Guadalupe Ortiz: Doctor in Chemical Sciences, Humanity and Holiness

The following article appeared as part of a series entitled "Historical Gallery of Illustrious University Women", in Valladolid, Spain.

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By Josemaría de Campos Setién

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In and around the late twenties, as far as my memory reaches, my mother taught me that living out two words, “Our” and “Father,” are the key to living well. “Father” is grounded in filial responsibility. “Our” is grounded in fraternity.

I later learned that these two concepts make up the theology of love: divine filiation and communion in the faith. Living these truths throughout the course of my life, along with its share of sorrows, has made me happy. That is why I want to dedicate this third article of the "Historical Gallery of Illustrious University Students" to those who radiate divine filiation, cultivating new spaces of fraternity in the faith.

Dr. Ortiz was born on December 12, 1916, on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As was the tradition, she was baptized with the name corresponding to this Marian feast day and was offered to Mary’s maternal protection. She was the fourth child after three brothers — Manuel, Eduardo and Francisco — and her birth filled her parents with joy. Her father was Manuel Ortiz y García, captain of the artillery, and her mother was Eulogia Fernández-Heredia y Gastañaga. The great joy at the birth of Guadalupe, or “Lupe” as they called her affectionately, was soon clouded over by the death of little Francisco, her older brother who was only two years old.

Manuel Ortiz’ profession imbued the family with a military atmosphere. He had many qualities which, while not exclusive to the military, are cultivated in the military to a high degree, such as strength, austerity, respect for the truth, intellectual discipline, capacity for decision, moral values, a sense of responsibility in both commanding and obeying, talent, love of study, solidarity, culture, and zeal for the service.

Manuel’s work resulted in many transfers for the family, due to promotions or changes in assignments, and these vicissitudes marked a life interwoven with events unfolding in Spain at that time. Within this family environment, Guadalupe learned how a solid faith and prayer life are a way to find God in one’s daily work, practicing justice and fraternity. This permeates everyday life with a Christian meaning.

Guadalupe began high school in Tetuán at the school of Our Lady of Pilar run by the Marianists. She was the only girl in her class, making a strong impression on her classmates with her personality and by her outstanding grades. She finished high school in the Miguel de Cervantes Institute in Madrid, and received the highest marks. Her family moved there because her father had been promoted to lieutenant colonel and had been given a new assignment.

In 1933 she finished high school, and in October of the same year, she began her university studies in Chemical Sciences. She had to stop her studies because of the Civil War, which would bring her family much suffering: her father Manuel was executed on September 8, 1936, at the Model Prison of Madrid. Amidst these distressing circumstances, she finished her degree as soon as the war ended. She began to develop her teaching career in schools run by Irish religious and in the French Lyceum.

Guadalupe called into play all her talent, imagination, supernatural optimism, patience, and leadership skills in order to open up spaces of fraternity in the faith.

From her family, Guadalupe had absorbed by osmosis the faith and moral virtues that she cultivated throughout her life. Both in her personal contact and in her role as teacher of scientific knowledge, she transmitted her faith and virtues. For this reason, when she met Fr. Josemaría Escrivá in 1944, the founding priest of Opus Dei found that the seed of his message fell on well-prepared soil. His message was old as the Gospel, and like the Gospel, new. It consisted of the universal call to holiness, of divine filiation, of finding God in one’s work and the fulfillment of each day’s ordinary duties.

When Guadalupe received this message, she also the vital force of her vocation, which she would nourish day by day with the hope and joy captured in that luminous first point of “The Way” by St. Josemaria: “Don't let your life be barren. Be useful. Make yourself felt. Shine forth with the torch of your faith and your love.”

Guadalupe requested admission to Opus Dei this same year, 1944. She developed the first projects of the Work including the administration of Moncloa, a student residence, and in the Rosales center located in Villaviciosa de Odón. She started the Abando center in Bilbao and directed the Zurbarán university student residence. In all these projects, she carried out both cultural and apostolic work. Her great adventure was to help begin Opus Dei in Mexico, starting in 1950. Fr. Pedro Casciaro had already been in Mexico a year when she arrived.

