CHI St. Joseph's Children advances sainthood cause for foundress

August 15, 2014


The leadership of CHI St. Joseph's Children of Albuquerque, N.M., is advancing the sainthood cause of its foundress, Sr. Blandina Segale, SC. The Vatican has granted approval for the cause of the Sister of Charity who braved America's southwestern frontier in the late 1800s to establish health care, education and social service ministries for vulnerable people — while also purportedly confronting Billy the Kid and other outlaws, intervening against vigilante justice and advocating for mistreated railroad workers.

Born Rosa Maria Segale on Jan. 23, 1850, in Cicagna, Italy, she immigrated with her family to the U.S. in 1854. Early on, the family lived in poverty in Cincinnati. She joined the Sisters of Charity community after she witnessed the sisters' care of the sick, of orphans and of Civil War soldiers. She took the name Sr. Blandina. Her elder sister also joined the community.

Sr. Blandina taught in Ohio for several years before beginning her ministry in the western and southwestern U.S.

At age 22, she traveled alone to Trinidad, Colo., where she taught for several years before moving to Santa Fe, N.M., to serve in Sisters of Charity schools, an orphanage and a hospital. In 1881, she moved to Albuquerque, where she founded a home for travelers. At age 43, Sr. Blandina returned to Ohio and later established, with her sister, a settlement house for the poor.

In 1900, Sr. Blandina moved back to Albuquerque to help found St. Joseph Hospital.

Death Valley Days
According to historical accounts including Sr. Blandina's correspondence, she led a colorful life in the U.S.'s rough New Mexico Territory. A narrative published as part of the "Catholic Heritage Curricula" recounts Sr. Blandina's successful intervention in a mob's plan to lynch a prisoner who had shot another man. She convinced the shooting victim to allow the prisoner to come — with the sheriff — to his bedside to seek his forgiveness. Because of Sr. Blandina's mediation, the mob disbanded and allowed a court to decide the prisoner's fate.

The same narrative tells of an outlaw associated with a notorious gang, whom Trinidad doctors refused to treat because he was a lawbreaker. Sr. Blandina brought the man food and drink, tended to his wounds and spoke to him about God. The man told her his boss would be arriving to scalp the four doctors who wouldn't treat him. Accounts vary on the identity of the gang leader, but the Catholic Heritage Curricula lesson claims it was Billy the Kid, and that in gratitude for Sr. Blandina's care of his friend, he agreed to her plea that he spare the doctors. Later, when she was in Santa Fe and found out Billy the Kid was jailed there, she visited him.

Sr. Blandina advocated on behalf of Native Americans, immigrants, human trafficking victims, railroad workers, people who had been swindled out of their homes and land and other vulnerable people. Her stories are documented in the Sisters of Charity archives, in a collection of her letters titled At the End of the Santa Fe Trail, and in novels and comic books. An installment of the 1950s and 1960s television show Death Valley Days portrayed her bravery.

Backing sainthood
The Albuquerque hospital Sr. Blandina helped establish grew into the three-hospital St. Joseph Healthcare System. In 1996, it was merged with other systems to create Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives. Five years later, CHI sold St. Joseph Healthcare and established St. Joseph Community Health, an outreach ministry now called CHI St. Joseph's Children. That ministry's home visiting program provides support and education to first-time mothers until their children reach three years of age. CHI St. Joseph's Children also provides referrals to services and advocacy on behalf of children.

Allen Sanchez, president and chief executive of CHI St. Joseph's Children, said the organization's board "passed a resolution to take on the responsibility of petitioner for the cause of beatification and canonization of Sr. Blandina" because of her "work and inspiration." Sanchez said when facility leadership was making difficult decisions in the wake of the hospital's 2001 sale, "Sr. Blandina's spirituality showed us the way — she always said, 'Serve what presents itself to you.'" This insight led leaders to decide to serve children, since health needs assessments showed at the time — and continue to show — that many New Mexico children have poor health indicators; and their parents could benefit from health education and advocacy.

Silent and present
The Vatican has approved the CHI St. Joseph's Children Board of Directors as petitioners of Sr. Blandina's sainthood cause, and Sanchez as the agent, which means he will present needed evidence to the Archbishop of Santa Fe and the Congregation for the Cause of Saints.

The Vatican approved the sainthood cause based on a petition delivered through the Archbishop of Santa Fe. The next phase of the sainthood process, which Sanchez said could take about a year, is to gather and present new information about Sr. Blandina to the archbishop. If that phase is successful, the cause will go to the Congregation for the Cause of Saints for evaluation. After that, Sr. Blandina could be declared venerable, and then beatified, provided a verifiable miracle is attributed to her posthumous intercession. If a second miracle is attributed to her, she could be canonized.

Sanchez said that within days of the decree that Sr. Blandina's cause had been approved, news of Sr. Blandina had been reported in newspapers and posted in social media across the globe. "Her novena is now being prayed by many inspired by her story," he said.

"Sr. Blandina was and still is a healer, she showed us that alongside with the bandages that sometimes our healing is as simple as being silent and present. This being present and listening is at the heart of our work," Sanchez said.


Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.