Venerable Félix Varela Morales (1788-1853) — Born in Havana, Cuba, Félix Varela spent his childhood in St. Augustine, Florida, where his grandfather was a military commander stationed in Spanish Florida. When he felt called to the priesthood, he returned to Cuba and began his studies at the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary in Havana.
After ordination he joined the seminary faculty, teaching Philosophy, Chemistry, Physics, Theology and Music, to many illustrious Cubans who would go on to fight for independence.
Fr. Varela was chosen to represent Cuba in the General Courts in Spain, where he introduced projects to give independence to Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and other territories under the Spanish crown and advocated for the abolition of slavery. His political views were under scrutiny and the government sentenced him to death. He fled the country and eventually settled in New York City.
Fr. Varela founded El Habanero, the first Spanish-language newspaper in the U.S. 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 he was named Vicar General of the Diocese of New York. In this post, he played a major role in working for immigrants, especially the Irish, whom he assisted, even learning their language in order to communicate better with them. Fr. Varela served as a theological consultant to the committee of American bishops which drew up the Baltimore Catechism.
In 1848, worn out by his labors, Fr. Varela retired to St. Augustine, where he died five years later. He was declared Venerable in 2012.