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Blandina
The nun of the Far West

· The Italian-American missionary who helped both the good and bad guys ·

“His eyes were blue-gray”, and he had, Sr Blandina Segale wrote in her diary, “the air of a little boy”, who could not have been more than 17 years old. “He was an innocent, if not for the iron firmness of purpose, good or bad ... [he] could choose the right path and instead chose the wrong”. On learning of his death, she wrote: “Poor Billy the Kid, thus ending the career of a young man who started down the slope at the age of twelve to avenge an insult that had been done to his mother”.

The legendary outlaw crossed paths various times with Rosa Maria Segale, an Italian-American nun, who entered the convent of the Sisters of Charity in Cincinnati on 8 December 1868, taking the name Blandina.

Rosa Maria was a schoolteacher in Steubenville and Dayton, Ohio, when, on 27 November 1872, at the age of 22, she was sent as a missionary to Trinidad, Colorado. She travelled to the frontier and after facing many surprises and adventures along the way, she reached the mining town on 9 December.

Her obedience as a missionary of Charity brought her east of the Rio Grande and south of Sangre de Cristo Mountains. She often lived in close contact with bandits and outlaws, fighting against the then-frequent practice of summary justice and lynchings. Many such incidents were recounted in her diary, At the End of the Santa Fe Trail, published in 1932 by Bruce Publishers, Milwaukee.

On Wednesday, 26 August 2015, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe announced that they had taken the first step in the process for the beatification of “the fastest nun in the West”. Sainthood may become a reality for the little nun who crossed the Wild West helping both the good and bad guys, snatching cattle from the hands of thieves, fighting for the rights of Native Americans, which were often trampled on. “Poor wild hearts, how they feel full of anger and treated unfairly”, she wrote of her friends, the Apache. Exploring distant lands, she travelled alone on horseback, by train or stagecoach to establish schools, nursery schools and hospitals.

Many of her exploits are almost legendary, although perhaps not be historically accurate. However they give us an idea as to how Sr Blandina would take on anyone — even outlaws and bandits — with a mix of authority, practicality and tough love. When she heard that a member of Billy the Kid’s gang had been seriously wounded and left to die, she went and said harshly to his assailants, “I see that with a hard head you find yourself not able to kill him with one shot to the head”. Then without another word she began to bandage his wounds. According to the chronicles of the time, her actions convinced Billy the Kid to forgo his plan to kill the four doctors who refused to help his friend.

Silvia Guidi

PRINTED EDITION

 

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