Eusebio Francisco Kino is one of the most brilliant, great-hearted and colorful characters in the history of Mexico, but outside of Sonora he is perhaps somewhat forgotten.

When I heard that historian Carlos Lazcano had just published a book over 1,000 pages long on Padre Kino, I must confess that I was surprised (in my ignorance) that he had found so much to say.

All I knew then was that the man Padre Kino had founded lots of missions while Padre Kino, the wine, was hardly worth one page of print, much less 1,000.

Lazcano’s tome, Kino en California, is coauthored by Gabriel Gómez Padilla.

“It contains 500 pages of Padre Kino’s writings and 500 pages of my own,” Lazcano says.

Now I was intrigued. Besides founding missions, Padre Kino had obviously spent a lot of time writing — but about what? And was it really so important that Lazcano had penned 500 pages of comments on it?

Naturally, all this drove me straight to Wikipedia. Here I found that Kino was born in Trent in 1645 as Eusebio Chini and that he was a missionary, geographer, explorer, cartographer and astronomer. Then follows much information on the founding of missions and, appropriately, only one line about the wine.

Beyond Wikipedia, I found many, many sources of information on Padre Kino. Out of them all, there slowly formed a most interesting story.

Kino joined the Jesuits with the hope that they’d send him to China, where the priest Matteo Ricci’s skills as a scientist had opened doors at the highest levels. Kino applied himself diligently to the study of cartography and other disciplines, but when his chance came, it seemed there was only one opening for China — and two contenders.

Both of them drew lots, and Kino’s read “Mexico.”

So, as an obedient Jesuit, off he went to Mexico. He somehow missed his ship in Spain, however, and while waiting for the next one (a full year), he dedicated his time to charting the course of what was then called the Great Comet of 1680. It had a spectacularly long, beautiful tail that was so brilliant, people said it could be seen in the daytime.

The first thing Kino did upon arrival in Mexico was to publish his findings on the comet, one of the earliest scientific treatises published by a European in the New World. He was then given his first assignment, which was to lead an expedition to “the Island of California.”

From the outset, Kino suspected that what we now call Baja California was really a peninsula, not an island, but since none other than Englishman Sir Francis Drake had taken the position that it was an island, Spain had rejected Kino’s idea and insisted that it was an island.

Not just an island, mind you, but purportedly the biggest island in the world….

The above comes from a Dec. 17 story by John Pint in Mexico News Daily.