June 11

Félix Varela: A Father’s Day Tribute to the “Father of the Cuban Homeland”


"I want to be a soldier of Jesus Christ; my destiny is not to kill men but to save souls"

As we celebrate Father's Day, it's an opportune moment to reflect on the life and legacy of Félix Varela, often revered as the "Father of the Cuban Homeland." His contributions to Cuban identity and independence transcend time and political boundaries, uniting Cubans worldwide in admiration. Despite spending much of his life outside Cuba, Varela's influence remains deeply rooted in the nation's history, symbolized by his interment in the Aula Magna of the University of Havana. This Father's Day, we pay tribute to a man whose life exemplifies the spirit of fatherhood through dedication, education, and unwavering commitment to justice.

Interiors of the Aula Magna University of Havana Havana Cuba Poster Print (36 x 12)

Amazon: Interiors of the Aula Magna University of Havana Havana Cuba Poster Print (36 x 12)

A New Chapter in New York

Félix Varela's journey led him far from Havana to the bustling streets of New York City, where he arrived on December 15, 1823. At 35 years old, he disembarked from a cargo ship amidst a snowstorm, leaving behind the warmth of his homeland for the challenges of a northern winter. This relocation was more than just a change of scenery; it was a necessary escape. Varela had been a delegate for Cuba in the Spanish Cortes in Cadiz, advocating for democracy and reform. When King Ferdinand VII regained power and began persecuting democrats, Varela fled to Gibraltar and New York.

A Humble Yet Influential Clergyman

In New York, Varela emerged as a significant figure within the Church over the next twenty-five years. Born in Havana in 1788, he faced early loss with the death of his mother and was subsequently raised by his grandfather in St. Augustine, Florida. There, under the guidance of Father O’Reilly, he received a robust education, learning Latin, grammar, and violin.

Returning to Havana at 14, Varela pursued secondary education and, despite his grandfather's military aspirations for him, chose the priesthood. He excelled at the Real y Conciliar Colegio Seminario San Carlos y San Ambrosio, substituting for his professors at the University of Havana by the age of 19. Varela's teachings were progressive, addressing contentious issues like the abolition of slavery and colonial rule.

Dynamic Orator and Mentor

Ordained on December 21, 1811, Varela quickly became known for his eloquent sermons. He mentored future Cuban leaders and founded the first Philharmonic Society of Havana. In 1821, he established Latin America's first chair of Jurisprudence at the Havana seminary, advocating for civil liberties and human rights.

A Voice for Abolition and Independence

Elected to the Spanish Courts at 34, Varela fought passionately for the rights of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. He proposed laws to abolish slavery and recognize the independence of emancipated American nations. However, his political career was abruptly halted by the invasion of the "One Hundred Thousand Sons of St. Louis," leading to his death sentence and escape to New York.

Trailblazing Journalist

Varela validated his priestly credentials in New York and learned English to minister effectively. He launched "El Habanero," the first Spanish-language newspaper in the United States, promoting Cuban independence and revolution.

Community Builder and Advocate

Varela's impact extended beyond journalism. He was instrumental in founding Catholic parishes in New York, including St. James and the Church of the Transfiguration, focusing on the needs of immigrants, mainly the Irish. He tirelessly defended and supported Irish immigrants against "nativist" hostility, providing essential aid to new arrivals.

Champion of Education and Equality

Varela's commitment to education and social justice was not just unwavering, but truly inspiring. He founded 'The Catholic Observer' and 'Children’s Catholic Magazine,' and fought against anti-Catholic sentiments in public school textbooks. His dedication to helping the poor and marginalized was especially evident during the cholera epidemic of 1832, when he was known for his constant presence in hospitals.

EL HABANERO. Papel Político, Científico y Literario, Félix Varela y Morales (Coleccion Felix Varela) (Spanish Edition)

EL HABANERO. Papel Político, Científico y Literario, Félix Varela y Morales (Coleccion Félix Varela) (Spanish Edition)

Acts of Generosity

Varela's personal acts of kindness became legendary. He once gave his last silver spoon to a poor woman and his cloak to a freezing mother and child. These gestures made him beloved among the community, and he is remembered for his genuine Christian love.

Final Years and Lasting Legacy

Health issues eventually forced Varela to move to St. Augustine, Florida, in 1850, where he lived in poverty until his death on February 25, 1853. Today, the churches he founded serve new immigrant communities, continuing his legacy of inclusivity and service.

Cathedral Basilica courtyard dedicated to Varela in 2000

Cathedral Basilica courtyard was dedicated to Varela in 2000 by: St. Augustine Record

The Padre Félix Varela stamp was issued on September 15, 1997.

The Padre Félix Varela stamp was issued on September 15, 1997.

This statue is on display in the courtyard of the Church of the Transfiguration in Chinatown, NYC.

This statue is on display in the courtyard of the Church of the Transfiguration in Chinatown, NYC.

Venerable Félix Varela: Path to sainthood.

In 1983, 130 years after his passing, the Vatican declared Félix Varela a Servant of God, permitting the Archdiocese of Havana to initiate his canonization process. The Cuban Bishops’ Conference began their investigations in 1995, and by 1997, they had submitted a positio (an extensively documented report) to Rome.

In 1998, the Vatican requested a second position from the Archdiocese of New York. While Havana’s report highlighted Varela as a significant intellectual and patriot, the Vatican sought evidence of his heroic virtues. The New York position was completed and published in 2011, leading to Varela being declared Venerable in 2012.

For Varela to achieve sainthood, two confirmed miracles are required. These miracles typically involve documented medical cures attributed to his intercession through prayer. Several potential miracles are currently under investigation. If one is confirmed, Varela will be beatified and granted the title of Blessed. Upon confirmation of a second miracle, he will be eligible for canonization.

This Father's Day, we honor Félix Varela as a "Father of the Cuban Homeland" and a true father to many. His life of dedication, education, and justice continues to inspire, illustrating the profound impact one individual can have on a nation's heart and soul. Varela’s enduring legacy remains a beacon of hope and compassion, celebrated by the Church, the Cuban People and remembered by history.



You may also like

  1. Excellent and inspirational article. Having visited cuba in 2003, I am surprised that I did not hear more about him while there. Thanks for sharing this important information.

Comments are closed.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Subscribe to our newsletter now!