Book Reviews, Department of Cultural Affairs

Great Books about New Mexico: At the End of the Santa Fe Trail

SF_TrailAt the End of the Santa Fe Trail by Sister Blandina Segale (Kessinger Pub 2010)

Born in Italy, Rosa Maria Segale immigrated with her parents to Cincinnati, Ohio when she was just a child. She and her sister, Maria Maddelena, both entered the religious order of the Sisters of Charity when they were teenagers.  Rosa Maria became Sister Blandina, and her sister was given the name Justina.

In 1872 Sister Blandina was sent West, to Trinidad, Colorado. In all she spent 21 years in Colorado and in New Mexico. During this time she kept a journal, in which she also wrote letters to her sister, Sister Justina. Her journal was first published in 1932, and tells the story of her missionary work as a Sister of Charity in the rugged territory. She writes of her many adventures in the west, including her encounters with Billy the Kid and other outlaws.  Some of these stories were dramatized in the Western television show Death Valley Days, in an episode entitled “The Fastest Nun in the West”.

She worked with Archbishop Lamy of Santa Fe, and was present during the building of the St. Francis Cathedral, and was instrumental in establishing schools in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, as she had done in Trinidad. She visited with the incarcerated in Santa Fe, including Billy the Kid, and worked with all of those who needed assistance.  Her journals bring to light Santa Fe in Territorial days, with all the attendant characters –Lamy, Lew Wallace, the Santa Fe Ring, Billy the Kid – she knew them all.  She was always helping the homeless, the unemployed, the sick, anyone who needed assistance, regardless of religious affiliation or background.

She returned to Trinidad for a time, and then to Albuquerque before she was sent back to Ohio. In 1897 Sister Blandina and her sister, Sister Justina were put in charge of the assisting the Italian immigrants in Cincinnati.  She once again opened schools and hospitals, and was instrumental in the establishment of the juvenile court system.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has proposed Sister Blandina to the Vatican for consideration of sainthood, due to her conversion of hundreds of individuals, and her charitable work with the poor in the Southwest and in Cincinnati.  Several of the institutions she helped to found to assist those in need are still in operation today, including St. Joseph’s hospital in Albuquerque.

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