Any mention of the Serra-Chopitea family certainly pivots around Dorotea de Chopitea y de Villota for the vast humanistic legacy she passed on to the city of Barcelona.
Born in Santiago de Chile, daughter (perhaps the twelfth child) to a leading Basque merchant from Lekeitio who had emigrated to South America when he was 20, and a Creole mother who belonged to an established colonial family. Chile’s declaration of Independence led the Chopitea family to move to Barcelona and settle in the Ribera neighbourhood in 1819, when Dorotea was three.
This was a family of Spanish descent who had emigrated to the colonies and made their fortune before returning to Spain.
Dorotea got married when she was sixteen to Josep M. Serra Muñoz, who was a businessman, ship-owner and banker, founder of Banco de Barcelona. The couple lived with the Serra family on Montcada street until 1873, when they moved into the mansion they had built on Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, in the city’s newly expanded Eixample area.
She gave birth to her first of six daughters in 1834. Starting early on, Dorotea combined her family life with her intense social involvement, tending to the needs of a city that was swept up in an economic, political and social evolution. Of sound religious convictions and a spirituality that was closely associated to the Ignatian approach, from 1844 to 1882 she collaborated on founding the Sarrià Sacred Heart School, founded day-care centres for the children of factory workers, set up a children’s hospital with Benito Menni and collaborated on the construction of the Sacred Heart Hospital.
When she became widowed in 1882 and with grown children, Dorotea stepped up her social commitments with an intense patronage activity as well as direct involvement in the foundation, construction and maintenance of temples, schools, workshops, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.
In mid July of 1882, after receiving news of the initiatives of Don Bosco in Italy and other locations, she got in touch with him and proposed founding an educational endeavour in Barcelona. The project blossomed into founding the Sarrià Professional Salesian School in 1884. When Don Bosco visited Barcelona in 1886, Dorotea promoted the shrine dedicated to the Sacred Heart at the top of Tibidabo mountain, but she especially pioneered the Barcelona Graphic Arts School at the Sarrià Salesians in 1887.
Although the Salesian project became her lifelong interest, in the later stage of her life Dorotea continued to develop many social and religious activities in Barcelona as well as in Palafrugell, where her deceased husband’s family was from, and Chile.
She died on 3 April 1891 at the age of seventy-five, leaving her entire personal fortune to charity. A beatification process was initiated on 4 April 1927, which is still underway, and Pope John Paul II declared her venerable on 9 June 1983.
PROMOTERS: THE SERRA-CHOPITEA FAMILY
Dorotea promoted the shrine dedicated to the Sacred Heart at the top of Tibidabo mountain.
Josep Maria Serra Muñoz was born in Chile to Catalan parents who emigrated from Palafrugell. He married Dorotea, and as the son of emigrants who returned to Catalonia he made his fortune in the metal industry, as a consul of the Chilean government in Barcelona and mainly as a founder and executive (together with Manuel Girona and Josep Rafael Plandolit) of Banco de Barcelona, a credit institution that was created in 1844.
Following seventy-six years as one of Barcelona’s leading corporate lending banks, Banco de Barcelona, ultimately failed in 1920.