Sister Blandina

With the influx of people to the Old West, towns sprang into existence, churches were formed, laws were enacted, and schools were established.  Schools were considered necessary among the growing population, and good teachers along with them; without them, the children of the settlers would become the orphans of progress.

Among the populations pushing beyond the boundaries of the Mississippi River were daring female educators who hoped to find work teaching frontier boys and girls how to read and write.  All that was initially required of teachers was that they be able to count, read, write, and mend a pen.  However, these new schoolmarms were energetic, and they arrived able to do immeasurably more than the basics.  Rosa Maria Segale was one such teacher.  

Born on January 23, 1850, in Cicagna, Italy, Rosa came to America with her parents and three other siblings when she was four years old.  The family settled in Cincinnati where several of their other countrymen had made their home.  Rosa had a difficult time in Ohio.  Not being able to speak the language was a barrier, and, apart from her older sisters, she had no one to play with or talk to.  It wasn’t until her parents arranged for their children to receive English lessons that the young girl came into her own.

After attending finishing school and completing several music and Spanish language courses, Rosa entered a convent.  Once she had taken her final vows, she was given the name Sister Blandina.  A brief stint teaching in Dayton and Steubenville, Ohio, opened the door to her first westward assignment as a teacher in Trinidad, Colorado.  From Colorado she went on to New Mexico.  During her time in both locations, she kept a diary of her experiences.  It was published in 1932 under the title At the End of the Santa Fe Trail.  

During the time she lived in the West, Sister Blandina had many encounters with vigilantes and outlaws.  She was never afraid to chastise those who took the law into their own hands or to care for wounded criminals.  She had a knack for nursing and in the late 1870s, not only helped raise funds to build hospitals for Indians, miners, and orphans, but gave aid to a member of Billy the Kid’s gang named Happy Jack.  Billy wanted to kill the four doctors who refused to help his friend before they came to Sister Blandina, but she managed to talk him out of it.  She looked after Happy Jack for nine months before he died.  

Billy remembered Sister Blandina’s act of kindness and in the spring of 1877 found a way to repay her.  On a trip to Santa Fe from Trinidad, Billy the Kid refrained from robbing a stage the Sister was on after recognizing she was on board.  

Sister Blandina’s time teaching in Santa Fe was rewarding, and she took on more than just educating the class on the basics – she was also a music instructor.  Using a donated piano and organ, the sister taught students to read music and prepared them for end of year programs.  

In August 1881, Sister Blandina was directed by the church to move to Albuquerque.  Over the ten-year period she lived there, she helped build three schools, including a school for Indians, and a mission.  She saw the Wild West evolve from an untamed frontier to a civilized country, and she anticipated even greater changes as time went on.  As she shared in her memoirs:

“What was sand-banks and adobe houses has been transformed into green fields and stone buildings.  The transition period will cause many to forget the end of man’s creation.  When the sane period comes, there will be a further clearing up of mad house activities.  The conscientious and level headed will emerge serene.  The dishonest will fear exposure, the unsophisticated will be submerged, and the Catholic missionary apprehensive and on the alert to prevent wolves in sheep’s clothing from entering the flock.”

On August 11, 1889, the Catholic Church recalled Sister Blandina to Trinidad.  In 1897, she returned to the motherhouse in Cincinnati, Ohio and worked with children, teaching, and assisting attorneys in juvenile court cases.  She also worked with Italian immigrant children and helped establish the Italian Welfare Center which helped house the homeless and provide all in need with food and clothing.  

In the winter of 1941, Sister Blandina was hospitalized with complications stemming from a broken hip.  She died on February 23, 1941, a month after celebrating her ninety-first birthday.  Many of her former students attended her funeral and remembered the purpose she lived by which was “to teach and meet emergencies” as she saw.  Sister Blandina is buried at the Sisters of Charity Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio.