Friday, October 21, 2016


VENERABLE FELIX VARELA was born in Havana, Cuba, then still part of New Spain, and grew up in St. Augustine, Florida, the grandson of Lieutenant Bartolomé Morales, the commander of military forces in Spanish Florida, who was stationed there and who helped to raise Felix after the death of his mother in childbirth. As a teenager, he refused his grandfather's offer to send him to a military academy in Spain, returning to Cuba, where he studied to become a priest at San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary in Havana, the only seminary in Cuba. He also studied at the University of Havana. At the age of 23 he was ordained in the Cathedral of Havana.
Joining the seminary faculty within a year of his ordination, he taught philosophy, physics and chemistry . In his position there, he taught many illustrious Cubans, including José Antonio Saco, Domingo del Monte, and José de la Luz y Caballero. Referring to Venerable Varela, De la Luz said: "As long as there is thought in Cuba, we will have to remember him, the one who taught us how to think". 
In 1821 Varela was chosen to represent Cuba in the Cortes Generales of Spain in Madrid, where he joined in a petition to the Crown for the independence of Latin America, and also published an essay which argued for the abolition of slavery in Cuba. For such ideas, after the French invasion of Spain in 1823 overthrew the liberal government of Spain and restored King Ferdinand VII who then brutally suppressed all opposition, he was sentenced to death by the government. Before he could be arrested, however, he fled, first to Gibraltar, then to the United States, where he spent the rest of his life, settling in New York City.
In New York he published many articles about human rights, as well as multiple essays on religious tolerance, cooperation between the English and Spanish-speaking communities, and the importance of education.
In 1837, Venerable Felix  was named Vicar General of the Diocese of New York, which then covered all of New York State and the northern half of New Jersey. In this post, he played a major role in the way the American Church dealt with the tremendous influx of Irish refugees, which was just beginning at the time. His desire to assist those in need coupled with his gift for languages allowed him to master the Irish language in order to communicate more efficiently with many of the recent Irish arrivals.

He served as a theological consultant to the committee of American bishops which drew up the famous Baltimore Catechism, which began a standard teaching tool for Catholic children in the nation until the mid-20th century. He was later awarded a doctorate of Theology by St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland.

In 1848, worn out by his labors, Venerable Felix developed severe asthma, which led him to retire to St. Augustine, dying there five years later. Nearly sixty years after his death,  his body was dis-interred from Tolomato Cemetery and returned to Cuba to be laid to rest in the University of Havana's Aula Magna.
In 1997 the United States Postal Service honored him by issuing a 32-cent commemorative stamp. Because of his experiences, many in the Cuban American exile community identify with him.

1 comment: