Billy the Kid, a notorious bank and stage-coach robber of the Wild West, met his match in the most unlikely of people when he met Sister Blandina Segale.
According to legend, and to Sister Blandina’s journal and letters, one of Billy the Kid’s gang members had been shot and was on the brink of death when the doctors of Trinidad refused to treat him. Sister decided to take him in and cared for him for three months, nursing him back to health.
But Billy the Kid (William Leroy) was still unhappy. Word got out that the outlaw was coming to town to scalp the four doctors of Trinidad in revenge. When he arrived, Sister Blandina intervened, and convinced him to call off his mission on behalf of his man she had saved.
After that incident, Sister Blandina and Billy the Kid became friends. She once visited him in jail, and he once called off a stage-coach robbery as soon as he realized sister was one of the passengers.
When she wasn’t calling off outlaws, Sister Blandina was founding schools, building hospitals, teaching and caring for orphans and the poor, and advocating for the rights of Native Americans and other minorities.
Her heroic virtue and enduring works are why her cause for sainthood was opened in New Mexico last summer, earning her the title “Servant of God” and allowing people to ask for her intercession. Since then, several documents have come to light corroborating her stories, and the necessary miracle for the next big step—beatification—seems to be well on its way.
“Sainthood isn’t about an award, it isn’t about honoring, it’s about helping the faithful know that there is a source of God’s grace being worked on Earth,” said Allen Sanchez, president and CEO for CHI St. Joseph’s Children in Albuquerque, which Sister Blandina founded. Sanchez also serves as the petitioner for the cause of sister’s sainthood and has studied her life extensively.
Sister stops a lynch mob
To open a cause for sainthood, examples of heroic virtue of the person must be shown. The specific example of heroic virtue that her petitioners are using involves another story that could only take place in the Wild West; the story that earned her the title “The Fastest Nun in the West” from a 1966 CBS feature on the incident.
Sister Blandina was teaching school in New Mexico when one of her pupils told her, “Pa’s shot a man, and they’re going to hang him.”
That’s when Sister Blandina went to work. She met with the shooter, and was able to convince him to write a confession. She then met with the dying man, and convinced him to forgive his shooter in person before he passed away.
After the two men were reconciled, Sister Blandina then had to face down the lynch mob that was coming to kill the shooter, who, because of sister, was instead taken to the circuit court and was given life in prison. After nine months, he was released to go back home to care for his four children.
“She disarms them from their guns, their hanging rope and their hate,” Sanchez said of sister and the lynch mob.
The next step
In order to be beatified—one step away from canonization—there needs to be proof of an otherwise inexplicable miracle brought about through that person’s intercession.
“We know of a baby that was born prematurely with a malfunctioning valve in the heart and collapsed lungs,” Sanchez said. “This family immediately contacted us, said they were praying the Sister Blandina novena for the baby. The doctors had very little hope for the baby living, but four days later they couldn’t find the problem in the heart, it was as if it didn’t exist to begin with. Doctors are saying it’s inexplicable, so we’re pursuing that, there’s many stories like that that are being pursued to see if Sister Blandina was involved.”