Throughout the history of the United States, scores of children have arrived at our borders and ports in waves of humanity searching for freedom and safety.
One such child was Maria Rosa Segale who, in 1855 at the age of 5, found herself arriving from Italy at the Port of New Orleans with her family, seeking a new home, with no knowledge of where they would settle as they traveled up the Mississippi. Ultimately, her family landed on the shores of the Ohio River in Cincinnati.
This little immigrant girl quickly learned the power of multiple cultures contributing to one society. At the age of 17, she entered the Congregation of The Sisters of Charity in Cincinnati. In 1872, at the age of 22, she was missioned to the new frontier of the West. In her book, “At the End of the Santa Fe Trail,” a compilation of diaries, letters and memories, she tells the story of an immigrant girl who contributed to the founding of Catholic and public schools in Colorado and New Mexico, and the co-founding of hospitals, social institutions and orphanages, some of which still exist today. Her ministries are now part of Catholic Health Initiatives, the largest health care system in the United States.
Sister Blandina showed great courage in confronting lynch mobs, disarming them of their guns, lynching ropes and hate, always bringing out the best in every person she encountered. She brought health care to the most innocent, the orphans of the territory of New Mexico. She brought consolation, health care and forgiveness to the guilty, to bandits and to swindlers. What a gift of humanity this one child brought to our country.
Why is it that today some of us cannot recognize the human dignity of the children and families presenting themselves at our borders? How do we not know that the children whose little eyes are peering at us through chain link fences can be our salvation?
I call on the memory of Sister Blandina, who is now in the official process of an Inquiry of Heroic Virtue for Sainthood, to inspire us. Her story can inspire Catholics and non-Catholics alike. When the Acts of the Investigation of Heroic Virtue were presented to the Congregation for the Cause of Saints at the Vatican in Rome, the chancellor receiving the documents declared, “Regardless of whether Sister Blandina is made a saint or not, you have offered this little one’s story as an example to the world.”
The world is watching us today.
Most Americans share a legacy of migration to this wonderful country. Do we not have a memory of the sacrifices and contributions of our ancestors who brought their children to the United States through uncertain circumstances, just as these mothers and fathers are doing? How disappointed they must be as they look down on us, a nation dispatching tents for makeshift child prisons.
America, we are better than this.
Once again, the story of Sister Blandina encourages me to believe that we can overcome this. Hers is simply a story of one immigrant, but all our ancestors’ stories together create the whole of what came to be the United States of America. I invoke the memory and intercession of Sister Blandina the Servant of God during this crisis of children being separated from their parents. We must show fortitude, and we must show love.