Rafael Cordero (educator)
"The Father of Public Education in Puerto Rico"
San Juan, Puerto Rico
|Died||July 5, 1868
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Rafael Cordero (October, 1790–July 5, 1868), known as "The Father of Public Education in Puerto Rico", was a self-educated Puerto Rican who provided free schooling to children regardless of their race or social standing.
Cordero (birth name: Rafael Cordero y Molina [note 1]) was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico into a poor family, his father Lucas Cordero worked in the tobacco fields and his mother was Rita Molina. He was one of three siblings, his two older sisters were Gregoria and Celestina. Cordero, who was of African ancestry, was self-educated. His love of literature and his determination to teach and educate himself helped him to develop the skills and preparation to teach primary school. Cordero, a devout Catholic, received the rite of Confirmation at fourteen years old from Bishop Juan Alejo de Arizmendi (1760–1814), the first Puerto Rican to be consecrated Bishop in San Juan. In 1820, his older sister, Celestina Cordero, established the first school for girls.
At the beginning of the 19th century Rafael Cordero established, in his house, a free school for all children, regardless of race, who were unable to afford an education otherwise. Cordero maintained his educational center for 58 years at Luna Street in San Juan. There he taught reading, calligraphy, mathematics and Catholic instruction. Among the distinguished alumni who attended Cordero's school were Román Baldorioty de Castro, Alejandro Tapia y Rivera and José Julián Acosta. He proved that racial and economic integration could be possible and accepted.
He was awarded the Premio de Virtud by La Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País, an economic club whose members were friends of Puerto Rico. He was given 100 pesos, which he in turn gave away to those in need. He used half of the money (50 pesos) to buy books and clothes for his students and the other half was given to the homeless.
The people's love and respect for Cordero was evidenced by the fact that more than 2,000 people attended his funeral in 1868. The Catholic Church plans to search for Cordero’s remains which were buried at the Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in San Juan, although the exact location is unknown.
Honors and recognitions
Puerto Rican poet José Gualberto Padilla published a poem titled "El maestro Rafael" honoring the educator. In 1890, Rafael Cordero was immortalized in a painting titled La Escuela del Maestro Rafael Cordero by the artist Francisco Oller which can be seen in the Puerto Rican Athenaeum.
The house in Luna Street, where Rafael Cordero taught, was remodeled by the Government of Puerto Rico and is registered as a historical site in the National Register of Historical Places. There is a plaque on the outside that states the historical significance of the building and its relation to Rafael Cordero. The Puerto Rico Teachers Association annually awards the teacher who has distinguished himself or herself in the field of public or private education with the National Medal Rafael Cordero. There are various schools named after him, among them a high school in San Juan, an elementary school in Aguadilla, an elementary school in Jersey City, New Jersey and a Jr. High School in Brooklyn, New York City.
In 2004, the Roman Catholic Church, upon the request of San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves, began the process of Cordero's beatification. This is the first step on the road to canonization. On December 9, 2013, Pope Francis advanced the sainthood of Cordero when he declared that Cordero lived the Christian virtues in a heroic way and is venerable.
His contributions to society have been documented in history books and also in the following books:
- "In search of maestro Rafael Cordero" (En busca del maestro Rafael Cordero) by Jack Delano - May 1994
- "Heroes of Puerto Rico" by Jay Nelson Tuck
- Próceres Puertorriqueños; by Joaquín Freire; Publisher: Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico, Departamento de Instrucción Pública; 1ra Edición (1966)
- En busca del Maestro Rafael Cordero/In search of The Master Rafael Cordero; By Jack Delano; Publisher: La Editorial Universidad de Puerto Rico; 1 edition (May 1994); ISBN 0-8477-0080-1; ISBN 978-0-8477-0080-6
- Rafael Cordero
- A Modern Historical Perspective of Puerto Rican Women : Puerto Rican Women Movement beyond the region politics
- Rafael Cordero Elementary School 37
- J.H.S. 302 RAFAEL CORDERO SCHOOL in BROOKLYN, NY
- “Papa da inicio a beatificación de puertorriqueño Rafael Cordero”; “La Raza”; Retrieved December 9, 2013