What Opus Dei Isn’t

by | Apr 23, 2013 | Catholic Living, Things I Think | 19 comments

A friend asked me to weigh in on this really, REALLY long negative take on Opus Dei, written by an unhappy former member, and the resulting back and forth on her facebook timeline.  But, it got way too long for facebook, so I’m putting it here.

So . . . what Opus Dei isn’t:

MOSTLY it isn’t albino assassin monks.

I have been involved with Opus Dei for over seven years. I am a cooperator and my husband is a supernumerary and I’m allowed to tell you that because it’s NOT a secret.

The people I have met through Opus Dei have been WITHOUT EXCEPTION absolutely lovely. I am friends with people who are cooperators like me, married members like my husband, celibate members (called numeraries) and priests — from all over the country and all over the world. And they have all been kind and helpful and, most tellingly, well-formed Catholics.

Because that’s the point of Opus Dei: Catholic formation. It’s really just that: helping people to know and live their faith in whatever life circumstances they find themselves.

I have personally found the formation, spiritual direction, and friendships I have found through Opus Dei to be absolutely invaluable to me as a wife, mother, writer, and Catholic.

According to the internet, there are people who are very unhappy with their experiences with Opus Dei. But, of course, the same could be said about the Catholic Church at large.

Opus Dei is a tool. That’s it. You can put a ladder down on the ground and jump up and down on it and say, “This ladder doesn’t work. It’s stupid.” Or you could prop it against the wall like you should, but then start kicking out rungs here and there until you can’t go up any farther and say, “Hey, this ladder stinks, and so do all the other people with ladders.” But really, in neither of those cases would the ladder be at fault.

Frankly, I’m not going to be all that much help addressing the issues brought up by that article. Because I’m not a numerary, I haven’t had many of the life experiences that he has had in that regard, and also because my experience with Opus Dei has been utterly unlike what he describes. Mostly it sounds to me like Opus Dei was never a good fit for this guy (and vice versa) and I wonder why he stuck with it for so many years when he never much seemed to like it. I would generally not recommend that for anyone.

I can, however address the concerns in the Facebook comments, which I hope are not widespread, because they were, to me, very surprising in how far from my reality they were. But just in case they are widespread, here goes . . .

1. It’s secretive and exclusive: Opus Dei just isn’t organized like, say, the Boy Scouts, where there’s a hierarchy and set guidelines, and you can call National HQ and sign up. There is cooperation between members, but each center is run independently, by its own members. St. Josemaria envisioned it as an apostolate of friendship. Meaning that one friend would recommend it to another and word would spread that way. People are generally introduced to what cooperators and members do slowly, for the same reason you’d introduce someone who expressed an interest in math to addition before handing them a calculus book. But I have found the members I know very willing to answer questions. And hey, they let ME in, so how exclusive could it be?

2. It’s bossy and time consuming: Opus Dei has only ever made recommendations to my husband or myself. No event is required. No personal practices are mandatory. But that said, it would be pretty silly to say you wanted to be a part of an organization, but not want to take any of its recommendations.

Here are the recommended activities for a cooperator like myself:

1. A daily plan of life (things I try to get to each day, like a Morning Offering, Mass, the Angelus etc.).

2. A monthly mini-retreat lead by a priest called an Evening of Recollection (2-3 hours).

3. A monthly “circle” lead by a supernumerary or numerary member (1 hr).

4. Monthly spiritual direction by a priest or lay member of Opus Dei (People often choose a lay member since then it can be a person who has a more similar life experience to yourself. I have had both, both were great. I see a priest now.).

5. A yearly retreat (1 weekend).

In addition to those things, a supernumerary also usually participates in:

1. A weekly circle (1 hr).

2. A yearly doctrine seminar (1 week).

It can feel like a lot sometimes, but it’s all voluntary. And when I realize how much more effective and efficient I am when I am properly focused, it seems silly not to make the time.

Also, what I lose in help around the house and with the kids on the evenings and weekend and week that my husband is gone, I more than make up for in having a husband who is willing to help around the house and with the kids on every other day! I’m still pretty sure I come out on top time-wise over wives whose husbands spend a lot of time golfing, fishing, playing with model trains, or going to Star Trek conventions.