She called into play all her talent, imagination, supernatural optimism, patience, and leadership skills in order to open up spaces of fraternity in the faith. Christ in the tabernacle and Our Lady of Guadalupe were her sources of inspiration and strength in such a fascinating and demanding undertaking.

To use her time to the fullest, she enrolled in a doctorate program of Chemical Sciences. This allowed her to meet more people and showcased her best qualities as a student and a professional. Namely, it showed that she wanted to work in the development of the country and, through her work, spread the Christian faith through an apostolate of friendship and confidence. She began the center Copenhague, which was a university student residence as well as the office for apostolic activities and many projects with a wide reach, such as training programs in which it was not unusual to find exiles from the civil war.

One of these exiles was the poet Ernestina Champourcin, whose husband Juan José Domenchina, also a poet, had been the secretary of Manuel Azaña, who was the president of the Spanish Republic when the Spanish Civil War broke out.

Ernestina’s husband was in grave condition. She was looking for someone who could help him spiritually because he had lived far from the Church, and was afraid he would die thus as well. Guadalupe not only put her in contact with a priest who would help her husband in such critical circumstances, but also devoted a lot of time to establishing a deep friendship with her. Ernestina asked for admission to Opus Dei and later, when her husband had already died within the Catholic Church, she returned to Spain, where she died at 92.

She wanted to work in the development of Mexico and, through her work, spread the Christian faith through an apostolate of friendship and confidence.

Copenhague became too small to house all the activities, and other centers had to be founded. The Work spread outside of Mexico City to Culiacán, Monterrey and Tacámbaro. These new centers carried out educational and cultural initiatives for students in these rural areas, a task which required intense diligence and hard work. One project which stands out is the reconstruction of the ruined farm of Santa Clara de Montefalco. The farm was situated in the valley of Amilpas, which belongs to the state of Morelos and lies about 130km from Mexico. The new “Montefalco School” became a very important center of apostolic and cultural life.

Guadalupe carried out her dream of creating institutions for social development in rural Mexico. These institutions included: a Farm School which provided professional training for youth; El Peñón, an agricultural center for vocational training; a primary and secondary school; a sewing workshop; and a hospitality training school, in order to improve the socio-economic possibilities of women from neighboring towns.

However, Guadalupe’s health suffered with the strain of so many intense activities, and she developed heart failure. When she flew to Rome in 1956, she had no way of knowing that she would never return to Mexico, where she left behind an unmistakable footprint and indelible memories.

She flew to Rome to attend the General Congress of the women of Opus Dei. During the Congress, she was appointed a member of the Central Advisory of Opus Dei. However, she could barely complete six months in her new role, because at the end of December she suffered a relapse of her cardiac condition.

Following her relapse, she moved to Madrid where. In July 1957, with a diagnosis of mitral stenosis, she was operated on by Dr. Castro Fariñas at the Clinic of the Concepción de Madrid. She recuperated from the operation under the care of Dr. Rábago, head of the cardiology department of this advanced health center.

After her recovery, she was appointed director of the Montelar center, then later became director of the Regional Advisory of Opus Dei in Spain. Always detached from her personal preferences, Guadalupe’s decisions were inspired by a spirit of availability, with Christian joy and openness to hope, “towards the new heavens and the new earth.” (Rev 21:1)

She resumed teaching and research in chemistry, concerned about updating her scientific knowledge in both areas. She was hired as a chemistry teacher for two classes at the Ramiro de Maeztu Secondary School, Following this, she was appointed Associate Professor of Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics at the School of Industrial Mastery in Madrid.

One of her friends was Piedad de la Cierva Viudes, who had Ph.D. in Chemical Sciences and was the first woman to work at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC — Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas). Piedad was also the director of the Chemistry Section of the Laboratory and Research Workshop of the General Staff of the Navy (LTIEMA).

With Piedad, Guadalupe started a line of research for her doctoral thesis on refractory insulators, which were of great industrial interest. After reading everything published in the subject and sorting hundreds of notecards, she focused her research on the refractory value of the ashes of rice husks.

She verified her findings against research from top laboratories such as the the Nuclear Energy Board and various research centers in Valencia, Barcelona, and Bilbao. She defended her novel thesis on July 8, 1965, which was rated with an outstanding cum laude, and won the Juan de la Cierva research prize. The press commented on the novelty and importance of the practical applications of her research for increasing energy savings and maximizing the utility of recyclable materials.

