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Great Floridians 2000

Father Felix Varela

(1788 - 1853)

Felix Varela was born in Santiago, Cuba on November 20, 1788. He was the son of Francisco Varela, a Spanish military officer. After the early death of his mother, he was placed in the care of his maternal grandfather, Lt. Col. Bartolome Morales, at the time an officer at the Castillo de San Marcos in the City of St. Augustine, Florida.

He was ordained a priest in 1811 and was subsequently designated a professor of Philosophy at the Seminary College of San Carlos y San Ambrosia in Havana. Fr. Varela advocated just causes and called for the freedom of black slaves. In 1823, on the restoration of royal absolutism in Spain, he moved to New York City where he exercised his priestly ministry for 30 years. He founded schools for children, built churches and evangelized the poor. While in New York he proclaimed the right of Cuba to be an independent, sovereign nation. In 1835, he published, Letters in Elpidio, about impiety, superstition, fanaticism and their relation to society.

Fr. Varela was outspoken in his desire for Cuban independence and worked diligently to improve the conditions of African-Americans. He established the first official religious institution to combat alcoholism, known as the Total Abstinence Society.

Poor health forced him to retire to St. Augustine where, for a time, he continued his pastoral work. He died in St. Augustine on February 18, 1853. He was buried in St. Augustine’s Tolomato Cemetery but was reinterred in 1911 in Havana where a national shrine was built in his honor.

In 1985 the Holy See authorized the Cuban Episcopate to begin the canonical process on the sainthood of Fr. Varela. Fr. Varela has already been declared "Servant of God," the first step in the canonization process.

Marker location
Basilica-Cathedral of St. Augustine, 36 Cathedral Place

Website for the Basilica-Cathedral of St. Augustine



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