Opus Dei’s Empire in the United States

By Sharon Clasen | 8 May 2003
Opus Dei Awareness Network

A statue of Opus Dei founder Jose Maria Escriva. Three cardinals have emerged as the most powerful in Pope Francis’s papacy; all have close ties to Opus Dei. Two now control all Vatican finance. One of Opus Dei’s goals “was to control the Vatican’s wealth, now closer than ever to being realized” with Cardinal George Pell in charge of reforming the Vatican’s finances at the new Secretariat for the Economy. (Source: Opus Dei Influence Rises to the Top in the Vatican / Daily Kos) (Credit: Bolando / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Since 1949, members of Opus Dei have been expanding Josemaria Escriva’s Empire in the United States. Attached is a list of Opus Dei-affiliated foundations, which includes schools, university residences, retreat centers, etc. based in the United States. These efforts appear to fill a community service, but privately the Founder says “university residences, universities, publishing houses … are these ends? No, and what is the end? … to promote in the world the greatest possible number of souls dedicated to God in Opus Dei …” (Cronica magazine, v, 1963)

The purpose in making known this list of Opus Dei-affiliated foundations in the United States is three-fold:

1. To show the patterns of location and purpose of the foundations in the United States.
2. To disclose the finances of these foundations.
3. To point out the discrepancies encountered while trying to research this information.

1. The Patterns of Opus Dei-Affiliated Foundations

In her book People of God, Penny Lernoux says that Opus Dei “is an efficient machine run to achieve world power. Opus Dei boasts that in various countries it influences 487 universities and high schools, 52 radio and television stations, 694 publications, 38 news and publicity agencies and 12 film and distribution companies.” These statistics are outdated now, but they are an indication of the influence that Opus Dei wields in the world. Below is the breakdown of the foundations identified in the United States. This is a preliminary and by no means a comprehensive list.

Opus Dei has some student residences for college students which are open to the public, as well as numerary centers which offer spiritual activities for college students. Both types of residences are strategically located near prestigious schools including MIT, Northeastern, Boston University, Notre Dame, UCLA, Colombia, Harvard, Boston College, Princeton, Marquette, University of Illinois, Brown University, Georgetown University, Rice University, UC Berkelely, Stanford University, University of San Francisco, St. Louis University, American University, and more. In addition to providing a housing solution for college students, these residences serve as recruiting centers by targeting young, naïve, bright and busy students. Opus Dei holds recruiting workshops for their numerary members, who are told to recruit students who are involved in many campus activities, preferably influential ones, such as student government, or the student newspaper. Members are also taught what questions to ask “their friends,” how to invite them on a retreat, how to talk to them about confession, and how to approach the subject of becoming a member of Opus Dei.

The prestigious college-prep schools in Chicago, Washington DC and Boston are recruiting grounds for the students of the elite class who would be applying to some of the above-mentioned universities. These students are potential candidates for the Opus Dei residences, where they might be able to experience first-hand “living the spirit of Opus Dei” by living in or by attending activities at one of these centers. Many centers of Opus Dei also offer after-school tutoring for this adolescent age group.

Opus Dei also boasts of their supplementary education centers or “service projects” in many inner cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC and New York City. These apparently good works are not isolated ventures either. They work in conjunction with the above-mentioned recruiting centers, so that numeraries can invite potential recruits to become exposed to those that are less fortunate than themselves. Opus Dei manipulates the charitable intentions (or social guilt) of potential recruits by exposing them to poor people. For example, the numerary member would be directed to tell the recruit something like, “See how generous God has been to you. You should think about returning the generosity by considering a vocation to Opus Dei.” (“I Was Shocked by Hidden Agendas Behind Opus Dei ‘Service Projects’” by Tammy DiNicola, Former Numerary)

The Retreat Centers located in Boston (Arnold Hall); Chicago (Shellbourne); Houston (Featherock); San Francisco (Trumbull Manor); Washington, DC (Longlea); Florida (Roseaire) provide spiritual formation for members of the Opus Dei community in each location. The retreat centers also serve as recruiting grounds for those with potential to join Opus Dei. One former numerary testifies that vocational crises are staged, whereby the priests are informed by the directors of those who might be considering a vocation to Opus Dei.

According to the list, there are foundations in New York (Irving Home Arts, Inc.), Washington DC (Stonecrest Home Arts, Inc.), Chicago (Lexington Center, Inc.) and in Boston (Bayridge Residence and Cultural Center), which are responsible for the care and maintenance of Opus Dei centers in those cities. Supervised by numeraries, numerary assistants are responsible for the care and maintenance of Opus Dei centers. Lexington College in Chicago, the only women’s hospitality institution in the U.S. for the economically challenged, is one of the recruiting grounds for numerary assistants.

