Opus Dei Moving to Lexington and 34th

A Catholic Organization Builds a New Headquarters

New York Times/February 21, 1999

Long accustomed to a low public profile, the Roman Catholic organization Opus Dei is now raising its profile by 186 feet -- or 17 stories -- at a most public place: the northeast corner of Lexington Avenue and 34th Street.

There, Opus Dei is building a $47 million national headquarters and conference center that is to open next year. The architects of the 133,000-square-foot building, which is being clad in red brick and Indiana limestone, are May & Pinska. The construction manager is the Tishman Construction Corporation.

Opus Dei -- formally, the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei ("Work of God") -- is a 70-year-old organization based in Rome that counts some 80,000 members worldwide, mostly laypeople, 3,000 of them in the United States. The national organization is headed by the Very Rev. Arne Panula, whose office will move from New Rochelle, N.Y., to the new building, called Murray Hill Place.

Six floors of the building will be set aside for the national organization. But much of the structure will be used as a conference, educational and instructional center for Opus Dei members and others. There will be about 100 bedrooms, six dining rooms, libraries, living rooms, meeting rooms and offices. Chapels will also be found on the 2d, 8th and 16th floors, ornamented with millwork and marble. Atop the building's setbacks will be four outdoor terraces, and a public plaza on 34th Street will be planted with magnolia trees.

Seminars and spiritual retreats will be held at Murray Hill Place, said Brian Finnerty, a spokesman for Opus Dei. Some new members will receive instruction there. Numerous events, focused on the integration of faith, family and work, will be open to the public.

Founded in Spain in 1928, the movement established its first American center in Chicago in 1949. Critics of the conservative organization over the years have raised allegations of secrecy, elitism and undue influence with the Vatican. Opus Dei describes its mission as promoting among Christians "a life in the middle of the world fully consistent with their faith and to contribute to the evangelization of every sphere of society." In recent years, it has been building new centers worldwide.

"Opus Dei is dedicated to the sanctification of work and daily life," Mr. Finnerty said. "New York is a center of work and activity in the United States. So much of what goes on in the United States flows through New York. It's very appropriate for us to be there."

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