In American horticulture there is a phenomenon known as 'the found rose'. Thousands of roses grow along roadsides, in untended fields, tucked away in forgotten homesteads and country cemeteries. They thrive for hundreds of years without care. DNA identification traces their origins to Europe and Asia over thousands of years. They are from the original hardy stock which produce the beautiful bouquet bees crave and armed with real thorns, they continue to happily survive and bloom against all odds.
Such a 'found rose' has been discovered in the southwest territory. Her name is Sister Blandina Segale. This is a spiritual rose, a hardy soul who bloomed first in Trinidad some 150 years ago, where with the Sisters of Charity, she founded the first public school in Colorado. Immigrating from Italy with her parents at age four, she quickly claimed her vocation to serve God in Cincinnati and was sent to Trinidad at 23. Not understanding the culture of unwashed cowboys, dangerous snakes and harsh climate, she engaged it immediately. Her feisty courage and ingenuity in confronting tough situations and dangerous characters along with her dedication to the welfare of children, women and immigrant workers, extended from southern Colorado into New Mexico, back to Colorado, then to Ohio, for the next 58 years of her life.
"Not understanding the culture of unwashed cowboys, dangerous snakes and harsh climate, she engaged it immediately."
Sister Blandina would not back away from her calling to save souls whether innocent or guilty. On one occasion, she faced down a lynch mob preparing to do frontier justice to a man who had just committed murder. On another occasion she found an outlaw member of Billy the Kid's gang, holed up outside Trinidad with gunshot wounds. Four local doctors refused to treat him. Sister Blandina went out and cared for him, even wrote to his mother and learned that Billy had sworn to kill the doctors when he returned. When Billy arrived, Sister Blandina was waiting. He thanked her graciously and offered her any favor she asked. "I understand you have come to scalp our Trinidad physicians, which act I ask you to cancel," she said. She got her wish.
A writer for the Cincinnati Post summarized Sister Blandina's accomplishments at the age of 81. "Trinidad, Colorado knew her for a saint sixty years ago when she went there to teach. And if Trinidad was a rough place when she entered it, gentler it was when she departed... She offered a holy presence by which the power of pistols was shamed. She built a schoolhouse at Trinidad [and a hospital] and went her way." Her work then moved to New Mexico: Building schools open to all children; adobe hospitals for railroad workers; advocating rights for Native Americans in wilderness territories. Then to Cincinnati: Working with abandoned women and guarding at-risk children; helping the jobless find work; visiting prisons; serving the innocent and guilty wherever they were found.
As one of our own, Sister Blandina has now been registered into the canonical process to be declared an official American saint of the church. On Sunday, three Colorado bishops, the Sisters of Charity, joined with the governor of Colorado, mayor of Trinidad, Las Animas county commissioner and a joyful crowd, came to bless and open the new Sister Blandina Wellness Garden in downtown Trinidad. Her life's work of loving care is now open to the world as it should be, in a garden, where meditation, prayer and healing will take place. Ever blooming, sometimes prickly and eternally hardy, she continues her powerful witness as a saint of our time: Sister Blandina, our Found Rose of Trinidad.
"Her life's work of loving care is now open to the world as it should be, in a garden, where meditation, prayer and healing will take place."
Sincerely in Christ,
+Bishop Stephen J. Berg