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Teacher of Great Men, Servant of God (now Venerable)

Venerable Rafael Cordero: Maestro de próceres

Por Luis R. Negrón Hernández


Ciudad del Vaticano, 9 diciembre 2013 (VIS).- El Santo Padre Francisco, en audiencia con el cardenal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., Prefecto de la Congregación de la Causa de los Santos, ha autorizado la promulgación de los siguientes decretos:
Siervo de Dios Rafael Cordero Molina, laico. Nacido en San Juan de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico) el 24 de octubre de 1790 y fallecido el 5 de julio de 1868. El hasta ahora "Siervo de Dios" pasa ahora a "Venerable".


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AFAEL CORDERO MOLINA was born in San Juan on October 24, 1790. He was unable to attend school with other children because, at the time, Black children were not allowed to enroll.

In spite of their poverty and the racial obstacles of the times, Rafael's parents, craftsman Lucas Cordero and Rita Molina, were a well-educated couple who loved reading and knowledge, and above all were devoutly Christian. Because of this, they instilled in little Rafael's intellect and heart, and in those of his sisters Gregoria and Celestina, a great desire to know more about the world that surrounds us, and, further, to transmit this interest to others as a sign of Christian virtue.

In a short time, Rafael became a well-educated young man, able to work
as a teacher of elementary subjects.

In 1810, while living in San Germán
, Rafael Cordero opened his first little school for Black and Mulatto boys in his own home. His sister Celestina later did the same for girls, since at that time in Puerto Rico and in the rest of the world, boys and girls were taught separately.

They returned to San Juan, where Master Cordero set out to offer free schooling to poor children without regard to their race or social status, in his home on Luna Street. To support himself financially, he worked diligently as a shoemaker and cigar maker.

*Home of the teacher Rafael Cordero, Luna Street, Old San Juan. Photo by Steve Shevlin.

He would begin and end his classes with the Marian hymn “Salve Regina”. He was a devout follower of Saint Anthony of Padua and he was seen praying constantly, reciting the rosary every day. On Sundays he would dress up in his blue suit to attend Sunday Mass before 6:00 in the morning in the church of St. Francis of Assisi, near his San Juan home. He remained celibate all of his life.

Venezuelan painter Pedro Lovera -son of Juan Lovera, father of Venezuelan independence- settled in Mayaguez in 1861 and painted a portrait of Cordero, which later served as inspiration for our painter Francisco Oller. Oller painted “The School of Master Cordero” and dedicated it while Cordero was alive, thus immortalizing him on canvas. Rafael Cordero did not leave any writings; he used to say “I write nothing in this life, because I do not wish to recall today the good that I did yesterday. My wish is that the night erase the good deeds that I have been able to do during the day.”
Can You Find Saints:
Introducing Your Child to Holy Men and Women

Rafael Cordero's fame and virtue spread beyond his impoverished neighborhood. Well-off families began to send their children to his home school. There, the little ones learned to read rapidly and correctly, to the surprise of many. He taught them all catechism (Christian doctrine), reading, grammar, history, handwriting, geography, and arithmetic.

Among his students were the future abolitionist José Julián Acosta y Calbo; Román Baldorioty de Castro, who was also to become an abolitionist and a leader in the fight for autonomy; Manuel Elzaburu y Vizcarrondo, who would later found the Athenaeum of Puerto Rico and become a great writer, lawyer, and a leader in the Liberal Party; Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, considered the "father of Puerto Rican literature"; as well as others who knew how to honor Puerto Rico and their Black teacher, defending all Puerto Ricans, especially the least under the kingdom of heaven: the poor, the slaves, the persecuted and the oppressed.

Economic History of Puerto Rico
Economic History
of Puerto Rico

The Economic Society of Friends of Puerto Rico awarded Rafael Cordero a prize of 100 pesos. Master Cordero invested the money in his students and gave alms to the beggars of San Juan. In his old age, the government granted him a small pension of 15 pesos a month.

In 1868, sensing that his earthly life was coming to an end, he had his followers called together. He blessed them and said, “This poor old man who breathed love into your instruction has breathed his last”. His last words were “My God, receive me into your bosom!” This outstanding Puerto Rican died on July 5, 1868, in his native San Juan. One of his students, Lorenzo Puente Acosta, wrote at the time:

Veneration of virtue, respect for the good man
who devotes himself, like the Divine Master,
to the teaching of those who do not know,
to pouring into the hearts of youth the principles
of charity, love, knowledge, glory, and Nation,
bring me to shed a tear, not on an opulent tomb,
but on a humble grave brightened by the merits
of the virtuous man who sleeps within.
Such a man was Rafael Cordero

Responding to the Apostolic Letter “Novo Millenio Ineunte” from Pope John Paul II, asking individual churches to gather up the memories of witnesses to the faith, “a heritage which should not be lost and which has to carry over to a perennial debt of gratitude and a renewed intent to imitate”, the bishops of Puerto Rico have begun the process of canonization for the teacher Rafael Cordero Molina, Servant of God.

In this respect, the Archbishop of San Juan, Roberto González Nieves O.F.M., called for a beginning of devotions to Rafael Cordero, who lived an outstanding life in accordance with the norms of the blessed evangelists. He asks that we invoke the Holy Spirit that He might enlighten this cause. He also declared: “Today should be a moment of emotion and happiness for our entire people to grow in faith, hope, love, holiness and unity.”


Señor y Dios nuestro,
Tú que infundiste en tu Siervo,
el Maestro Rafael, laico puertorriqueño,
un ardiente celo por la educación integral de la niñez
y una luminosa caridad para con los pobres y desamparados,
haz que yo sepa también responder con generosidad de servicio
a las necesidades de los que me rodean.

Te pido, si es tu voluntad, que concedas la gracia (
pedir favor)
de manera que tu siervo Rafael sea elevado a los altares.

(Rezar un Padre Nuestro, un Ave María y un Gloria)

* Para más información:
Abad Oscar Rivera, OSB
Postulador, Palacio Arzobispal,
Calle del Cristo 50, San Juan P.R. 00901
(tel. (787) 725-4975

Visite nuestra sección Amén


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