Capitol’s Statuary Hall and Father Eusebio “the Chinaman”

This author wrote an article back in February, 2006, about four Catholic missionaries whose statues stand in Washington D.C.’s Statuary Hall. Two are beatified, two should be: Hawaii’s Blessed Damien the Leper (to be canonized this fall), Blessed Junipero Serra (California), Father Marquette (Wisconsin), and Mother Joseph (Washington). By an act of Congress in 1864 each of the fifty states had been asked to send a statue of its two most illustrious citizens to the Capitol. I re-posted the article last December. Today I read an article by Tom Piatak on Taki’s Magazine website noting the same fact, however the author listed another missionary whose statue I was unaware of: Father Eusebius Kino, sent to Washington by the Grand Canyon State of Arizona in 1965. It is a life-like, beautifully chiseled bronze statue, the work of Suzanne Silvercruy.

Father Eusebius Kino

A Missionary for All Seasons


Eusebius Francesco Kuhn was born in Welschtirol (today Segno, northern Italy) in 1645. Noting his piety and keen intellect his parish priest helped finance Eusebio’s education. Various biographies give what seem to be conflicting accounts of where he studied, but piecing it together I would surmise that he first went to the University of Fribourg, from which he graduated in 1665. Then he pursued further studies at the Jesuit College at Trent in the Tyrol. From here some writers say that he continued his post-graduate education at the University of Ingolstadt. At this time, as a young man, Eusebio fell victim to an illness that proved to be life threatening. Pleading with God, he promised that if he were spared he would become a priest and a missionary. That simple prayer was an understatement. This overly-educated man would be the most dynamic, the most brilliant, and the most energetic of all missionaries that graced Mexico and the American southwest.


The future missionary’s illness faded away and, sometime around 1668, the young man kept his promise by entering the Jesuits. After the long Jesuit formation, which included twelve years of rigorous study, Eusebio was ordained a priest. Immediately he presented himself to his superiors as a candidate for missionary work in China. The Jesuits had established a promising mission in China at this time, and owing to the success of Father Matteo Ricci, Eusebio reasoned that, with his similar talent in mathematics and astronomy, he would do well with the Chinese. In fact, so impressed was he with the Chinese culture, that he changed the Italian form of his name, Chini, to Kino, the Chinaman. His superiors, however, had other plans for Padre Kino. They figured that his other talent, cartography, would be very valuable in New Spain; so, after a couple more years of priestly work, he was eventually ordered to prepare himself for the newly founded mission in Mexico. It would be after three more years and a host of trials, many of them having to do with securing transport, that Padre Kino finally landed in Vera Cruz in June of 1681. At the age of thirty-seven, the great missionary’s beloved vocation to the Indians was about to begin.

Mission in New Spain

Until that time, Spanish missionaries, Franciscan and Jesuit, accompanied the soldiers as they explored the regions to the north of Mexico City. For his first adventure Padre Kino and some other Jesuits joined in the exploration of Baja California (lower California), which, at that time, was thought by the Spanish to be an island. The scarcity of Indians and the rocky and mountainous terrain negated any hopes of establishing any missions there. Nevertheless, the zealous missioner had good success in befriending the natives that he did meet, and it was with great sorrow that he had to obey an order to vacate the area and return to Mexico.

Pimeria Baja

The Tyrolian Jesuit’s next mission was Sonora, hundreds of miles to the north. The Spanish first named it, Pimeria Baja, after the Pimas, the most populous of the region’s Indian tribes. Other tribes included the Opatas, Yaquis, and the Mayos, all of similar stock with the Pimas. There were many Spanish mining settlements in the area, as well as cattle ranches and farms. The Indians lived in relative peace with the white newcomers who taught them cattle breeding and better farming techniques, giving them seeds for cotton, maize, beans, calabashes and melons. Wherever the miners abused the Indians by forced labor in the mines, a feisty Padre Kino would be on the scene to castigate the offenders and exact justice for the natives.

