National Park Service honors Jesuit missionary with legacy day

IMAGE: Nancy Wiechec

By Nancy Wiechec

TUMACACORI, Ariz. (CNS) — Jesuit Father Eusebio
Francisco Kino, an Italian missionary to the American Southwest known as the “Padre
on Horseback,” was honored Jan. 10 at the Tumacacori National Historical
Park with Kino Legacy Day.

The celebration of the priest —
who founded 24 missions and was also known as an astronomer, builder, mapmaker,
linguist, agriculturalist and stockman — kicked off the yearlong celebration
of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary.

Bob Love, superintendent of
Tumacacori National Historical Park, said Father Kino played a key role in the
park’s story.

But that morning, park rangers
left much of the storytelling to Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, whose diocese
covers the land that Father Kino crisscrossed, building his missions when he
traveled more than 15,000 miles by horseback.

During Mass, held outside the
ruins of Mission San Jose de Tumacacori church, the bishop told the crowd what
it is to be a great missionary. He compared missionaries such as Father Kino to
archers, ardent with a singular, fixed target.

“They teach Christ, they
preach Christ, they lead to Christ,” he said. “That was the purpose
of Kino’s whole life, to lead the native peoples to Christ. To teach them about
a God who loved them dearly and who was there among them, always at their side.”

The Tumacacori mission church dates
to the early 1800s. It had a short-lived tenure as an active church. Apache
attacks, upheaval following war with Mexico and one particularly hard winter
led to its abandonment by the mid-1800s. The site was named a national monument
by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, and in 1990 Congress created
Tumacacori National Historical Park, which includes the old monument land and
the remains of two smaller missions.

Father Kino was born in 1645 in the northern Italian
town of Segno and was educated
by Jesuits. As a young man, he fell seriously ill and prayed for God’s grace and
healing, calling on the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier as intercessor.
When he got well, he joined the Jesuits.

He yearned to do missionary work
in China, but was sent to Mexico instead. He worked in Baja California for
three years and spent the rest of his life in Pimeria Alta, what is now the northern part of
Mexico’s Sonora state and southern Arizona.

He first arrived in Tumacacori
(pronounced Too muh ka’ koh ree) in
January 1691, responding to an invitation of its O’odham people. Shortly after, there were four
Kino missions in O’odham communities. Today, San Xavier del Bac remains the only active Kino
mission in Arizona. Located just south of Tucson, the northernmost point of the
Sonoran mission trail, it is a popular destination for pilgrims and tourists.

Tumacacori, about 20 miles from
the border city of Nogales, Arizona,
covers 360 acres and is among the smallest of the 23 national parks within

During the Kino Legacy Day, the
park service set up displays of heritage horses, livestock and other items associated
with the missionary priest who brought cattle, other livestock, European
farming tools and seeds to the area so the missions would be self-sufficient.

Southern Arizona rancher Dean
Fish said Father Kino’s lasting impact on the area is significant.

Cattle raised for beef remains a
large part of the economy in Arizona’s Santa Cruz County, Fish said.

“We’re honored to be a part
of that, to feed America a little bit and to be able to work and be a part of
God’s land,” he said.

Mark O’Hare of the Kino Heritage Society handed out
Kino wheat to Tumacacori visitors. The grains came from a line of winter wheat
the Jesuit brought to the missions.

O’Hare, a Tucson native and
admirer of Father Kino since boyhood, runs the society’s website, He said the
group was formed in 2010 to make Father Kino’s life and legacy more known to
the public and to assist the Diocese of Tucson in promoting his cause for

“Spiritually, he was this
man of great faith,” O’Hare told Catholic News Service. “He was what
we’d call a white martyr, not someone who died for the faith, but someone who
dedicated his life for the salvation of souls.”

The Mexican Archdiocese of Hermosillo in
Sonora, the Diocese of Tucson and the Italian Archdiocese of Trent, where
Father Kino was born, have all been advocating for his canonization.

The Vatican received the
diocesan petition and documentation on Father Kino’s life and work in 2006, but
has yet to act to name him venerable, the next step in the sainthood process.

Tucson resident Rosie Garcia, president of the Kino
Heritage Society, said moving his cause along would a blessing for area.
She marks her admiration for the missionary with the vanity Arizona license
plate that reads KINOLND.

“He was a man of peace and
that is what we need right now — peace in these border areas where there is so
much turmoil,” she said.

– – –

Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Original Article