Santa Fe, NM, Aug 1, 2015 / 04:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- 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 Sr. 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, Colo. 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, Sr. Blandina intervened, and convinced him to call off his mission on behalf of his man she had saved.  

After that incident, Sr. 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, Sr. 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. All in a day’s work.

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 Sr. Blandina founded. Sanchez also serves as the petitioner for the cause of Sister’s sainthood and has studied her life extensively.

Her early years

Sr. Blandina, born Maria Rosa Segale, was just four years old when she emigrated with her parents from the small town of Cicagna, Italy to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1854 (she had her 5th birthday on the boat ride over).

At the age of 16, Maria Rosa joined the Sisters of Charity and took the name Sr. Blandina. When she was just 22 years old, she was sent – alone – to Trinidad in Colo. territory to teach in the public school there. A few years later, she was sent further south, first to Santa Fe and then to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

It was probably quite an adjustment, Sanchez said, going from Europe and the more settled parts of America to the still very rough-and-tumble west.

While in New Mexico, Sr. Blandina helped found the public health care system and the public school system by building the first hospitals and schools in Albuquerque, often asking for the temporary release of prisoners to help her with the labor.  

Much of what is known about Sr. Blandina’s life comes from a series of letters she wrote her sister, Sr. Justina Segale, who was back in Ohio. The compiled correspondences, which span the years of 1872-1894, were published ten years before Sr. Blandina’s death in 1941.

“You’re able to see the history of New Mexico happening within her interactions,” Sanchez said.

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.

Sr. 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 Sr. 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, Sr. 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.

“She must have been charming to them!” he added. “I think they would fall in love with her and do what she would ask them to do, because she cared for them and she honestly was able to see the dignity of every human being from the innocent orphans to the guilty outlaws.”

Sr. Blandina also made several trips to Washington, D.C. to meet with legislators and to advocate on behalf of the Native Americans, whose reservation boundaries were being drawn at the time.

And although her own life is being evaluated for sainthood, Sr. Blandina herself knew all about the canonization process – she helped to petition to Rome for the cause of two different saints in her lifetime; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Kateri Tekakwitha. She also helped bring now-St. Katherine Drexel and her sisters to the West to help serve the Native American populations.

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. There are several possible examples of this being explored, which makes those petitioning for Sr. Blandina hopeful that her cause will advance quickly.

“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 Sr. 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 Sr. Blandina was involved.”

The example of her life on earth is also important for the faithful today, Sanchez said, because Sr. Blandina knew how to address both immediate problems as well as more systemic problems of social justice.

“She would follow through from the charity to the social justice,” he said. “For example, she would help feed and house the railway workers, but then she would also ask why the railway workers weren’t being cared for. And that’s the call for us today. Charity is important, that’s where you start, and then you move to the social justice from there.”

Sister’s cause for canonization may take several years, depending on the approval of her heroic virtue and miracles attributed to her intercession, but Sanchez said the board that is petitioning her cause is hopeful that things will progress quickly.

“I’d say we’re more than halfway through the diocesan phase. For her to be called ‘venerable’, we just have to prove her heroic virtue, and we’re hoping we’ll be ready to present that to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for a vote in their November or spring meeting,” he said.

If he had to describe her personality, Sanchez said, he would say she was tough but spunky, holy but unafraid of conflict.

“She wasn’t afraid of conflict and to roll up her sleeves and get the work done,” he said. “And she was always giving credit to the Gospel, to Jesus’ work.”

The best part of the process, Sanchez said, has been getting to know Sr. Blandina.

“I didn’t know this was going to be so fun and so inspiring,” he said. “And I really know her; she’s become my best friend.”

Washington D.C., Jul 31, 2015 / 05:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic leaders are calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage, for the good of low-wage workers and their families.

“An economy thrives only when it is centered on the dignity and well-being of the workers and families in it,” stated a letter to members of Congress from Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami and Sister Donna Markham, OP, president of Catholic Charities USA. Archbishop Wenski chairs the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The current federal minimum wage is not enough for a father working full-time to raise a child out of poverty, the letter said. Furthermore, the wage is static and only increases when Congress raises it – it is not tied to inflation, meaning that in real terms, its falls every year.

“This leads to increased demand for Charities’ services and reliance on the social safety net to make ends meet,” the letter added.

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, enacted in 2009 as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act. President Obama has repeatedly pushed for Congress and businesses to raise the minimum wage, most recently calling for it to be hiked to over $10 an hour. In February, 2014 he signed an executive order raising the wage to $10.10 for federal contract workers.