From here Padre Kino went on an ambitious exploratory tour to the northwest of Sonora, to Pimeria Alta (Arizona). He moved westward visiting tribes along the six hundred mile stretch of the Gila River and crossing the Colorado River where the Gila empties into it at the southwest corner of Arizona. The Yuma Indians here were very friendly and receptive to the gospel message, as were virtually all the tribes who lived along the Gila River stretch and north, the Pimas, Sobas, Sobaipuris and the Papagos. Being fluent in Piman, the Jesuit missioner used the similarities in language to preach to these other tribes who were of Piman stock.

It was on this tour that Padre Kino heard about the “Great Red Houses” built by a civilization that inhabited southern Arizona centuries before. At the site of present day Coolidge, Arizona, in 1694, our missioner was the first European to set eyes upon the archeological wonder, the Hohokam Ruins of Casa Grande, today a national monument.

Two years later Kino visited other Pima villages along the San Pedro River. The largest of these was Quiburi. Here he befriended the Sobaipuri chief Coro, who became his staunch ally with all the Indians in that region. These tribes along the San Pedro were often attacked by the Jocomes, Janos, and Apaches, and to protect themselves they had constructed an earthen enclosure. Kino was very encouraged by these generally peace-loving peoples and he brought them cattle and horses, hoping that they would be a buffer in protecting the Christian natives of Pimeria Baja (Sonora).

To the Gulf of California

Traveling on westward, and preaching the Faith everywhere that he found souls to listen, the intrepid apostle made it to the Gulf of California. It was here, in exploring the mouth of the Colorado River, that he realized that Baja California was a peninsula, not an island, and that a land route to California was possible after all. Throughout all of his journeys Padre Kino kept a detailed log; he was the first to draw maps of the lands from Sonora to the Gulf of California.

A Loyolan with Charismata

The holy priest was beloved by the Indians. His charismatic personality and gifts of language made him easily welcomed and trusted. Besides Piman, he also composed vocabularies in such exotic tongues as Guaycura, Nabe and Cochimi. The indigenous peoples that he visited and lived among were quick to realize that this black-robed man of God had no interests but their temporal and eternal good. He taught them selflessly, asking for nothing in return. He was an ambassador of peace for them. He fought for their rights and for the independence of their villages. If they chose to live at a Spanish mission, which Kino very much encouraged, it was a voluntary choice. He, himself, traversed about twenty thousand miles, completing forty missionary expeditions, on horseback and on foot, and he did so alone, without an armed escort. The Jesuit formation and discipline was so rigid in those times that conquistador regiments only served to slow these hardened men down. The soldier, Saint Ignatius, after all, originally called his order the “Company of Jesus.” Actually, it was only on his early ventures, to Baja California and the first expedition to Sonora, that Kino traveled with the conquistadors.

The indefatigable “Chinaman” was the founder of twenty-four missions, from Nuestra Senora de los Dolores in Sonora to San Xavier del Bac near Tucson. And, to supply his missions with livestock, horses, and seeds, he established nineteen rancherias.

The Writer

In addition to all this Eusebio Francesco Kino somehow managed to write books. Among the most popular are: Favores Celestiales ; published just before his death in 1711, this was a diaristic account of his mission tours, Exposición Astronómica de el Cometa (an account of the Comet of 1680-1681, published in 1681), Libra astronómica y filosófica, not published until 1969 by the University of Mexico, and a map of the Pimería Alta region (published in 1705) For over a century this map served as the standard course charter for travelers.

A Grateful People

It would appear that he was called to his eternal reward at the Sonora mission of Santa Magdalena on March 15, 1711, at the age of sixty-six. Or, so most accounts have it. However, there is some mystery here, and, consequently, the exact cause and place of his death is disputed by some historians. The mystery is that, having been such a public figure in his life, no place claimed to have his remains. According to historian Jim Tuck, it was not until 1966 that his remains were finally discovered, near the Sonoran mission town of Magdalena, by a team of Mexican and U.S. researchers. The town is now called Magdalena de Kino.

Both Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, had already immortalized the beloved missionary with statues before the state commissioned one to be made for Statuary Hall. Padre Kino is depicted in noble posture sitting upon his steed in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza across from the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix. And, in Tucson, above a Parkway named in his honor stands another likeness carved in stone. With all of his accomplishments and such a long-standing appreciation for them on the part of the Indians, the Spanish, and even the non-Catholic Arizonans, it is no wonder that he was chosen to represent the Grand Canyon State.