6/30/2014 2:20:00 PM Sainthood cause opened for Sister of Charity who served on the frontier
Catholic News Service photo
Supporters of the newly opened sainthood cause for Sister Blandina Segale, a Sister of Charity who ministered on the frontier, pose for a photo June 25 following a news conference in Albuquerque, N.M. Pictured from left are Sisters Victoria Marie Forde and Celestia Koebel, both Sisters of Charity; retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M.; Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M.; Sister Monica Luca, a Sister of Charity; Victor Limary; and Allen Sanchez.
Catholic News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has received permission from the Vatican to open a sainthood cause for a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati who ministered to people on the frontier in the Southwest in the 1870s and 1880s.
Italian-born Sister Blandina Segale worked with the poor and with immigrants, and her ministry to those groups more than 140 years ago is as relevant today, said Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe.
She also had several encounters with the notorious Billy the Kid and his band of outlaws, according to her published letters.
On June 29 Archbishop Sheehan posted the historical decree on the opening of her cause on the doors of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis Assisi in Santa Fe. A delegation representing the Sisters of Charity in Cincinnati was on hand for the event at the cathedral.
It is the first time in the more than 400-year history of the Catholic Church in New Mexico that a decree opening a canonization cause has been issued.
Archbishop Sheehan held a joint news conference June 25 with officials from CHI St. Joseph's Children to announce that the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes had granted permission for the cause to be opened. St. Joseph's Children, also known as St. Joseph Community Health, it is part of Catholic Health Initiatives.
Sister Blandina helped start St. Joseph Hospital, whose mission continues today as CHI St. Joseph's Children.
Now that Sister Blandina's cause has been officially opened, she has been given the title of "servant of God." The next step will be for a body of advisers appointed by the archdiocese to collect documents on her life and ministry and gather testimony from dozens of witnesses who knew of her ministry.
Born Jan. 23, 1850, in Cicagna, Italy, Sister Blandina was baptized Rosa Maria Segale. According to historical records, her first word was "Gesu," Jesus. Her family migrated to Cincinnati when she was 4 years old.
At the age of 16, she entered the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati and she was sent to work in the newly acquired territories of the western United States in 1872. Arriving first in Trinidad, Colorado, she taught the poor. In 1877 she was sent to Santa Fe, where she co-founded public and Catholic schools.
Her work in the territories is well documented in "At the End of the Santa Fe Trail," a published collection of her letters to her sister, who also was a Sister of Charity.
"Other heroic virtues include her tireless work of teaching and healing the immigrant, the marginalized, the poor and advocating for women and children," said a release from the Santa Fe Archdiocese. "She challenged the occupying government and military in fair treatment of the Native Americans. Sister Blandina came to the aid of mistreated railroad workers, finding time to care for the sick while building orphanages, hospitals, schools and trade schools."
Besides her published letters, the archives of the Sisters of Charity motherhouse in Cincinnati contain much documentation about her life and ministry.
In those archives and her published letters are the stories of her encounters with Billy the Kid and his band of outlaws.
One story goes that while in Colorado she intervened to stop Billy the Kid from murdering four doctors in Trinidad because they had refused to treat his friend's gunshot wound. She nursed the friend back to health. Another account says Billy the Kid noticed Sister Blandina nearby when he was about to rob a covered wagon and he called off the attack.
Another time she saved a man from a lynching party by acting as go-between to get him and the man he shot to reconcile. That was related in an episode titled "The Fastest Nun in the West" of the popular TV series "Death Valley Days."
Sister Blandina died Feb. 23, 1941, in Cincinnati at the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity at age 91.
However long the process takes to gather information on her heroic virtues and testimony from witnesses, once it is completed, all of the materials will be sent to Rome, where church officials will determine if Sister Blandina heroically lived the Christian virtues. If so, the Catholic Church will give her the title "venerable," the first step in the canonization process.
The next step would be beatification, which requires verification of a miracle attributed to the venerable person's intercession. In general, a second such miracle is needed for canonization.
Retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., is the postulator for the newly opened sainthood cause. In May 2013 the board of directors at CHI St. Joseph's Children approved a motion to petition the Vatican to approve opening Sister Blandina's cause.