who are members of the Central Advisory.

The advisory submitted a list with the name or names of those priests in the Opus Dei electoral congress who they believed were suited for the role of prelate.