Pope advances sainthood cause of ‘Apostle to Arizona’

Padre Kino declared ‘Venerable’

This bronze statue of Ven. Eusebio Kino sculpted by Suzanne Silvercruys was given to the National Statuary Hall Collection by Arizona in 1965. (Architect of the Capitol)

By Tony Gutiérrez
Arizona Angelus

When Rosie Garcia, a parishioner of St. Augustine Cathedral in Tucson, heard the announcement that Pope Francis had formally recognized the heroic virtues of sainthood candidate Jesuit Father Eusebio Kino, she said she cried tears of joy.

“He was a man who led a virtuous life of love, hope and faith,” said Garcia, who is president of the Kino Heritage Society, a Tucson-based society working to promote the missionary priest’s cause in the United States.

Noting that Padre Kino is considered the “patron saint of the borderlands,” Garcia referred to him as “the voice of the underprivileged.”

An Italian Jesuit missionary, Padre Kino, introduced Christianity to Arizona when he established the San Jose de Tumacácori Mission in January 1691.

On the recommendation of the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes, Pope Francis formally recognized the heroic virtues of Servant of God Father Eusebio Kino July 10, officially elevating him to “Venerable” status, one more step on the road to canonization.

This step recognizes that a candidate heroically lived the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, and that he is worthy of public veneration and emulation.

The Archdiocese of Hermosillo, Sonora, is leading the cause for canonization, with the Diocese of Tucson, and Padre Kino’s native Archdiocese of Trent, Italy, assisting. The positio on Padre Kino’s life was delivered to Rome May 4, 2006, making him a “Servant of God.”

“The history of the Catholic Church in Arizona is synonymous with the growth and history of the state of Arizona, and Padre Kino is one of the foundational figures in that great history,” said Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix in a statement. “He remains a wonderful example of the mission of the Church lived in solidarity with the poor and marginalized.”

Padre Kino’s legacy in Arizona runs deep. A statue of Padre Kino represents Arizona in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, one of four Catholic priests represented in the hall, the others being St. Junípero Serra representing California; St. Damien de Veuster (Damien of Molokai), representing Hawai’i; and Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette, representing Wisconsin.

Statues and memorials of Padre Kino dot Arizona, including Kino Park in Nogales, outside the Arizona History Museum in Tucson and in Wesley Bolin Plaza across from the state capitol in Phoenix.

Jesuit Father Pete Neeley said the announcement is an affirmation of the work he does at the Kino Border Initiative, a Jesuit-run program named for Padre Kino whose mission is to promote immigration policies along the U.S.-Mexico border that affirm the dignity of the human person. The initiative has locations in both sides of the border in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora.

“He wasn’t forcing cultures together with the sword, cannon or musket. He did it with his own spirituality. He tried to reconcile,” said Fr. Neeley, associate director of education for KBI. “He was concerned about people who didn’t know the Gospel.”

Ven. Eusebio Kino, SJ

(Courtesy of the Kino Heritage Society)
Aug. 10, 1645:
Born in Segno, Italy
Nov. 20, 1665:
Entered Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
June 12, 1677:
Ordained a priest
January 1691:
Celebrated first Catholic Mass in Arizona at San José de Tumacácori Mission
March 15, 1711:
Passed into eternal life
May 4, 2006:
Named “Servant of God”
July 10, 2020:
Declared “Venerable”

Born Eusebio Chini Aug. 10, 1645, in Segno, Italy, a small town in the Tyrolese Alps, he entered the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, Nov. 20, 1665 after recuperating from a serious illness.

After his ordination June 12, 1677, he wanted to serve in the Far East, but was instead given the choice to serve in Spain or in the Spanish colonies, and he set out for Mexico in 1678.

Fr. Neeley recalled that in his research of Padre Kino, he learned that he had to come to the Western Hemisphere with falsified documents because there was already a quota on non-Spanish missionaries to board the ships.

“There is no record on any of the ships of anybody who came over here from Spain named Kino,” Fr. Neeley said. “He got papers made out for a Eusebio Chavez. He came over here using false documents to do a greater good, circumventing an unjust quota.”

Known as “the padre on horseback,” Fr. Chini, who Hispanicized his surname to “Kino” is believed to have traveled roughly 50,000 miles, and he became the first to map Pimería Alta — an area that now includes southern Arizona and Sonora in northern Mexico.

He led the Atondo Expedition to Baja California, believed at the time to be an island, until a drought in 1685 forced them to abandon the effort. From there, he was assigned to Pimería Alta in 1687 to work with the Tohono O’odham people.

