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WKRC-TV devotes hour to 'Sister Blandina Segale: A Cincinnati Saint'

Sister Blandina Segale was born in Cicagna, Italy, in 1850, and came to Cincinnati in 1854.
Courtesy WKRC-TV
Sister Blandina Segale was born in Cicagna, Italy, in 1850, and came to Cincinnati in 1854.

The Sisters of Charity nun under consideration for sainthood taught in a Colorado Territory school in the 1870s, and encountered outlaw Billy the Kid and 'frontier justice,' before founding Cincinnati's Santa Maria Institute.

Until August, Good Morning Cincinnati co-anchor Bob Herzog had never heard of Sister Blandina Segale, the Cincinnati nun who worked in the Wild West 150 years ago.

Probably most in Greater Cincinnati don't know much about her either.

That will change Friday when WKRC-TV devotes an hour to Sister Blandina Segale: A Cincinnati Saint (7 p.m., Channel 12) written by Local 12 news producer Patricia McGeever and photographed and edited by Bryan Dykes.

"She's a fascinating character," says Herzog about Blandina, an Italian immigrant who came to Cincinnati in 1854, at age 4. She joined the Cincinnati-based Sisters of Charity in 1866, and in 1872, at age 22, was sent — alone — on a stagecoach over the Santa Fe Trail to teach in the Colorado Territory.

After encountering outlaw Billy the Kid and dealing with "frontier justice" in Colorado for five years, she moved to Santa Fe and worked in schools, an orphanage and a hospital. She returned to Cincinnati in 1893, where she and her sister, Justina, in 1897 founded the Santa Maria Institute settlement house which just celebrated its 125th anniversary.

Sister Blandina Segale (left) and Sister Justina Segale, her sister, founded Cincinnati's Santa Maria Institute in 1897.
Courtesy WKRC-TV
Sister Blandina Segale (left) and Sister Justina Segale, her sister, founded Cincinnati's Santa Maria Institute in 1897.

In 2014, she was named a "Servant of God" as the Roman Catholic Church began the process of seeking canonization as a saint.

"I had never heard of this person before in my life," says Herzog, a 1992 Oak Hills High School graduate who has lived all his life in Green Township. "When Patti grabbed me coming out of the news studio at 10 a.m. one day after we finished Good Morning Cincinnati, she started telling me about this nun in the Wild Wild West and Billy the Kid. She hadn't even gotten to the sainthood part yet when I said, 'I'm all in!' '

McGeever, who is Catholic, had been thinking about making a half-hour special about Sister Blandina while working from home last year during the pandemic. She enlisted Herzog, who is not Catholic.

Her proposal was a bold one in an era when local TV stations devote resources and air time to Bengals coverage, the Fountain Square tree lighting, the WEBN/Western-Southern Fireworks or a retrospective on the Uncle Al Show. A show about a nun born before the Civil War? Why not an hour on Joe Burrow, Hunter Greene or kiddie TV host Skipper Ryle?

"We figured it was going to be an uphill battle to do this kind of show because this is not something that TV stations do a whole lot of," Herzog says.

When they pitched it to General Manager Jon Lawhead, he surprised them by not just greenlighting the show but insisting it be a full hour.

"It did not take much convincing," McGeever says. "And of all the people who were pitched, none of them is Catholic. One of the things that Jon asked that we make it appealing to those who aren't Catholic."

They knew they had an amazing story to tell. Part of it was based on Sister Blandina's own words, the journal she wrote to her sister released in the book At The End of the Santa Fe Trail. The book was reprinted in 2014 to commemorate approval of her canonization process.

A statue of Sister Blandina in a wellness garden in Trinidad, Colo.
Courtesy WKRC-TV
A statue of Sister Blandina in a wellness garden in Trinidad, Colo.

"Stories abound of how she calmed mobs of armed men from taking the law into their own hands, helped criminals seek forgiveness from their victims, and even saved a man from a hanging party by facilitating reconciliation between him and the man he shot before he died," says her biography on the Sisters of Charity website. "Sister’s adventures have been featured in novels, television programs, histories and a comic book. In 1966 her story of bravery was told in a CBS series Death Valley Days episode, 'The Fastest Nun in the West,' where she faced down the barrels of guns to find justice."

One challenge was the lack of film of Sister Blandina, who died in Cincinnati in 1941 at age 91. So WKRC-TV sent Herzog, McGeever and Dykes to New Mexico and Colorado in October.

"Although a lot of people here don't know who she is, she's a legend out West because they learn about her in school out there," McGeever says. "They have buildings with her name on them."

They visited the St. Joseph Hospital in Albuquerque, which she help found in 1900, and the statues of her at St. Pius High School, also in Albuquerque, and in a wellness garden in Trinidad, Colo. They also interviewed Allen Sanchez, who petitioned the Vatican for her sainthood, and Peso Chavez, the private investigator who researched the stories she told in her journal and letters. Dozens of miracles have been attributed to Sister Blandina's intercession, according to the WKRC-TV media announcement about the show.

In Cincinnati they spoke to at least one person who met her — pizza chain owner Buddy LaRosa. He would kiss Sister Blandina's hand on trips to the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse with his aunt and grandmother.

“Whenever anyone was in need, Sister Blandina would always come through with whatever was needed, such as getting to a doctor, seeing a mid-wife, or money for goods or services,” says LaRosa in an interview posted on the Santa Maria website.

The status of Sister Blandina's canonical inquiry in unknown, although a Vatican investigator has visited Cincinnati.

Petitioner Sanchez is "hopeful. He felt like the process was moving, and has some energy right now," Herzog says.

Sanchez noted that "once they submitted all their paperwork, the Vatican OK'd the process, and she was given the title 'Servant of God' fairly quickly so he feels that she will be made venerable fairly soon," McGeever says. "But things were put on pause due to the pandemic. Now they're getting back up to speed."

"Allen Sanchez says the Pope likes her so he thinks it will move pretty quickly," she adds.

When the Channel 12 trio pitched the project to their bosses in early September, someone suggested they go to the Vatican for interviews.

"The bosses quickly shot that down," McGeever recalls. "So I figured that going to New Mexico and Colorado was a lot closer than the Vatican, and thought we would be able to swing that. As soon they said yes we booked those flights."

"Going out West, that's a big ask. And the next thing I knew we were flying out West," Herzog says. "But as soon as she actually becomes a saint, we want to go to the Vatican."

Sister Blandina Segale: A Cincinnati Saint premieres 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9, on WKRC-TV.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.