Minimum wage increases have sparked a debate about their influence on businesses and low-wage workers. Supporters argue that according to studies employment is not significantly affected by moderate wage increases, and that pay hikes benefit workers far more than any subsequent drop in employment rates may hurt them.

Opponents claim that mandatory wage hikes disproportionately affect small businesses who may not have the resources to increase wages that big businesses have, and thus must cut low-wage jobs. Many low-wage workers are not fathers with children, they argue, but are younger, less experienced workers who would lose valuable work experience if their jobs were cut because of a wage increase.

Certain businesses have already increased their minimum wages without any law being passed first. For example, the CEO of Seattle-based Gravity Payments made headlines earlier this year by taking a pay cut down to $70,000 a year from $1 million and giving all his employees a pay raise.

In their letter to Congress, Archbishop Wenski and Sister Markham referenced St. John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus, which was written on the 100-year anniversary of the landmark social encyclical Rerum Novarum, on capital and labor.

They quoted the encyclical that “society and the State must ensure wage levels adequate for the maintenance of the worker and his family, including a certain amount for savings.”

“This requires a continuous effort to improve workers' training and capability so that their work will be more skilled and productive, as well as careful controls and adequate legislative measures to block shameful forms of exploitation, especially to the disadvantage of the most vulnerable workers,” the encyclical continued.

Washington D.C., Jul 31, 2015 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Maggie was in high school, she stayed after class to talk to ask a teacher what to do about a very personal concern she felt her physician was not taking seriously. What she learned led to the discovery of a brain tumor, and treatment for the growth which had been affecting the teen for years. The tools she needed to find and treat this growth came from an awareness of her fertility and natural cycles.

“It wasn’t so much that I was trying to avoid pregnancy or get pregnant – it’s that there was something legitimately wrong with my body,” Maggie told CNA.

By the time she was in her late teens, Maggie had noticed that her cycles had never regulated, and had no idea what that meant except that it wasn't normal. While for the first years after a young woman begins to menstruate her cycles are of varying length and heaviness, they typically regulate within a few years. But several years after her own cycles began, Maggie was concerned that they never had settled into a normal pattern – in fact, she sometimes would have as few as one cycle a year. In addition, she also faced rounds of headaches.

One day, Maggie approached her college-level biology teacher, who also happened to be a practicing Catholic, looking for an explanation for her concerns and asking what to do. The teacher told her to ask her pediatrician, but also put her in touch with her church’s fertility instructor to see what could be done.

Maggie said her pediatrician immediately assumed that she was pregnant: an impossibility, because she was not sexually active. When the pregnancy tests came back negative, the doctor responded, “‘I don’t know what your problem is’ and brushed me off,” she recalled.

Meanwhile, the local parish’s natural family planning (NFP) instructor saw the teen’s distress and put her in touch with a Catholic fertility physician who could teach Maggie how to observe and chart the signs of her fertility.

Understanding Fertility

“A sign of health in a woman is a normal, regular cycle,” Dr. Lorna Cvetkovich, a gynecologist and obstetrician at Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, Va., explains. “We know what a normal cycle looks like,” she continued, “so at any time the parameters fall outside of those, then that’s a clue that maybe they’re not ovulating, they may have a luteal phase defect, they may have fibroids. It can show you all sorts of things.”

For women whose cycles fall within a normal range, normal bodily processes present themselves in a predictable pattern.

In the first part of a woman’s cycle, called the follicular phase, hormonal signals from the pituitary gland trigger the follicles (egg-containing structures within the ovaries) to prepare an egg for ovulation and to secrete estrogen into the woman’s body. This rise in estrogen levels triggers changes in the kind of fluid the cervix secretes, as well as thickening the uterine lining, making them more able to support the conception process.

After ovulation a woman's body secretes progesterone, which causes a sharp increase in a woman’s basal, or resting, body temperature, as well as a preparation of the uterine lining for possible implantation. If a pregnancy occurs, the basal body temperature and hormone levels may continue to rise, whereas if pregnancy does not happen, the resulting dip in hormones triggers a drop in temperature, menstruation, and the beginning of a new cycle.

In a healthy woman who is not pregnant, this cycle will repeat every 21-35 days.

These changes can be observed by any woman, and can be used by married couples as a valid method to achieve or delay pregnancy, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, which teaches that it is immoral to disrupt this natural cycle with the use of contraceptive pills, implants, barrier methods, or by having incomplete intercourse. Using these observations to help in the discernment of family size is known as natural family planning.

