The sister who stood up to Billy the Kid

Sister Blandina Segale cut a unique figure in the Wild West. Now the Archdiocese of Santa Fe is promoting the cause for her sainthood.

Yesterday the Archdiocese of Santa Fe announced that the Vatican has agreed to open a cause for the sainthood of a religious sister renowned for her work among the poor and the sick during an era of violence and upheaval in the American West. Sister Blandina Segale (born Rosa Maria Segale) was a Sister of Charity who served in frontier towns in Colorado and New Mexico, founding and teaching in schools, starting hospitals, and acting as force for peace in the “Wild West.”

Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe will oversee the preparation of the official case for Sister Blandina’s canonization, which will then be presented to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. This is the first time the Archdiocese of Santa Fe has promoted a sainthood cause in the more than 400 years since the Church was established in the region.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has some biographical information about Sister Blandina, who was born in Italy but immigrated to the United States with her family at the age of four:

On September 13, 1866 [Sister Blandina] entered the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. She was sent to work in the newly acquired territories of the western United States in 1872. Arriving first in Trinidad, CO, Sr. Blandina taught the poor. In 1877 she was transferred to Santa Fe, NM where she cofounded the public and Catholic schools. Her work included starting hospitals in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. … Other heroic virtues include her tireless work of teaching and healing the immigrant, the marginalized, the poor, and advocating for women and children. She challenged the occupying government and military in fair treatment of the Native Americans. Sr. Blandina came to the aid of mistreated railroad workers, finding time to care for the sick while building orphanages, hospitals, schools, and trade schools.

Her compassion converted hundreds and she even had numerous encounters with the famous Billy the Kid and his band of outlaws. She calmed mobs of armed men from taking the law into their own hands and helped criminals seek forgiveness from their victims, and even saved a man from a hanging party by facilitating reconciliation between him and the man he shot before he died. … One account is her prevention of Hispanic and Native American’s loss of homes and land to swindlers and another is saving a lost horse drawn wagon of passengers during a winter blizzard and reaching safety in blackout conditions.

An article about Sister Blandina published at Crisis Magazine last year has some further details about one her encounters with the legendary Billy the Kid:

There were a number of gangleaders who went by the name “Billy the Kid,” William Bonney being only the most famous of them. In 1876 a henchman of Billy the Kid—whether it was Bonney or some other Billy is uncertain—was injured by a gunshot taken during a quarrel with a fellow outlaw.

He was left to die, and none of the area’s four physicians would lift a finger on his behalf. Sister Blandina visited him frequently over the ensuing weeks, offering both physical and spiritual comfort. While the fellow was incapacitated, Billy the Kid and his men returned to Trinidad to visit their comrade and to exact vengeance on the town’s doctors. Having been apprised of Blandina’s efforts, Billy offered that she might request a favor of him. She asked him to spare the lives of the four physicians. He agreed, and left town in peace. The wounded outlaw never recovered, dying later that year.


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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.