Yesterday, July 18, a meaningful celebration took place in Trinidad, Colorado dedicating The Sister Blandina Gardens and commemorating the 444 Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati who have served in the Trinidad area since Blandina’s arrival in 1872.
Who is Sister Blandina Segale, SC? It just so happens that she was a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati who found herself, alone, first by train from Cincinnati and then by stagecoach traveling to Trinidad to answer the congregation’s request that she join four other sisters establishing a mission there. She was almost 22 years old. Her journey and subsequent years spent ministering to Native Americans and Mexicans in the western territories are documented in her journal and compiled into a book, At the End of the Santa Fe Trail. The book is the basis for one of the television episodes of the 1966 popular, Death Valley Daysand was titled, “The Fastest Nun in the West.” (You can view it on YouTube.) I would have loved to have traveled with her in these adventures! Before her trip, she is given a blessing by the Archbishop of Cincinnati who prays, “May angels guide your footsteps.” She recalls these words when a cowboy climbs aboard the stagecoach she is riding in on a blustery December day. He places a buffalo hide over her and she nervously notes his curiosity about her especially when he asks, “Ma’m what kind of lady be you? A Quaker?” He turns out to be respectful even though a clerk at the train station in Cincinnati had told her that, “No virtuous woman is safe near a cowboy!” But her own prayerful mantra which she composed in Cincinnati and kept with herself at all times was, “Do whatever presents itself, and never omit anything because of hardship or repugnance.”
Along the journey, Blandina would eat unsavory food like, prairie dog meat, killed and cooked for fresh meals. She would meet Billy the Kid and his gang but was not impressed even though her presence in the coach dissuaded Billy from robbing the riders and driver. The two would meet several more times after her arrival in Trinidad and she grew sympathetic toward him.
In Trinidad, Blandina built a school and worked with the other sisters to help families survive. When several doctors refused to treat one of Billy’s gang members for a severe wound, Blandina and the sisters provided personal nursing care with Blandina managing to get word to the man’s mother in California. When Billy arrived at the wounded man’s bedside he told his gang that they were to kill the doctors who refused treatment. He turned to Blandina and said, “I want to say it would do me a great pleasure…to do any favor for you.” Blandina made him promise not to hurt the doctors. Billy promised and said to her, “A promise is a promise.” A few years later she would visit Billy in the Ruidoso jail where he was killed after escaping.
In 1877, Blandina was assigned to Santa Fe where within four years she built a school, an orphanage, and St. Vincent Hospital, which still exists. She cared for the medical and personal needs of immigrants from Ireland and Mexico, along with Native Americans, who were enlisted to build the railroads throughout the New Mexico territory. She was the only woman allowed to advocate in the territory legislature where she argued for the building of St. Vincent’s hospital. Eventually, she is assigned to Albuquerque and back to Trinidad. She spent a total of 21 years in the West focusing on building, teaching, evangelizing, comforting, doing all that was needed to show immigrants and Native Americans that God loves them and wants them to flourish.
Blandina returned to Cincinnati in 1893 and started the first Settlement House in America for immigrants which still provides services for the poor. In 2014, retired Archbishop of Denver, Lawrence Sheehan, opened the procedure toward canonization of Sister Blandina. She is now referred to as “Servant of God,” the first step to becoming a saint.
Blandina ignites the imagination with her drive to help others. Some have suggested she should be a patron saint of immigrants to America sharing the recognition with St. Frances Cabrini. She was also an immigrant at age four from Italy. She is certainly needed now as someone who gave her life to the welfare of those who crossed our borders seeking safety and the fulfillment of God’s purpose in their lives.
“True religion cannot exist without true justice.” Sister Blandina in “The Fastest Nun in the West.”
Pray to Blandina to help our country resolve the issue of immigration compassionately and lovingly especially for the
children. The Hebrew Scriptures give manifold examples of God’s admonitions for the treatment of refugees and immigrants. God has a deep and personal love for ‘aliens,’ ‘immigrants,’ ‘refugees,’ whatever one may call people seeking freedom, because God despises separation. I ask you to read some of these words from scripture and pray over them.
Ex. 22:23; 23:9; Lev. 19:33, 34; 2Sam. 15:19, 20Reflect deeply, my friends, on the scriptural meaning for accepting the immigrant and for making the immigrant part of our lives. Try not to be fearful of the person who begs entrance into our country. Study, reflect, pray for openness. We will find a way with saints like Sister Blandina to guide us.