THE ST. AUGUSTINE - BARACOA
The Father Felix Varela connection:
Felix Varela Morales was born in Havana, Cuba November 20 1788 and died in St. Augustine Florida February 25 1853. Having lost his mother at an early age (approx. 3), he was brought to St. Augustine by his maternal grandfather who was a colonel in the Spanish army and who had been named Counselor to the Governor of Florida, then a Spanish territory.
Young Felix spent his childhood in St. Augustine. As an adolescent, he was sent to Havana to study at the San Carlos Seminary, from where he graduated. He later became its most brilliant professor.
He was the leading educator, philosopher and patriot in Cuba of his time. He taught Philosophy, Chemistry, Physics, Theology and Music. Many of the great Cuban leaders were his students. He was the first Cuban abolitionist.
In 1821, he was elected a member to the Spanish Cortes (Legislature) where he recommended the recognition of the independence of the Spanish colonies in Latin America and the development of commercial relations based on a common language, history and culture. For Cuba, he asked for self-rule within the Spanish empire and an end to slavery. Because of his progressive ideas, in 1823 he was condemned to death by the Spanish Crown. He escaped Spain and arrived in New York in December 1823.
For the rest of his life, Father Varela lived in the United States. He was assigned to a parish in New York City, where many Irish immigrants lived, at a time when religious and ethnic difficulties were prevalent. He helped during the terrible cholera epidemic of 1832 and when the Irish began to arrive by the thousands he became their protector. During his time in the U.S. from his arrival in 1823 until his death in 1853 he "dedicated himself to social reform and was a constant champion for the civil rights of immigrants --specially the Irish people--, the poor women, youth, children and the sick. " (according to Dr. Amalia Varela de la Torre).
He published many newsletters, magazines and books. "Years later Jose Marti acknowledged Varela's contributions to the Cuban independence movement: 'He was the man who taught us how to think'" (according to "The Cuban American Family Album").
The Florida Department of State and the City of St. Augustine have included Father Felix Varela (1788-1853) in the list of "Great Floridians 2000."
On the occasion of Father Varela's bicentennial, the U.S. postal service honored him with the emission of a $0.32 stamp, being thus the first priest, and one of a handful of Hispanic figures, to receive such recognition.
Bishop John Snyder of St. Augustine, has designated the east courtyard of the St. Augustine cathedral as a place for pilgrimage and prayer in honor of Father Varela. This was the place where the room in which he spent his last days was located.