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Saint of the week

The brilliant Ecuadorian teacher who was too modest for Paris

St Miguel Cordero (February 9), born with crippled legs, wrote his country’s standard Spanish grammar textbook aged 19

By on Thursday, 9 February 2012

The cathedral in Cuena, the Ecuadorian city where St Miguel was born

The cathedral in Cuena, the Ecuadorian city where St Miguel was born

Miguel Cordero (1854-1910) was a teacher whose life was dedicated to service with the Christian, or de La Salle, Brothers.

Born Francisco Febres Cordero on November 7 in the city of Cuenca, 7,000ft up in the Andes in Ecuador, he belonged to a family heavily involved in the dangerous politics of that country.

His father, who earned his living as professor of English and French at the seminary college in Cuenca, inclined to despair when Francisco was born with crippled legs.

His mother, however, retained her faith in the boy’s destiny and educated him at home before sending him at nine to the school which the Christian Brothers had recently established in Cuenca, their first in South America.

Francisco immediately felt at home. “From the moment I entered,” he later wrote, “God gave me a burning desire to be clothed in the holy habit of their Institute.”

His family thought otherwise, and packed him off to the seminary of Cuena. There, however, Francisco’s health deteriorated to such an extent that he was allowed back to the Brothers’ school. 

On March 24 1868, still only 14, he officially joined the Institute, taking the name of Miguel in religion.

He proved a brilliant teacher, and at 19 published a Spanish grammar that became a standard textbook. With the help of President Moreno of Ecuador the number of pupils in the Brothers’ school topped the 1,000 mark in 1879.

In 1888 Miguel represented the Ecuadorian branch of the Christian Brothers at the beatification of John Baptist de La Salle in Rome.
Back at home a new Spanish grammar consolidated the academic respect in which he was held. In 1892 he was elected to the Academy of Ecuador.

For a while he taught at an Institute for Adult Education which the Brothers opened in Quito, but this closed after opposition from the now anti-clerical government. Miguel, for all his reputation, was quite content to return to primary school teaching and preparing children for their First Holy Communion.

Sent again to Europe in 1907, Miguel was too modest to make any impression in Paris, where he was set to translating French textbooks into Spanish.

A spell at Lembecq, the Institute’s mother house in Belgium, did nothing for his health, and he was sent to recuperate on the coast of Spain near Barcelona.

Forced by riots to abandon his lodging Miguel returned to find the statue of the Virgin which he had placed in the window still standing guard. 

His health, though, continued to deteriorate, and he died on February 9 1910. 

In 1937, to avoid depredations during the Spanish Civil War, his remains were returned to Ecuador, and taken in procession to Quito. Several miracles were reported along the way.

Miguel Cordero was canonised in 1984.