The Jesuits couldn’t visit any Native village without an invitation. That invitation came in January 1691, when Padre Kino celebrated the first Mass in present-day Arizona at what is now the Tumacacori National Park in January 1691. From there he went on to establish the San Xavier del Bac Mission, just south of present-day Tucson, in 1692.

Because of his defense of the Native people, he made enemies out of many Spanish settlers who would mistreat the Natives and force them to work in mines.

“Kino was able to break laws in order to protect the indigenous people from the Spanish settlers who wanted to use them for slave labor,” Fr. Neeley said. “The law allowed them to do it, and Kino said, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ People didn’t like it.”

After a Pima uprising that killed fellow missionary Fr. Francisco Xavier Saeta in 1695, Padre Kino was able to broker peace. He wrote a biography of the protomartyr and delivered it to his superiors in Mexico City.

“It was more than a biography; it was a defense of the Native people,” said Mark O’Hare, a founding board member of the Kino Heritage Society and a parishioner at Sts. Peter and Paul in Tucson. “He did not pull any punches in saying it was the Spanish who were responsible for the uprising.”

Altogether, Padre Kino established 21 missions in what is now Arizona and Sonora, and helped the Jesuits return to California in 1697. O’Hare said that it was Padre Kino who laid the foundation that allowed St. Junípero Serra to continue north through California almost a century later.

“He had great love and charity. He had such hope and such a relationship with God that it didn’t matter if he got killed the next day,” said O’Hare. “He believed he needed to build the kingdom here on earth so people could get to the kingdom in heaven.”

In addition to his evangelistic efforts, Padre Kino was also one of the first scientific explorers, cartographers, astronomers, historians and builders of the Pimería Alta. Roads were built to connect previously inaccessible areas, and he mapped an area 200 miles long and 250 miles wide, deducing that California was a peninsula, not an island.

Padre Kino also introduced European seeds, fruits, herbs and grains for the Native Americans to use, taught them more efficient irrigation methods and introduced ranching to Arizona.

“Ranching has become an important part of the culture in Arizona and Sonora ever since that time, and especially to the O’odham people he was in contact with at that time,” said Anita Badertscher, chief of interpretation and education for Tumacácori National Park. “Raising cattle is still important to this day for the O’odham.”

He died March 15, 1711 in present-day Sonora. The Kino Heritage Society sponsors a memorial Mass for Padre Kino every year on the anniversary of his death, as well as on his birthday.

“The park is pleased with any recognition of his accomplishments that come out of this,” Badertscher said about the announcement of Padre Kino’s elevation. “He was extremely important to this area, the Pimería Alta region, and to the development of the current culture of this part of the world.”

During St. John Paul II’s apostolic visit to Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix in 1987, the pontiff noted Padre Kino’s “great personal sacrifice” in working “tirelessly to establish missions throughout this area so that the Good News concerning our Lord Jesus Christ might take root among the people living here. And the Gospel did take root, and numerous other missionaries came after Padre Kino to continue the evangelizing effort.”

During the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016, Padre Kino was recognized as a “model of mercy” at a symposium “Witnesses of Mercy in the Americas” co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Denver and the Pontifical Council for Latin America. Despite Padre Kino’s achievements as a cartographer, mathematician and agriculturalist, he was “first and foremost a zealous priest and a faithful preacher of the Gospel,” said presenter Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the U.S. Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, according to Catholic News Service. “At the center of his life and the source of his almost unbelievable amount of labor and accomplishment was Fr. Kino’s burning desire to know Christ Jesus and to make Him loved.”

In his statement, Bishop Olmsted said that Padre Kino’s “unique combination of missionary zeal, scientific knowledge and practical wisdom is a beautiful illustration of the fruitful union of faith and reason.

“We remember with gratitude Padre Kino’s singular contributions to the founding and building up of the Church in the Sonoran Desert,” he added. “Through the intercession of Ven. Eusebio Francis Kino, may we treasure and live faithfully the rich heritage of our faith. Like the Catholic missionaries, let us make a commitment to living as true disciples of Jesus Christ, passing on to future generations the faith which has become an essential part of our culture and history here in Arizona.”

He is the patron of the Diocese of Phoenix’s Kino Catechetical Institute and “Together Let Us Go Forth ~ Juntos Sigamos Adelante” campaign, as well as the patron of the Kino Border Initiative (KBI).

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