|Father Felix Varela
St. Augustine Florida
November, 20, 1788 - February 25, 1853
|Courtyard of Cathedral
Photographer: Gil Wilson
Marker in Plaza
Padre Felix Varela
Havanna St. Augustine
Beloved member of St. Augustine community, main ideological founder of the Cuban Nationality
Educator, philosopher, speaker and writer
Advocate of human and civil rights in Cuba and U.S.A.
Father of the underprivileged
Advocate of popular education and religious freedom
Pioneer of American Catholic journalism
Vicar General of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York (1837-53)
Felix Varela Bicentennial
St. Augustine 2-25-1988
Varela is the first apostle of Cuba's independence. His ideas on liberty would arouse the patriotism of José
Martí and others who, more than half a century later, actually achieved the independence of the island.
Felix Varela was born in Havana on November 20 1788. His complete registered name was Félix
Francisco José Maria del la Concepción Varela y Morales. He lived in the paternal house, located in the
Street Obispo between the streets Villegas and Aguacate.His father was native of Tordesillas, in Castilla,
Spain, son of Francisco Varela and Isabel Pérez. Although he was an officer of the army, he was an
immigrant without family in Cuba. He had acquired this house exactly next to that of his wife’s family. The
maternal family was already “Cuban Creole.” The mother,His mother, Maria Josefa Ignacia, died a few
days after giving birth. His father also died being Félix still a boy probably by 1796, Due to his early
orphanage, the boy grew with the maternal family, very linked to the Monastery of the Discalced Carmelites
of Santa Teresa of Jesus. One of Félix’s aunts, Margarita, professed as Mother Margarita Josefa de las
Natividad de María and some years after, she was elected Prioress of the Monastery. Another aunt, Rita,
the one that was godmother of Félix, and the one that more directly was in charge of the boy’s education,
lived during long years in the Monastery of Havana and in it she died at a very old age.He spent his
childhood in St. Augustine as the grandson of Spanish Lieutenant Bartolomé Morales (the interim governor
of East Florida March 1796 - June 1796).
The St. Augustine priest of Irish origin, Michael O’Reilly, was theintellectual and spiritual former of the boy
and adolescent Félix Varela. He was in charge of the school founded by his predecessor, Father Thomas
Hassett. He as already simultaneously Chaplain of the Army and of the Hospital and, when Father Hassett
was transferred as Dean to the Cathedral of New Orleans, Father O’Reilly was designated Vicar of that
area of Florida.
He was sent to Havana to study at the San Carlos Seminary, and years later he would become its most
brilliant professor. When in 1801 Félix Varela begins his studies—initially as external student—in the Royal
and Conciliar College Seminar San Carlos and San Ambrosio, the institution was already headed by some
of the most illustrious intellectuals of the city. The Seminar was probably, the most significant educational
institution in the whole colonial period in Cuba, heiress and resultant of several antecedents and
concomitants. Among the priests that the adolescent Félix finds in “San Carlos” who most positively
influenced him was Father José Agustín Caballero and Rodríguez de las Barrera. He was born in Havana,
on August 28, 1762. He began his studies in the same “Real and Conciliar” College Seminar of San Carlos
and San Ambrosio of Havana in 1774, not abandoning the institution until his death in 1835. He obtained
the Doctorate in Theology in the Real and Pontifical University of San Jerónimo in 1788. Father José
Agustín Caballero emerges in the Cuban society of those years like a multifaceted personality and as a
paradigmatic Cuban Creole priest of the incipient Modernity. In 1811, Varela was named Professor of
Philosophy in the Seminary of San Carlos and San Ambrosio of Havana.
Bishop, Juan José Diaz de Espada y Fernández de Landa ordained him priest on December 21, 1811, in
the cathedral of Havana.
In Cuba, Varela was the leading educator, philosopher and patriot of his time - he taught Philosophy,
Chemistry, Physics, Theology and Music. Many future Cuban leaders were his students. He argued for
giving women the same education as men, and introduced many teaching innovations. In 1816, a
compilation of earlier written works was published under the title "Doctrinas de Lógica, Megafisica y
Moral" (Doctrines in Logic, Moral and Metaphysical. On July 31 1816 Varela delivered his admission
speech at the Sociedad Económica Amigos del País.