However, the same observations and data – commonly collected into charts for easier analysis – can be used to help diagnose gynecological issues such as ovarian cysts and growths in the uterus, called fibroids, as well as hormone deficiencies and other abnormalities affecting bodily functions. The information can also be essential in pinpointing issues surrounding pregnancy, such as the exact date of conception, infertility, and miscarriages.

This information is such a valuable insight into a patients health and symptoms – and an invaluable tool for doctors practicing reproductive medicine. “I just think it’s invaluable, and I don’t really know how people practice [gynecology] without having the charting,” said Cvetkovich. “There’s just so many uses, and it adds so much to your evaluation of the patient.”

Cycles and Diagnosis

Disorders in other bodily systems – such as the endocrine system – can manifest in a woman’s menstrual cycle and her chart. “Thyroid plays a role in almost every function of the body, so it may show up as a sign in the cycle,” explained Cvetkovich.

For Christine, charting her bodily signs helped her to catch an issue with her thyroid that might otherwise have been missed. After charting for four years, she started noticing that some months there was no ovulation that could be detected by temperature or with chemical tests for the hormones that trigger ovulation.

“I had what looked like a really long cycle, and then eventually, what to the uninformed observer would look to be a light period. But because I knew I hadn’t peaked, I was able to identify it as estrogen breakthrough bleeding and not a real cycle,” she explained.

“It seemed like my body was trying to ovulate, and not really getting there.”

She approached her doctor, explaining she was not ovulating and that she would like to find the cause for something that was out of the ordinary. The doctor then ordered comprehensive blood tests, and found that some of her thyroid-stimulating hormone levels were elevated beyond normal – in fact, her levels were twice as high s they had been a year ago.

After receiving treatment, her cycles returned to their normal pattern.

“I didn’t have a lot of signs or symptoms of hypothyroidism, aside from missing ovulation,” Christine noted, saying she wouldn't have picked up on the disorder had she not been charting. “ I wouldn’t have realized there was an issue,” Christine she added, reflecting on the fact that she probably would not have even received the treatment she needed.

“Whenever I’m sharing my experience with NFP with somebody, I’m always quick to point out not only all of the standard benefits, but that it enabled me to know my body and know there’s a problem that so many people wouldn’t be aware of."

How Fertility Awareness Helped to Find a Tumor

After a local NFP instructor put Maggie in touch with physicians familiar with fertility awareness, she became more aware of what was going on in her own body. She learned to observe her basal body temperature and cervical fluid signs – and noticed that while sometimes she had a more typical menstrual cycle and her chart showed the usual peaks and dips of a healthy young woman, at other times her cycle was irregular and her temperature was more elevated.

Even though she was not sexually active, “my body was acting like it was pregnant,” Maggie said. The doctors at the Catholic fertility clinic sent Maggie out for blood work, which showed a high level of prolactin – a hormone present during pregnancy and breastfeeding. She took this information back to her pediatrician, and then to an endocrinologist, who ordered an MRI scan of her brain.

“There was a tumor pressing into my pituitary, pressing into my frontal cortex,” Maggie explained.

“When I first heard the word ‘tumor’ I freaked out,” she related, but thankfully, “it wasn’t cancerous,” but a benign growth which explained both her irregular cycles and some of her headaches.

Maggie received the treatment she needed to shrink the tumor, and told CNA that “things are pretty much normal now.” While the tumor is still there – “it’ll never really go away, unless I get surgery," she related; “what’s happened at this point is that it’s checked.”

While since receiving treatment she has no need to monitor as rigorously all of her signs and symptoms, knowledge of her fertility and its signs has given Maggie tools she can use use if the tumor starts to grow again.

“I have this, and I know these are indicators to know [if] something is wrong with my prolactin.”

Fertility – 'A Public Health Issue'

Cvetkovich suggested this level of awareness can be useful for any woman looking to take care of their health.

“I think that anytime you put someone more in tune with your body,  they’re just going to know that things are wrong earlier. I think that’s what it’s all about, knowing what’s normal for you, and being in tune with it.”

She commented that many of her fellow physicians, as well as the general public, have grown accustomed to relying on hormonal contraceptives to address disorders, a practice she said “makes people very distant from their bodies and from their cycles.”

“We’ve lost the idea that having a normal monthly cycle is health – that’s normal. Being fertile is normal. I think that’s where NFP brings us back to, really: to reality.”

Maggie agrees, saying that some of her initial struggle in receiving treatment was a result of people  “missing the point that fertility isn’t sort of an accessory to being a human woman – it’s an integral part of how our bodies work.” Awareness of how women’s bodies work, and how to tell when they’re not working correctly, is important for everyone.

“It’s a public health issue.”

Maggie is not the first patient's real name, which has been changed to protect her privacy.