One of six children born to Jose and Dolores Escriva; three of his siblings died in infancy. His father was a small businessman, and when his business failed in 1915, the family moved to Logroño, Spain. As a young man, Josemaria saw the bare footprints left in the snow by a monk; the sight moved him, and kindled a desire for religious vocation. He studied for the priesthood in Logroño and Zaragoza, Spain. His father died in 1924, and Josemaria had to simultaneously support the family while studying. Ordained in Zaragoza on 28 March 1925.
Assigned for a while to a rural parish, and then in Zaragoza. Moved to Madrid, Spain in 1927 to study law. Following a profound spiritual retreat, Josemaria founded Opus Dei in Madrid on 2 October 1928, opening a new way for the faithful to sanctify themselves in the midst of the world through their work and fulfillment of their personal, family and social duties. The next few years were spent studying at the University of Madrid, teaching to support his mother and siblings, ministering to the poor and sick, and working to build the foundation of Opus Dei.
Religious persecution in the Spanish Civil War forced Josemaria into hiding, and he ministered covertly to his parishioners. He escaped across the Pyrenees to Burgos, Spain. At the end of the war in 1939, he returned to his studies in Madrid. Doctor of law. Retreat master for laity, priests, and religious.
On 14 February 1943 he founded the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, united to Opus Dei. Josemaria moved to Rome, Italy in 1946, and earned a doctorate in theology from the Lateran University. Consultor to two Vatican Congregations. Honorary member of the Pontifical Academy of Theology. Named a prelate of honor by Pope Pius XII.
Opus Dei received the approval of the Holy See on 16 June 1950. Josemaria travelled frequently throughout Europe and Latin America to work for the growth of Opus Dei, and by the time of his death, it had spread to five continents with over 60,000 members of 80 nationalities, and today has over 80,000 members, most laymen.