Félix Varela y Morales, also known as Father Varela, was born in Havana on November 20th, 1788. He was a Cuban priest, teacher, writer, philosopher and politician who had an important performance in intellectual, political and religious life in the Cuba from the first half of the 19th century.
He was the first who taught Cubans to think about patriotism. He studied Philosophy and Theology at the Seminary of San Carlos and San Ambrosio and at the University of Havana. In 1811, already a priest, he held the chair of Philosophy of the first of these institutions.
He was the first Cuban thinker who raised the necessary separation from Spain, the struggle for independence and a radical modernization of education in the country. He founded the first Cuban independence newspaper, El Habanero.
Deputy to the Cortes of Cádiz in 1821, representing Cuba, defended the right to autonomy of the American territories, proposed the abolition of slavery on the Island and the modernization of education.
The Spanish return to monarchical absolutism sentenced him to death. He fled from Spain and settled in the United States. From there he devoted himself to promoting independence in Cubans.
Together with notable Creole thinkers, he published the Weekly Messenger (1821-1831), intended to educate and prepare the population for future endeavors. With 24 years of age, Father Varela was appointed by Bishop Espada Professor of Philosophy, Physics and Ethics at the seminar. There he prepared the first Physics and Chemistry laboratory in the country: galvanic boxes, test tubes, pneumatic machines, mobile planetary system and other instruments for the teaching of science through experimentation.
He taught with the most advanced pedagogical methods. Although, according to testimony of José de la Luz y Caballero, he mastered Latin as his own language. He renewed the teaching of the time using Spanish in his classes and books, in which he abandoned the scholasticism prevailing by elective philosophy and introduced experimentation in the study of science.
He gave great importance to his students learning to reason with their own heads; the important thing is that they learn to think and decide for themselves. Therefore, the outstanding teacher José de la Luz y Caballero, a disciple of Varela, said: “While thinking about the island of Cuba, we will think about whom taught us first to think.” Varela opened the path of education for all when he said:”The need to instruct a people is like feeding them, which does not admit delay … Who can deny that a town is more enlightened in which everyone knows how to read and write.”
Varela trained the best men of his time in the classrooms of the San Carlos Seminary. The fruits of his work as a teacher are shown in those patriots like José Antonio Saco; Domingo del Monte, writer and protector of writers and artists, and José de la Luz y Caballero.
Heir to the teachings of these men and in turn a student of the seminar was also Rafael María de Mendive, Martí’s teacher.
He wrote the first book for the teaching of modern physics in Cuba and one of the first in America. In 1816 he created a Physics cabinet for demonstration experiments for teaching purposes at the Seminary of San Carlos and San Ambrosio, where he taught. His lessons in Philosophy applied to Chemistry and Physics revolutionized teaching with its explanatory method.
We will always remember Father Varela, for his legacy, his teachings and the infinite love for the Fatherland. And as he pointed out “the love that every man has for the country in which he was born, and the interest he takes in his prosperity, we call him PATRIOTISM.”