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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Miguel Febres Cordero Munoz

February 9, 2016 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

There have been many saints born in Europe who came to the Americas to convert the natives and work among immigrants. These included St. Isaac Jogues, St. Frances Cabrini, and St. Damien of Molokai, to name a few. There were few saints who were born in the Americas and then went to Europe and died there far from their native land. One of these rare saints is Miguel Febres Cordero Munoz.
On November 7, 1854, one month before the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was announced by Pope Pius IX, a child was born in Cuenca, Ecuador. He was named Francisco Febres Cordero Munoz. Francisco was born with club feet and was unable to walk for many years.
However at the age of five, still unable to take his first steps, he cried out to his mother to come and see something: “Look how beautiful the woman who is on the roses!”
“I see no one,” protested his mother. But Miguel insisted she look, saying: “Look how beautiful she is with a white dress and a blue mantle. She called me!” With great excitement he rose, and — to his mother’s great surprise — he walked over to the rose bush.
Thus began the amazing life of Francisco. Educated at home up to this point, he continued his studies and suddenly became a most accomplished child. He grew in both holiness and intelligence, obedient to his parents in all things. His studies at home continued until he was 14 years old.
Even at that time his father did not want him to leave home for his education. However, his father was a prominent politician who recognized that if President Gabriel Garcia Moreno had invited the Christian Brothers to Ecuador to improve the education of the people, it would be expedient to cooperate with the Brothers. (President Moreno was martyred for his Catholic orthodoxy in 1875.)
Thus Francisco’s father reluctantly consented to his son attending the school started by the Christian Brothers in 1868. In fact, Francisco’s father did not write to him for five years.
It was not long before Francisco donned the LaSallian habit at the school, becoming the first Ecuadorian to do so. He took the name Miguel and moved to Quito for his studies.
Three years later as Miguel prepared to teach younger boys Spanish grammar, he became dissatisfied with the inadequate texts for his classes. Nevertheless, he became known as an excellent teacher, well-loved by both his students and his fellow teachers.
Just a youth by today’s standards, Miguel’s success as a teacher became even better known when he decided to write a Spanish grammar text. The book proved to be most effective in the classroom and it soon became the standard text used throughout the entire country of Ecuador.
Brother Miguel continued teaching while he wrote more texts on linguistics, poetry, and philology. The National Academy of Ecuador invited Brother Miguel to become a member of their esteemed organization as his reputation spread beyond the borders of his country.
That invitation was soon followed by similar ones from Spain, France, and Venezuela. These honors did not concern Brother Miguel. His first priority, his first love, remained working with the young men, teaching them their catechism, and preparing them to receive their First Holy Communion.
In return, his students loved his simplicity, his candor, and his compassion — especially his love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. He still maintained his simplicity and continued to work with young men, urging them to be simple as well. “Unless you become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
This simplicity also embraced the evangelical counsels of so many saints: poverty, chastity, and obedience. These virtues, accompanied by his devotion to the Eucharist and his devotion to Mary, led his contemporaries to call him a saint.
Brother Miguel’s work in Ecuador continued until 1907 when he was called by the Christian Brothers to go to Europe. On the way there, he stopped in New York to work briefly with the Brothers. From there he went to France, being called there because of government hostility toward religious orders.
Since the Christian Brothers were unable — by law — to exercise their teaching apostolate, many planned to sail to Latin America. Thus Brother Miguel was called there to teach the Brothers Spanish.
Once again, Brother Miguel found the texts inadequate for an accelerated program to teach Spanish to the Frenchmen. Thus, Brother Miguel prepared texts which would instruct the other Brothers.
After establishing the program in France, he was transferred to Belgium to their motherhouse in Lembecq-lez-Hal.
Sadly, Brother Miguel’s health deteriorated quickly in the harsh, cold climate. After leaving his native equatorial Ecuador, his lungs failed him in the Belgian winters.
Reluctantly, the Brothers bid him goodbye as he left for Spain. This time the superiors hoped his life in Premia de Mar, near Barcelona, would help him to recover his health. He settled in the residence of the LaSallian International Center where once again his holy simplicity and teaching brilliance won him many admirers.
When Brother Miguel arrived in Premia de Mar in July 1909, a revolution was underway. After several years of restlessness, laborers joined together to resist abuses. They aimed their animosity at both the government and the Catholic Church.
To escape the attacks made on the Catholic religious, the Brothers were forced to move to Bonanova School. Miguel went with them, becoming custodian of the school’s chapel.
When the hostilities ceased, the Brothers returned to Premia de Mar. However, the struggle for Miguel began. In January 1910 his lungs again gave him trouble. The pneumonia he developed left him weak. As he raged with fever, he struggled to breathe. For three days he lingered, receiving the last sacraments. On February 9, 1910 he surrendered his soul to God.
So loved was Brother Miguel that many received the news of his death with great sorrow, crying and weeping. The president of Ecuador proclaimed a national day of mourning.
Brother Miguel was beatified by Pope Paul VI on October 30, 1977. On that very day another miracle occurred through Miguel’s intercession: Beatriz Gomez Munez was completely cured of myasthenia gravis. This miracle led to his canonization by Pope St. John Paul II on October 21, 1984, also honored for his dedication to the formation of youth in the Catholic faith. His feast is celebrated on February 9.
Dear Brother Miguel, with the simplicity and peaceful obedience of St. Joseph, you did all that God asked of you to further His Kingdom. By the grace of God, assist us in fulfilling the plan that God has for us in seeking and doing His will — especially in drawing all youth closer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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