June 20, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Possible U.S. saints: Eusebio Francisco Kino

John F. Fink(Fourth in a series of columns)

Both the United States and Mexico can legitimately claim Jesuit Father Eusebio Francisco Kino.

His statue is in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol for the state of Arizona, although he did much of his work in the Mexican state of Sonora. His cause for beatification and canonization has been open for a long time, probably too long for it to happen, but he’s still on the list.

He wasn’t Spanish as you would expect from his name, but rather an Austrian from the Italian Tyrol. His real name was Kuhn, with Kino being the Spanish form.

After becoming a member of the Jesuit’s German province, he distinguished himself in the study of mathematics, cartography and astronomy. He taught mathematics at the University of Ingolstadt. However, he wanted to be a missionary like his model, St. Francis Xavier. He got his wish and went to Mexico in 1681.

He taught in Mexico City for a while then went to Baja, California, where he founded scores of towns and cities. Then, from 1687 until his death 24 years later, he worked in vast territories in northern Sonora in Mexico and southern Arizona, New Mexico and California.

Professor Herbert Bolton of the University of California called him “the most picturesque missionary pioneer of all North America—explorer, astronomer, cartographer, mission builder, ranchman, cattle king, and defender of the frontier.”

He is credited with more than 50 expeditions as he and his comrades explored the country between the Magdalena and Gila rivers and the Colorado River to the Gulf of California.

No one has ever calculated the thousands of miles he must have traveled on horseback. He traveled 30 to 40 miles a day, including stops to preach and baptize. He is credited with baptizing 4,500 Pima Indians. He opened trails that are roads today. He kept careful journals of his travels and observations, and his papers are preserved in the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif.

Father Kino’s maps were the most accurate of the time, and they and several books he wrote brought him fame in Europe. He also began 19 cattle ranches in southern Arizona and northern Mexico. He introduced European grains and fruits. Wheat culture in California began with a handful of seed that he sent across a desert to a Yuma chief who had once befriended him. A mission he began in 1698 was famed for its fields of wheat and herds of cattle, sheep and goats.

He built the Church of San Xavier del Bac outside of Tucson, but not the elaborate church that is there now. It was built between 1783 and 1797 by Franciscans. It remains a popular tourist site and still serves Indians in the area.

Father Kino died at age 66 while on one of his travels. He rode out from his mission in Dolores, northern Mexico, to dedicate a chapel. He became ill during his Mass and died there on March 15, 1711, with a calfskin as a mattress and his pack saddle for a pillow. †

Local site Links: