Firsts are always important because, well, they are first. In the first saint of Ecuador, we find a very important and interesting person. He was a religious who had a passion for teaching and a gift for learning and writing literature. Even as he was honored for his gifts, he remained humble and preferred to work in his classrooms in order to serve his students. Along the way, he became a national hero and beloved by the people of his beautiful country. His name is St. Miguel Febres Cordero Muñoz (1854-1910).
Then around the age of 5 years old, having yet to walk, Francisco was out in the yard and was looking at a flowering rose bush when he saw a beautiful lady above the rose bush. Francisco immediately cried out to his family to come see the beautiful lady. Initially, it was in vain that he called his family to come see this amazing sight. Surely, his parents thought, that the young boy was simply playing and using his imagination. Finally, to humor him, they came and looked at the bush but they saw nothing.
Surely, this young man was being prepared by Our Lord for some important future work! This message was underscored when at the age of 8, he was miraculously preserved from being gored by a wild bull.
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Educated by the Christian Brothers
Not too many years before Francisco's birth, the president of Ecuador, Gabriel García Moreno, who was concerned about education in his country, and a very committed Catholic, had asked if the Brothers of the Christian Schools would come to his country in order to begin to establish schools.
Formally recognized in 1725, the Christian Brothers, as they are commonly called, had been founded by St. John Baptist La Salle. La Salle was a firm believer in the value of education for helping children to rise above difficult circumstances. Armed with this radical idea to provide education for as many as possible who would otherwise never receive an education, he led the teaching religious order in establishing many schools first throughout France and then to several countries outside of France.
Francisco flourished at the school. He excelled in his studies and was known for staying after school in order to review his lessons and to help the brothers with their duties. The brothers grew very fond of Francisco and the seed of a religious vocation was planted. Indeed, when the President of Ecuador came to visit the school, young Francisco, because of his academic record, was chosen to give the address by a student.
Although he appreciated his son's enthusiasm for education, Francesco did not share his son's affinity for the Christian Brothers. As a connected member of society, he did not think that being associated with the Christian Brothers with their emphasis on providing education to the poor helped boost his or his son's status. However, given that the president supported the schools, he reluctantly allowed his son to continue in order to show political support for the president.
Becoming a Christian Brother
When his father understood that his son might want to join the Christian Brothers, he had Francisco pulled out of school and put into the seminary where he taught. The move proved disastrous for Francisco's health and he had to return home in order to recover. Through the persuasion of his mother Anna, Francisco's father finally allowed him to join the novitiate of the Christian Brothers in the capital city of Quito. All the same, Francesco refused to correspond with his son for the next five years.
As the needs were great and Miguel was well-educated and talented, he began teaching Spanish and religion at the tender age of 15. Miguel began to distinguish himself as a dedicated and capable teacher. He always remained committed to his own continuing education and was quite the linguist (not unlike his father) eventually learning to speak Latin, German, Italian, English, and French in addition to his native Spanish.
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A Teacher, Author, and Man of Letters
Although a talented author, Miguel was at heart a committed teacher. On on occasion, he was placed in charge of a school. However, it soon became clear that his gifts did not lie in administration, and his superiors quickly returned him to the classroom. Miguel was also called upon to give retreats and to prepare children for their first communion. His love for the Eucharist shined forth in his retreats and his desire for the children to be fully ready to receive their Lord in Holy Communion.
Twice to Europe
Sadly, not long after the canonization of La Salle, the Christian Brothers, were, as were all religious, forbidden to teach children in France which of course is where the order had been founded. Miguel's superiors sent him to France in order to teach Spanish to many of the brothers as the order planned to send many of them to Spanish-speaking countries.
Unfortunately, since arriving in Europe, Miguel's health had been very poor. His stay in Belgium was brief as his superiors decided to send him to Barcelona, Spain where they thought the climate would be more agreeable to him. Soon after his arrival in Barcelona, all of the brothers had to flee in the face of anti-religious forces. Miguel made it to just north of the city in Premia del Mar. However, he had contracted pneumonia and soon died on February 9, 1910 at the age of 56.
Image: St. Miguel Febres Cordero Muñoz
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