Another type of venture is the Catholic Information Center in Washington DC. Although this organization operates under the Archdiocese of Washington DC, it is clearly run by Opus Dei. On a recent visit, I noted the following facts: there was a chapel dedicated to Escriva; it is run by a priest of Opus Dei; it sells all of the books by the founder and that match the spirit of Opus Dei; and it offers spiritual classes of Opus Dei. When I asked the cashier what the relationship between Opus Dei and the Archdiocese was, the woman told me that she did not know the exact terms of their agreement. This organization appears to be the successful prototype for the Catholic Information Center in downtown Houston, whose director is also a priest of Opus Dei.

To echo Michael Walsh, author of Opus Dei: An Investigation into the Secret Society Struggling for Power within the Roman Catholic Church, Opus Dei will no doubt say that the foundations on the list do not belong to Opus Dei, but to the members of Opus Dei. He says, “But it is a sophistry to distinguish either of these kinds of enterprise from purely Opus Dei ones. First, all profits made by numerary members in whatever capacity accrue to Opus itself. That is the consequence of the obligation of poverty which they have taken upon themselves. Even supernumerary (or married) members are under pressure to give as much as possible to the organization. Secondly, no numerary member certainly, and probably no supernumerary member either, will enter upon a business enterprise without having discussed it at length with his or her director; the obligation to be entirely open with the director applies in this sphere as in any other. And there is a third point:

Members of Opus Dei, whether they are acting individually or through associations which might be cultural, artistic, financial, and so on, do so through what are known as ‘auxiliary societies.’ In their dealings, these societies are equally subject to obedience to the hierarchical authority of the Institute. (1950 Constitution, paragraph 9)

From the above, one can observe a pattern of residences set up near prestigious universities, high schools as the feeding grounds for these residences, and service projects as another means for recruiting, with retreat centers and home arts centers serving as their support organizations. I would also like to point out that Bayridge is a successful prototype for university residences, as the Midtown Educational Foundation is for other service projects around the country. It is apparent from the network that the array of organizations is not random, but very organized. If one member did perhaps help with the founding of one of the residences or schools, that member is taught that he or she could be replaced at any time, as members are expected to make themselves open to “the needs of the Work.” Members must be willing to transfer to some other part of the country or Lithuania, even, if that is what “the Work” needs. The members’ names are listed on the Boards of Directors of the foundations, but are very easily replaced if that member leaves Opus Dei, in which case they would not get one penny from “their enterprise” even if it had been very successful financially.

2. Finances of the Opus Dei-Affiliated Foundations

The second purpose in presenting this list of foundations is to provide some indication of the wealth of Opus Dei in the United States, because Opus Dei is accountable only to the Pope. In a recent article “Opus Dei lifts lid without revealing secrets,” by Isambard Wilkinson, The Daily Telegraph, London, March 23, 2002, the author interviews a numerary Luis Gordon in Spain. When asked about the accusations that Opus Dei is dripping with worldly riches, Gordon said it was impossible to gauge its wealth. “There are no figures.”

This list of foundations shows that there are indeed some figures, though they are not comprehensive. The largest foundations in terms of assets listed are the grant-making foundations, used to support the corporate works listed above. The Woodlawn Foundation, with assets of close to $15 million, appears to be the umbrella organization that gives grants to more than 40 other Opus Dei-affiliated foundations in the United States. It appears that there may be some sort of re-distribution of wealth, because many foundations contribute to Woodlawn, and then Woodlawn gives grants back to the foundations. The Clover Foundation, based in New Jersey, has assets of $27 million, and gives grants and loans to Opus Dei-affiliated foundations overseas, such as the School of Medicine at the Universidad Panamericana, Mexico City, Mexico, the University of Piura, Lima, Peru, and others. Another foundation, listed at the same address as the Clover Foundation is the Association for Cultural Interchange, Inc with assets of $67 million. This foundation has made grants to the Hotel and Catering School for women in Nigeria, the Vocational Training School Program in Nairobi, Kenya, missionary programs of the Bishop of Huncavelica in Peru, East Asian Ed. Society in Hong Kong, an Educational Development Program in Australia, a school for young girls in Guadalajara, Mexico, a Lebanese Association for Dev. And Culture in Beirut, Lebanon, the Study Center for Ethics and Human Rights (Komati Foundation) in South Africa, Student Residence at Louvain University, Study Center at Guaymura University in Tequicigalpa, Honduras, the Vatsalya Cultural and Educational Center in New Delhi, India, a Linguist and Cultural Program at Chaucer Study Center, and the Strathmore College for Boys in Nairobi, Kenya. Two of the holdings of the Association for Cultural Interchange, Inc. include a University Residence and Cultural Center in Jerusalem and an International Student Residence in Rome.

