Our humble, peaceful Varela Chapel was shown in a different light in 1853, the year of the death of Fr. Varela.
We have been doing research on the chapel and its building, and came across a pamphlet published for the dedication of the cornerstone on March 22, 1853, less than a month after the death of Fr. Varela (February 25, 1853). The money for the building of the chapel had originally been collected by his Cuban friends to get medical treatment and more comfort for him while he was living in the little wooden room behind the schoolhouse next to the current Cathedral. But when they arrived with the money, they found that he had died only a few days earlier.
So they immediately decided to build a mausoleum and funeral chapel, since Fr. Varela himself had often regretted the fact that the cemetery had no chapel at that time and had unsuccessfully urged that one be built. The chapel was speedily designed by a local builder, in consultation with the Cubans, making a conscious effort to keep it simple and unpretentious and in keeping with Fr. Varela’s life. His friends felt they were fulfilling a wish of his, as well as providing a dignified final resting place for him.
The dedication was conducted by the parish priest, the French Fr. Edmond Aubril, and attended by a priest representing the Archdiocese of New York and a priest representing the Diocese of Savannah, since Fr. Varela had spent nearly 30 years working in New York City and was the Vicar General of New York, while St Augustine at that time was not a diocese but was under the Diocese of Savannah. It was also attended by the church wardens, the children from the parish school, and large number of local citizens. A contemporary account states that “the deep feeling which pervaded the spectators might have been observed from the tears and sobs of the many who knew so well, and love so tenderly, the good Father Varela.”
The addresses and homilies that were delivered – in Spanish and English - at the dedication were sealed into a metal box and placed in the cornerstone, where we may assume that they remain to this very day.