3. The members are “image conscious in the extreme and worldly”: I’m not sure what to do with this one. That has not been my experience. I live in LA, so you could pretty easily throw that label around, but the Opus Dei families that I know really run the financial gamut. Some are struggling financially, but have a great perspective on it. And even the ones who are wealthy have a refreshing lack of attachment to their things. It’s hard to have that without formation. I do often hear encouragement to dress nicely, which in a world of moms in velour sweat suits is pretty counter-cultural. But I find that looking pulled-together makes me act pulled-together, and maybe even BE pulled-together. But again, an individual is free to disregard that or any other advice.


So that’s MY experience of Opus Dei. If you have had a bad experience with Opus Dei, or one of its events or members, please allow me to say that I am honestly very sorry. But know that your experience is not representative of all experiences with Opus Dei.

If you are interested in receiving the formation that Opus Dei provides, your best bet is to ask someone you know who is involved with Opus Dei about going to an Evening of Recollection or a retreat. If you don’t think you know anyone involved with Opus Dei, send me an email and I’ll see if I can help you figure it out.

Or, the Opus Dei website can be found here.

All centers of Opus Dei are listed with their local diocese, so you could always call your diocese to ask to be referred to someone locally. Information from MY local centers of Opus Dei here in Los Angeles can be found at Walnut Grove Cultural Center (for women) or Tilden Study Center (for men).

If you happen to be in Rome, you can stop by:

Our Lady of Peace Prelatic church of Opus Dei75, Viale Bruno Buozzi

00197 RomeTel. 06-808961

Open daily 8.30 a.m. – 8.25 p.m. (from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., use entrance at n. 36 Via di Villa Sacchetti).

Mass times: Daily at 8.30, at 12.00 noon and at 19.30

If you are not interested in receiving the formation that Opus Dei provides, I’m totally cool with that too. Just promise me you won’t join it anyway, be a member for 17 years, then write constant angry tirades against it on the internet. ‘Cause that’s just crazy.

Update: Thanks to Claire for the shout out and some love for St. Josemaria over at her blog, Everything is Grace


  1. Ashley Sue

    I am so glad you wrote this post. I have been interested in participating for over a year now but I had some reservations due to a lack of knowledge about the actual organization. I am a military wife living in Gouverneur, Ny; my parish priest was very annoyed at my inquiry. I had an opportunity two years ago but did not take the chance. I am now, so thank you!

    • Kendra Tierney

      Perhaps someone who knows your area better than I do will see this and reply. I found some centers in New York, but pretty far away from you. I think your best bet would be to send an email to Info@opusdei.org with your location and someone will get back to you with the closest events. And I'll have to think about if we know anyone close to you, you're almost in Canada!

    • Ashley Sue

      Oh thank you for even checking. I am calling Bishop Lavalley tomorrow to set up a chat. We have been on some culture shock up here! We hail from the Deep South originally.

      Would it matter that we move every two to three years?

    • Kendra Tierney

      Honestly that would just make you appreciate it even more. It will give you an easy way to connect with other Catholic families and a solid spiritual director (most) anywhere the military takes you. (My husband was a Marine and I'm a Navy brat, so I know a little about it, though I was always in San Diego, so I guess I mostly don't.)

  2. Nanacamille

    I have been to the Opus Dei church in Rome twice to mass and a tour and saw no scary monks or anything else resembling the movie Opus Dei characters. I encountered only happy and joyful people who welcomed us and made us feel at home.

  3. Anonymous

    Just stumbled on your entertaining blog. Your comments are funny and helpful, but you two are not at the "secret" level the article's author was at. It's the lack of openness at that level that's disconcerting. I have friends who entered Opus Dei as adults and find it helpful, but their kids have been sucked into deeper involvement in ways that were not really honest and healthy. A bit reminiscent of the hard ball recruitment of the Legion of christ!

    • Kendra Tierney

      Thank you, Anonymous, for your comment about the lack of openness . . . :0)

      Anyway, again, that just hasn't been my experience. We have very close friends who have children who have become numeraries and they have been comfortable and supportive of their children's involvement. You're right, I don't have any personal or family experience at that level, but you have to think of it as the vocation it is. Perhaps your friends would also have struggled with a child's vocation to professed religious life, or something else that isn't the norm of marriage and family. If you have particular concerns I think you could get particular answers from your local center of Opus Dei. I have always found them happy to talk.

