Feast Day : February 9 or June 2
Also known as: Michael Cordero, Francisco Febles Cordero Muñoz, Miguel Febres Cordero, Miguel of Ecuador
Michael of Ecuador was born in Cuenca, Ecuador, on November 7, 1854, and baptized with the name Francisco Febles Cordero Muñoz. His was a well-to-do and influential family. His grandfather, León Febles (or Febres) Cordero, was a general who had fought in Ecuador’s war of independence from Spain. His father, Francisco Febres Cordero Montoya, was a cultured man who was teaching English and French at a seminary in Cuenca at the time of Francisco’s birth. His mother, Ana Muñoz, was one of 19 children, five of whom became nuns and one a Jesuit priest. Francisco (who took the name Michael when he joined a religious order at 14) was born with a deformity of the feet that made him unable to walk until he was five. His first steps, in fact, are said to be due to a miracle. One day he happened to see a rose blooming in the garden of his house. He commented to his family on the beautiful woman above the flowers, saying that she was wearing a white dress with a blue cloak and was calling his name. The others could see nothing out of the ordinary, and they were astonished when he proceeded to get up and walk. From his childhood he had other visions of the Virgin Mary and of Jesus, with whom he conversed on a regular basis. However, he was never able to walk well, a factor contributing to his becoming a man of letters. When the De LaSalle Brothers arrived in Ecuador in 1863 and set up a seminary, Francisco enrolled. He was attracted to the way of life and decided to join the order, though his parents objected to his plans to become a lay brother rather than a priest, since the economic status of brothers was so much lower. They placed him in the seminary where his father taught instead, but within a few months he became seriously ill and had to return home. His mother finally agreed to let him become a lay brother. On March 24, 1868, Francisco took the habit of the De LaSalle Brothers and changed his name to Michael. Following in his father’s footsteps, Brother Michael taught languages (Spanish, French and English) at the seminary in Cuenca and a year later was assigned to the Beaterio at Quito. There he specialized in preparing children for their First Communion, a job he loved and performed for the next 26 years. Michael’s talents as an educator were recognized with his appointment as a public examiner and inspector of Quito’s schools. He also was a prodigious writer, producing his first book—a textbook—at the age of 17. Besides textbooks, he produced works of Christian spirituality, a catechism, poetry, and linguistic studies of Castilian Spanish. The latter were adopted as required texts for all schools in Ecuador. In 1892, Michael was elected to the National Academy of Ecuador (which included membership in the Royal Academy of Spain); in 1900, to the Académie Française; and in 1906, to the Academy of Venezuela. In 1888 Michael traveled to Rome to attend the beatification ceremony of the founder of his order, John Baptist de la Salle. In March 1907, he was called to Europe again, this time to help translate religious documents from French into Spanish. The civil unrest in France during this period made it imperative that these works be translated in order to ensure the continuation of the order’s work outside that country. He was in Spain in July 1909, when problems broke out in Barcelona. There were attacks on Church property, placing emotional stress on all the Brothers. A few months later Michael caught a cold that progressed to pneumonia, and he died on February 9, 1910. Miracles credited to Michael’s intercession began to be reported immediately after his death, and he became the center of a cult, especially strong in Spanish-speaking countries. During the Spanish Civil War, his body was returned to Ecuador, arriving there on February 4, 1937. His new tomb in Quito soon became a pilgrimage shrine. The Ecuadorian government issued postage stamps bearing his likeness and erected a bronze and marble monument to him in Quito’s central park. Upon the statue’s dedication in June 1965, there was a huge parade, in which 30,000 school children participated.