In 1968 she won the position of full professor of the School of Industrial Mastey, but her activity was not limited to teaching and research. That very year, she helped found an innovative School of Domestic Sciences, similar to what was called “Home Economics” in the United States at that time. In 1972, with its high quality curriculum, the school was renamed the Center for Study and Research of Domestic Sciences. This was the origin of the Nutrition and Dietetics degree in the Faculty of Sciences in the University of Navarre.

Guadalupe was appointed deputy director and professor of Textiles, conducting a thorough study of the material composition of each fabric and devising a method of analyzing the fibers to define their behavior in use, washing and ironing. She presented a paper with her findings in the first Symposium on Textiles in the Modern Home, held in Valencia in January 1973, which was received with great interest by textile industrialists, architects and decorators. At the end of the Symposium, she was named a member of the International Committee of Rayon and Synthetic Fibers (CIRFS), who awarded her a bronze medal.

However, Guadalupe’s heart failure was becoming more serious. She coughed and choked frequently, and so in April 1975, she asked for permission to stop giving classes. She commented, “It is necessary to be content, one must recognize that one’s work is not irreplaceable, and one needs to let the doctors do their work.” Her health took a sharp turn for the worse, and her doctors decide take the great risk of surgical intervention. She was admitted to Clinic of the University of Navarre on June 1. While undergoing observation and pre-operative analysis, Guadalupe was not idle. With proverbial industriousness and fortitude, she dedicated her efforts to the final revisions of her book on the chemistry of detergents, which had sold out in its first edition.

The operation finally took place on July 1. The surgeons repaired two valves (mitral and aortic), and placed a ring on the tricuspid valve, with apparently satisfactory results. Following the requests of numerous friends, Guadalupe dedicated her postoperative days to writing her memoirs and faithfully following the daily plan of prayers and contemplation — known within Opus Dei as “the norms” or one’s “plan of life” — in the midst of her circumstances. She lived them with supernatural joy, knowing that sadness is sterile, fruitless. But on day 15 after the operation, she suffered a grave relapse, and went into a coma that night. The doctors tried to revive her in a last effort, but she went into definitive cardiac arrest. and her human and spiritual parabola ends up in the arms of Mary. It was 6:30 am on July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

She was a doctor in chemistry and humanity...and in holiness as well? Her process of canonization has been opened to study this. Her life’s trajectory was a path of holiness in professional activity. She lived her existence as a matter of mission, carrying out a great task, but above all, doing the little things of each day extraordinarily well. She did this with the grace of God to sanctify her work, to sanctify herself in her work, and sanctify others with her work. In this way, Guadalupe was able, in the words of the prayer card to St. Josemaria, turn all the circumstances and events of her life into occasions of loving God and serving the Church, the Pope and all souls with joy and simplicity, lighting up the pathways of this earth with faith and love. She allowed herself to be completely imbued with God and, therefore, be totally open to her neighbor. With people whose lives have this fundamental openness, God brings to fullness in them what they already possess.

Her canonization process was formally opened on November 18, 2001, with Cardinal-Archbishop Antonio María Rouco of Madrid presiding. He emphasized, "We are presented with a Christian life of great appeal and great depth. In the midst of simplicity, which was not simply a matter of public appearance, there is a human life with a rich trajectory, with decisive features and moments, such as her encounter with the founder of Opus Dei, Josemaría Escrivá, which would open the path of her secular vocation to be a contemplative in the midst of the world, who lived fully, working to the best of her abilities, with a vocation to holiness."

The Postulator of the Cause, Rev. Benito Badrinas, affirmed: "Now that John Paul II wishes to show models of holiness that are closer to our own time, we consider how Guadalupe presents a lovable model close at hand. She was an indefatigable worker who confronted the problems of her time in a Christian way. She cared for the educational and spiritual needs of those around her, always with a friendly touch. In everything, her reasons for acting were love for God and neighbor."

Download the original article (in Spanish) as a PDFGalería histórica de universitarias ilustres: Guadalupe Ortiz