ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An Italian-born nun who challenged Billy the Kid, calmed angry mobs and helped open hospitals and schools in New Mexico territory took a step Friday toward possible sainthood with documents about her purported good deeds being sent to Rome.
In a public Albuquerque ceremony, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe formally closed its inquiry on why Sister Blandina Segale should become a saint and sealed its findings.
Church Investigators presented piles of documents they say collaborate the stories about the nun's legendary clashes with Old West outlaws and her heroic actions to protect Hispanics and American Indians.
They also sealed documents about miracles attributed to Segale, who died in 1941.
It's the first time in New Mexico's 400-year history with the Roman Catholic Church that an inquiry was completed in the state on the cause of beatification and canonization.
Investigators were able to uncover letters from New Mexico governors and a former archbishop urging the nun to write a book about her experiences, said Allen Sanchez, president and CEO of CHI St.Joseph's Children — a community health organization — and the petitioner for the cause of Segale's sainthood.
The requests came after Segale had published stories about her experiences in some magazines by 1930.
"The archbishop said the old-timers remember her to be truthful and that all the accounts in her journal were true," Sanchez said.
Segale, a nun with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, came to Trinidad, Colorado, in 1877 to teach poor children and was later transferred to Santa Fe, where she co-founded public and Catholic schools.
During her time in New Mexico, she worked with poor and sick people, including immigrants. She also advocated on behalf of Hispanics and Native Americans who were losing their land to white swindlers.
Segale worked as an educator and social worker in Ohio, Colorado and New Mexico and later published a memoir, "At the End of the Santa Fe Trail," about her life.
But it was her encounters with Old West outlaws that became the stuff of legend and the subject of an episode of the long-running CBS series, "Death Valley Days." The episode, titled "The Fastest Nun in the West," focused on her efforts to save a man from a lynch mob — a true story, the inquiry panel concluded.
Another story says Billy the Kid and his gang once found Segale in a covered wagon they attempted to rob. The nun had previously convinced the "Kid" not to scalp four doctors so he recognized her and abandoned his holdup.
Sanchez said church investigators were able to find a descendant of a passenger in the covered wagon who confirmed the story.
"I think we've proven that we can trust the stories in (her) book because we've verified the stories," Sanchez said.
Officials say it could take years — possibly a century — before Segale might become a saint. The Vatican has to investigate her work and monitor for any related miracles.
Retired Archbishop Michael Sheehan, who headed up the inquiry, said he would travel to Rome next month to formally present the Segale case to Vatican officials. He urged supporters to pray for them to advance Segale's case and to seek her guidance.
"If you need something from her, ask now," Sheehan told an audience at the inquiry. "Because she's going to be really busy soon."
Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras