The Father of Public Education in Puerto Rico never went to school.

Rafael Cordero y Molina             en.wikipedeia.org

By Larry Peterson

Rafael Cordero y Molina came into this world on October 24, 1790, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was born into a low-income family and had two older sisters.  His dad, Lucas Cordero, worked on a tobacco farm and his mom, Rita Molina, took care of the children and the home. Although considered “free,” they were also black, and because of that, their children were not allowed to attend school.

Rafael’s parents had a small amount of education and imparted what they could to their children. Rafael showed an instant love of reading and began to read as much as possible. He developed a passion for literature. That dedication, coupled with his determination to become a teacher, led him on his arduous journey to achieve his goal.

Rafael’s mom and dad did their best to instill the faith into their children. Instruction in the faith by the local priest was open to all.  At the age of 14, he received the Sacrament of Confirmation. From that point forward, he would continue to grow in faith and remain a devout Catholic his entire life.

Rafael began working in the tobacco fields at a young age. When he was twenty years of age, he managed to open a school in the town of  San German. From the very beginning of his career as a teacher, the young man would never accept any money or gifts for his teaching. His earnings as a tobacco farmer and maker of tobacco products were the only monies he would ever consider using.

Rafael’s school in San German was on the street known as Moon of San Juan. In the beginning, it was just black and mulatto children attending his school. As time went by, underprivileged white children also began attending. When racial segregation was a dominant factor in many places around the world, Rafael treated all people the same and never discriminated against anyone.

He would be at this school for the next 58 years. He taught children not only how to read and write, but also arithmetic, history, Catholic doctrine, and even calligraphy. The place was not only a school. It was also his home and a tobacco shop. He would instruct the children, and while they studied, he would roll cigars to sell. On the walls, he had images of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and his patron, St. Anthony of Padua. There also was a large Crucifix hanging for all to see.

In 1847 Juan Prim Prats became the Governor. He hated all non-whites and immediately set out to subjugate them.  Governor Prats instituted direct repression of blacks on the island. He decreed the “Bando Negro” law which justified any aggression against blacks, be they free or slaves. Writings show that Prim visited Rafael’s school several times and, unexpectedly, always approved of its operation. Rafael attributed that to prayer and protection from Our Lady. Prim lasted in power only a year, and all blacks and mulattos on the island breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Rafael Cordero’s reputation as a saintly teacher grew, and more people wanted to send their children to him, including the rich. People began calling him the “Maestro.” Some of those who studied under him included Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, a famous poet, and playwright; Roman Baldorioty de Castro, a professor and politician; and Jose Julian Acosta, the journalist.

“Maestro” Rafael Cordero devoted his entire life to the free education of children and young people. In 1868, sensing the end of his life was near, he called his students together and prayed with them. He gave them his blessing saying, “My children pray for this poor old man who has taught you how much he knew. He has nothing left but a breath of life.”

A few minutes later, at 5 p.m., he died. The date was July 5, 1868.  Next to him was a burning candle and scapulars sent to his bedside by the Carmelites. More than 2000 people attended his funeral, and he became known as the “Father of Public Education in Puerto Rico.”

Each year in Puerto Rico, the Rafael Cordero National Medal  is given to the annual Teacher of the Year. Schools are named after him in Puerto Rico and Jersey City, N.J., and Brooklyn, N.Y. Lastly,  the schoolhouse he taught in is registered as a historical site in the National registry of Historical Places of the United States.

In 2004 the process of Rafael Cordero’s canonization was begun. On December 9, 2013, Pope Francis declared that he had lived a life of “heroic virtue” and was worthy of the title, Venerable.

Venerable Rafael Cordero y Molina, please pray for us.

 


Meet Mother Maria Felix Torres who said to Jesus, “I am yours fully and consciously forever.”

Venerable Mother Maria Felix Torres

By Larry Peterson

Maria Felix Torres was born on August 25, 1907, in the village of Albelda (Huesca), Spain. This was the beginning of the 20th century, and technological breakthroughs, economic changes, combined with religious tensions among the traditional type religious faiths, were beginning to affect most people’s thoughts. The new existentialist believed that individuals knew what was best for themselves. This philosophy was rapidly permeating the behavior and thinking of many average citizens. It eliminated God from their lives.

The family was crucial for society’s ability to maintaining a stable and respectful populace. Most people realized that that genetic makeup was not nearly as important as parental example, parental love, and quality education. Maria Felix’s parents were very aware of these conditions and would have a profound influence on their daughter’s life.

Maria’s dad, Ramon Surigue, was a man of simple beginnings who earned his engineering degree by taking correspondence courses at Cervera College in Valencia. He also made sure to read quality books to round out his personality and his confidence. He began a career as a civil engineer and this is where he met his wife, Florentina Torres Fumas. She was the youngest daughter of one of the richest families in the province of Huesca. Younger than Ramon, she loved traditional values and knew what her role in the family should be. This husband and wife team made for a perfect balance between them to raise a family.

Maria was their only girl, and she also became the sole survivor among the four children. Maria’s dad had always believed that the best legacy he could leave his children was a solid academic and humanitarian education, and he would send his daughter to the best schools he could find.  Maria quickly displayed her high level of intelligence, and she read everything she could get her hands on. It was not long before a mathematics professor recommended to her father that he send his daughter to Lerida to go to its well regarded high school.

Maria became a resident student at the Company of Mary Our Lady School in Lerida. She became the youngest girl in her class and also proved to be the most intelligent. In addition to her intelligence, Mother Maria had natural leadership skills, and her sensitivity to religious matters was obvious to all who knew her. When she was fourteen she experienced the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola. These readings affected her deeply and she felt God’s love and a call deeply within herself. In her diary, she would write,  “I am His, totally and consciously His forever.”

She knew her calling was to the religious life, but her parents objected. She honored their wishes by going to the University of Zaragoza, earning a degree in Chemistry in 1930. But she knew that Jesus wanted her for His own. While teaching in school, she began doing apostolic work among college students. On August 15, 1934, she and a friend, Carmen Aige, started their ministry, dedicated to saving souls and in service to the Church. It was not long before young college students were joining her way of life. It was called the Congregation of the Savior.

In 1940, Maria’s Order received canonical permission to live as a religious community, and, in 1952, they gained admission into the Church as a Religious Congregation of Diocesan Right. This means the Order is under the authority of the local bishop. It was not until 1986 that the Order was approved as a Pontifical Right, meaning it was now under the jurisdiction of the Pope.

Once the Pontifical Right was assigned to the Order it spread throughout Spain, across the sea to South America, and to the United States. Mother Maria also established the schools known as the Mater Salvatoris Schools. These schools were dedicated citing faithful adhesion to the Pope, tender love for our Blessed Mother, and to give young people the basis to evangelize, leading society to Christ.

Mother Maria Felix served as Superior General of the Congregation for eighteen years. She was a truly humble woman, and although she was the “soul and mother” of the Congregation she fulfilled her duties without ever acknowledging her position or seeking any praise or thanks. When she died on January 12, 2001, only a few people knew that she was the Foundress of the Order.

Mother Mary Felix was declared a Servant of God in 2009. On July 11, 2020, Pope Francis declared her a woman of “heroic virtue” and she now bears the title of Venerable Maria Felix Torres.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020

 


This Man viewed Religion with Contempt—This Woman was arrested as a Revolutionary

Together they Founded a Religious Order that would spread around the World

One of the Acts of Mercy—Feeding the Poor            commons.wikimedia.org

By Larry Peterson

On December 6, 1752, Florence Chasseloup presented her husband, Pierre Fournet, with their only son who they named Andre-Hubert. Andre had one sister. The infant Andre was baptized the very next day by his uncle, Father Antoine Fournet, in the local parish, located in Vienne, France.

Twenty-one years later, in Le Blanc, France, on July 5, 1773, a baby girl was born into the aristocratic, Bichier des Ages family. They named her Joan Elizabeth Lucy, and she was baptized the same day she was born. From then on, most people knew her as Elizabeth Bichier.

No one ever would have considered that these two unlikely people would connect in 1797, during the height of the French Revolution. Nor would anyone have imagined that they would join forces to found and inspire religious orders that would eventually serve people on four continents and in thirteen different nations.

As a boy, Andre-Hubert was what one might consider a pompous little brat. He acted self-contained and even harbored a disdain for religion. His mother fostered these feelings because she kept telling him she wanted him to become a priest. He resented her prodding because a priest was the last thing he ever intended to be. In fact, he was so determined to show his mom that he meant it, he ran away from home determined to join the military.

His mother found him and made him come home before he could enlist. She sought out the aid of her brother-in-law, who was a priest in a rural farming community. His name was Jean Fournet, and he had a profound influence on his nephew. So much so that Andrew was ordained to the priesthood in 1776. At his ordination, his mother wept with joy.

Three years earlier, about 60 kilometers away (37 miles),  a baby girl had been born into the aristocratic Bichier family. She was named Joan Elizabeth and baptized the same day. Her mom, Madame Bichier, was committed to teaching her children the tenets of the Catholic faith.  Even as a small child Elizabeth felt herself being drawn to a life of prayer.

The  French Revolution began on July 14, 1789, and French Catholics immediately fell victim to persecution. The Bichier estate was now under threat of seizure and Elizabeth and her mom moved to a tiny house in the local village. However, they were still harassed daily by the Revolutionary Surveillance Committee. They were continually being prodded to sign a new oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution. They stood firm and refused—over and over. They were imprisoned, but their brother, who had sided with the revolutionaries, managed to have them freed. Elizabeth’s life was about to change.

Elizabeth, unable to receive the Holy Eucharist because of the new government’s anti-religious policy, felt terribly deprived. Toward the end of 1796, a former servant came to her and told her of a secret Mass being offered at a farm ten miles away. Elizabeth rode a donkey for more than three hours to reach the farm. After Mass, the priest, Father Andrew Fournet, began to hear confessions. Elizabeth was last in a very long line. Confessions lasted all night long, and when Elizabeth’s turn came to confess, the sun was rising.

She and Father Andrew had an immediate connection. Their spiritualities combined and the priest became Elizabeth’s spiritual director. He asked her to consider devoting her life to the sick, poor, aged and to also establish schools for children in the rural areas of their diocese. Even as a child, Elizabeth had consecrated herself to the Virgin Mary, and she immediately responded to Father Fournet’s ideas.

Father Fournet put Elizabeth in charge of a group of women who also were dedicated to Catholic education and the care of the poor and sick. Elizabeth then founded the order known as Daughter’s of the Holy Cross, Sisters of St. Andrew. The year was 1807. When she died in 1838, there were over 100 communities with hundreds of sisters working to help those in need. By the turn of the 20th century there were over 3100 sisters serving around the world. Today, the Daughter’s of the Holy Cross still has more than 600 sisters working on four continents in fourteen different countries helping others.

Father Andrew Fournet was canonized a saint by Pope Pius XI on June 4, 1933. Sister Joan Elizabeth Bichier des Ages was canonized a saint of June 6. 1947 by Pope Pius XII.

We ask both of these saints to pray for us.

Copyright©Larry Peterson 2019