Like many of New York's saints, Felix Varela was an immigrant. Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1788, then part of New Spain, he became a priest and advocated for independence and for the abolition of slavery. These stances put his life in jeopardy, and he ended up in the relative safety of New York.
As vicar general of the then-Diocese of New York, he was instrumental in forming a plan to welcome Irish immigrants. He even learned the Irish language for this reason. Perhaps he serves as inspiration for today's Church in New York—led in recent decades by archbishops with Irish surnames—which reaches out very much to Spanish-speaking (and other) immigrants.
Fr. Varela died in 1853.+
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