Rafael Cordero (educator)
|Rafael Cordero y Molina|
|Father of Public Education in Puerto Rico|
San Juan, Puerto Rico
|Died||July 5, 1868
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Rafael Cordero y Molina [note 1](October, 1790–July 5, 1868), popularly known as Maestro Cordero, was a self-educated Puerto Rican who provided free schooling to the children of his city regardless of race or social standing. He is considered the "Father of Public Education in Puerto Rico". His sister Celestina Cordero established the first school for girls in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Cordero was born in the City of Puerto Rico on the island of San Juan Bautista (now known as San Juan, Puerto Rico), then part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, into a poor family; his father Lucas Cordero worked in the tobacco fields and his mother was Rita Molina. He was one of three children, his two older sisters being 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 received the sacrament of Confirmation at the age of 14 from Bishop Juan Alejo de Arizmendi (1760–1814), the first native bishop of the island, and would grow up to live his live as a devout Catholic. In 1820, his older sister, Celestina, also a pious Catholic, established the first school for girls on the island.
In 1810 Cordero opened in his own 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. There he taught reading, calligraphy, mathematics and religious 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.
Cordero 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 veneration
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 of the United States. There is a plaque on the outside that states the historical significance of the building and its relation to him. 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 Junior High School in Brooklyn, New York.
In 2004, the Roman Catholic Church, upon the request of the Archbishop of San Juan, Roberto González Nieves, O.F.M., began the process of Cordero's beatification. This is the first step on the road to possible canonization. On December 9, 2013, Pope Francis advanced the cause for Cordero when he declared that Cordero had lived the Christian virtues in a heroic way and is considered venerable.
Cordero's 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
- This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Cordero and the second or maternal family name is Molina.
- 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