In 1821 Varela was elected to the Spanish Cortes (the legislature). He was one of three people sent to
Spain to represent Cuba when it was still a Spanish colony. He recommended that Spanish colonies in Latin
America be considered independent. He also asked for Cuban self-rule and an end to slavery. When the
Spanish parliament was dissolved in 1823 and absolute rule was restored in Spain and her colonies, Varela
and the two other Cuban deputies, having been declared traitors, had to flee the country and seek asylum in
the United States. The Spanish Crown condemned him to death, but he escaped and made his way to New
York, where he arrived in December 1823. He lived the rest of his life in the U.S. Father Varela explained
that although he admired and has a deep affection for the United States, he could never become a citizen of
this country or of any other one, because of the love and respect in which he holds his native land.
He lived for twenty-seven years as an exile in New York, He was assigned to a parish in New York in the
Irish section, and even though there were many racial/ethnic problems at the time, he became a defender of
immigrant rights and of the poor Irish immigrants. He led his ministry as priest for over 25 years.
In 1824 he began to publish an independent journal: El Habanero, which was regularly smuggled into
Cuba. It was published in 1824-1826.
Varela became Vicar General of the Diocese of New York in 1837. At that time, this title also covered the
whole state of New York and New Jersey. He was later named a Doctor of Theology by St. Mary's
Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland.
Varela died on February 18 1853, in St. Augustine, Florida.He lacked air, could hardly see, could not
read, his fragile old man hand’t trembled so much that he could not write, and he was no longer able to play
melodies in his violin he had played since childhood. He was welcomed by Father Aubril, then Pastor of St.
Augustine, and he lived more poorly than ever before, in an old wooden room, behind the parochial school
annexed to the Rectory, beside the temple, with some furniture and a few books, practically useless on
account of his almost blind eyes.
Father Stephen Sheridan wrote a letter to the Archbishop Hughes of New York in order to
communicate the death of the Vicar General. The letter is the best source of information about Father
Varela’s death. It is dated in St. Augustine, Feb. 26, 1853, the day after Father’s funeral. Father Varela
died on Friday, the 18—date affirmed by Father Sheridan—not on Friday, the 25, like it appears on his
death certificate, as a result of a regrettable mistake in the archive of the old and today closed cemetery of
Tolomato, in which Father’s remains rested until they were brought, in 1911, to the Main Hall of the
University of Havana. Father Sheridan’s letter stated that, feeling very weak, Father himself requested the
sacraments. “He spoke of his next dissolution,” said Father Sheridan, “with so much fortitude, firmness, self-
possession that we scarcely believed that he was so near to his end or that he realized it, or that he would
not recover from his attach as he had from so many others, imagining all of us that he would recover of that
attack like he had recovered from so many others. When Reverend Mr. Aubril was about to give him the
Viaticum, he interrupted him saying, ‘I now wish to fulfill a promise which I made long ago to make a
profession of faith—at death as in life—in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Eucharist,’ and
looking steadfastly in the elevated Host, he said, ‘I firmly believe that the Host which you hold in your hand
is the Body of Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread’” (Letter to Archbishop Hughes, published in
Freeman’s Journal of New York, March 12, 1852, p. 4).
After receiving the Holy Sacrament, Father Varela seemed to feel a little better. His mind remained alert
until the last moment of his life, when he surrendered his soul without any effort. He had asked to be buried
in the common tract of the cemetery, near his relatives. And so it was. The Pontifical Mass of Requiem for
Father Varela’s, Vicar General of this Archdiocese (New York), took place in Saint Patrick’s old
Cathedral—then on Mulberry St.—on March 10, at 10 a.m.
He was buried in the Tolomato cemetery. His remains were moved to Havana on August 22 1912, and
buried at Aula Magna, near Havana University.
Currently, Father Félix Varela is being considered for canonization as a Catholic Saint, and was made a
Servant of God, recognizing his life as a devoted Catholic and a model for others in and out of the faith, and
officially beginning the process.
His impact was recognized by Benedict XVI as the Pope he celebrated Mass in Havana's Revolution
52:32 – 53:09
“An illustrious son of this city of Havana, who has taken his place in Cuban history as the first one who
taught his people how to think. Father Varela offers us a path to a true transformation of society: to form
virtuous men and women in order to forge a worthy and free nation, for this transformation depends on the
spiritual, in as much as “there is no authentic fatherland without virtue.”
On Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012, both the Archdiocese of New York and the Archdiocese of Miami
(each having significant Catholic Cuban-American populations) announced that the Vatican's Sacred
Congregation for the Causes of Saints had declared Father Varela "Venerable", meaning he lived a virtuous
life within the Catholic faith to a heroic degree and as such is worthy of praise (veneration).
For him to be beatified a miracle (officially deemed to be so from an impartial theological and scientific
point of view) must be proved attributable to his direct intercession; sainthood would then follow if another
such miracle is decreed after the first.