The National Center Foundation, with $67 million dollars in assets, does not make any grants, rather, it supports the operations of the Opus Dei Headquarters building in New York. This is also the case of many of the foundations which support Opus Dei high schools or retreat centers.

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One interesting note is that there is an organization called Opus Dei, Inc., based in Wisconsin, which is not required to file any IRS forms because it is a church, so it is not possible to see how this organization fits into the United States network.

Opus Dei directors are paid very little for their services to the organization. For example, for Vancourt, Inc. the statement on the IRS Form 990 reads as follows, “The directors and officers of Vancourt, Inc. do not receive any compensation in their capacity as directors or officers. The organization gave compensation of $575 a month to each one for other services performed in carrying out the programs. They also received meals and lodging on the premises.”

Members of Opus Dei give their entire salaries to Opus Dei. They are also pressured to initiate contact with anyone they know who might be willing and able to help Opus Dei, even if it is in gifts, the lending of a vacation house, etc. Another way that Opus Dei controls the money of its members is by having an unwritten rule of the “apostolate of not giving.” Members are not allowed to give gifts to anyone, not even to members of their own family. They are encouraged to ask their families to pay for trips to Rome, etc. Following is an example of how members do not have any control over their money:

Miguel Fisac says in his interview with ODAN, “One day that I will not forget because I have its bitterness in my soul, a companion of mine, who had studied at High School with me, visited me and told me about his family’s desperate, financial situation, and asked me to lend him some money. I told him to come back the next morning as I could not make that decision myself. I consulted my director and he absolutely forbade me to give him anything, he himself was forbidden to consent by the spirit of Opus Dei.” (From Fisac’s Interview with ODAN)

One conclusion that can be drawn from the way Opus Dei conducts its finances is that by having numeraries and numerary assistants fill the positions at their schools, residences, and other corporate ventures, Opus Dei has minimal labor costs. The tragic consequence of numeraries and numerary assistants not being paid is that if they leave Opus Dei at some point, they are cast off without a penny. Even if their families had made donations to Opus Dei, and former members ask for the money back, they usually do not get it back.

Even supernumeraries are encouraged to treat Opus Dei like another child in terms of finances. For example, if a couple has five children, then Opus Dei is entitled to a dowry equal to that which might be planned for the other five. All members are encouraged to make huge sacrifices for Opus Dei.

The most alarming practice by Opus Dei is their treatment of numerary assistants, who work as servants in the centers of Opus Dei. They are recruited from the poorer classes in society to do all of the cooking, cleaning and laundry for the centers of Opus Dei. They are told that this is their vocation from God, to give up the prospects of getting married and having children, in order to serve the needs of Opus Dei. They work extremely long hours, doing physical labor. (See True Stories, “My Basic Human Rights Were Violated“)

3. Deception

While researching this list of foundations, I found many discrepancies in trying to find the foundations on Guidestar. For example, The Opus Dei Headquarters is listed under the National Center Foundation, but the name of the building is Murray Hill Place. Many other foundations list different addresses on Guidestar, versus what they list on the IRS 990 form. Some I was not able to locate. Three of the centers in Boston – Bayridge, Brimfield and Cedarwood were listed as Jewish. I lived at the first two and visited the third, and can attest that they are not Jewish, but perhaps they do not want to stand out since Brimfield is in a Jewish neighborhood. Two other centers, Roseaire in Florida, and Southmore on Chaucer Drive in Houston are listed as Protestant. The Peninsula Foundation is listed on Guidestar as Community Health Systems. Some of the IRS 990 forms cite that the activities are done in conjunction with Opus Dei, but many do not. Some say they have Roman Catholic activities, and others cite Christian formation.

As of May 7, 2003, many of the above discrepancies on Guidestar have been cleared up. Now the descriptions are more general and say religious education, etc.

But, I still could not find the foundation name for the conference center Longlea, for which an anonymous donor paid $7.4 million in cash. The County Clerk for Culpeper County could not find the record for the new owner’s name.


Opus Dei Influence Rises to the Top in the Vatican
The Catholic Right: An Introduction To The Role Of Opus Dei
Opus Dei: Neofascism Within the Catholic Church
Opus Dei: The Vatican-Pentagon Connection

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