  4. Susan H.

    Thank you for sharing this. My husband and I are cooperators with Opus Dei, we LOVE the work, it's founder and many of it's members more than words can say, and are praying about entering the process of becoming supernumeraries. Opus Dei retreats, cooperator's circles and recollections have changed my life, and drawn me into the heart of Christ in ways that I'll never be able to explain. God bless you and your family.

  5. Kate

    I'm not a member of The Work, nor have I read anything by the author you linked to, but I tend to agree with you on this and I'm really glad you wrote on it. I did live in a center for the summer and have known lots of people well who were involved with the work, and I've primarily had a really positive experience with it.

    You mentioned the organizing principle of Opus Dei, the apostolate of friendship, and I feel like this is linked to certain people's "shady" experiences precisely because the face of the organization is "that numerary I know." And if that numerary is pushy or awkward or insensitive than so is the entirety of Opus Dei as far as they're concerned. I personally have known scads of AWESOME numeraries and one that…well…was weird.

    The other thing is that often – and I'm not speaking from any real place of authority here but I believe this to be true – numeraries are expected to treat the Work as a new family of sorts. I can imagine feeling weird as a parent if my child's "club" wouldn't let him come home for holidays, but I'm totally with you on this: that's what they sign up for.

  6. Claire @ Everything is Grace

    Great post – I've written a sort of supportive response post over on my blog. This is the first time I've ever heard any of the blogs I follow speak of Opus Dei, so it certainly a pleasant surprise!

  7. Mrs. Mike

    Not a formal member of Opus Dei but a big fan of their Nights of Recollection and silent retreats (esp. at Longlea Retreat Center in VA!) The more I dig into St. JoseMaria Escriva, the more nuggets of sustenance I find. Great to know that you and your husband are cooperator/supernumerary. 🙂

  8. vitabenedicta

    Just found this post. I live near the Westfield Center (the at UCLA) and I've found its activities to be mostly focused on undergraduate women . . . and, as a professor's wife, those sorts of activities aren't really relevant for me. I wasn't aware that each center was its own independent entity, so maybe I will look into the other Los Angeles locations, once I'm able to travel a bit more.

  9. Worried

    Thank you Kendra for a lovely post. It is both clear and reasonable: such cannot be said as often as one would like. Your honesty shines through and you are commended on it. God bless.

  10. Makena

    I googled "opus dei blog mum" and I found this!!! All our ways seems to lead to Opus Dei! And the priest at the first picture looks just like our confession-father Andrés! But I guess it's somebody else/ Maria – the swedish convert :))

  11. Anonymous

    My daughter married an opus-dei fellow who brainwashed her. She went from being the most loving daughter to tell me that I am not her father. You guys are dangerous!

    • Anonymous

      That sounds odd, and very different from anything I have heard at Opus Dei events. They are always saying you should be the most devoted child and most attentive to your parents. You assume that Opus Dei is responsible for her behavior, but it might be something else.

  12. Unknown

    The person in the link you are claiming to "weigh in" to gives a detailed and humble testimony. They remain loyal to their Catholic church despite so many travails and abuses of their sincerely seeking holiness. Your account is the adult equivalent of "la la la we're not listening". Everyone you have met in Opus Dei is "exceptionally lovely" Wow. Now there's an openness to embracing feedback! My experience so far with Opus Dei would also lead me to advise anyone to be very wary and not to be taken in by the carefully choreographed externals.

    • Jose Santos

      And I would advise people to look for themselves and think for themselves. I have had numerous wonderful experiences with people in Opus Dei. Are they perfect? No, of course not. But most of them have been exceptionally good people, trying to become better. I read the original post and there are so many suspicious things in it, that go completely opposite everything I have seen from Opus Dei. If he had those experiences, they are certainly not typical.

  13. Jose Santos

    And I would advise people to look for themselves and think for themselves. I have had numerous wonderful experiences with people in Opus Dei. Are they perfect? No, of course not. But most of them have been exceptionally good people, trying to become better. I read the original post and there are so many suspicious things in it, that go completely opposite everything I have seen from Opus Dei. If he had those experiences, they are certainly not typical.


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Hi! I’m Kendra.

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