Born Rafael Cordero y Molina in late 1790, Maestro Cordero was important in establishing free schooling in Puerto Rico. Born and raised in San Juan—then known as the City of Puerto Rico—the son of free Black tobacco farmers, Cordero was educated by his parents at an early age. His parents also taught other children in their neighborhood in the evenings. Due to his love for education and strong beliefs to help the community, he would pursue teaching all children.
THE FIRST FREE SCHOOL
It would be in 1810 that Rafael Cordero opened the first free school for all children in Puerto Rico using his house on Luna Street as the school house. As a result, it would remain a gateway to education and good works for almost 60 years. He gave religious lessons and also taught reading, writing, and math. Several figures in Puerto Rican history would come through Cordero’s school house. Among the most important were the abolitionists Jose Julian Acosta and Roman Baldorioty de Castro.
His service to the community didn’t go unnoticed. He was awarded the Premio de Virtud by Puerto Rico’s most esteemed learned society. The honor came with 100 pesos, half of which he gave away to the homeless. The other half was put into books and good for his students.
Cordero’s tireless work in making sure everyone–regardless of their race and social background–were educated earned him the title of “Father of Public Education in Puerto Rico.” He touched so many that his funeral was attended by over 2,000 people in 1868.
In 2013, after a nine-year recognition process by the Catholic Church, Pope Francis bestowed the title of Venerable upon Rafael Cordero.