Intercom Feature Articles
Bringing Her Story to Life: Actress Alma Sisneros
discusses her latest role as S. Blandina Segale
In March, filming for the pilot of “At the End of the Santa Fe Trail,” a television series based on the life of Sister of Charity of Cincinnati S. Blandina Segale, concluded. For many, the timing of the television series in conjunction with the Vatican’s examination into Sister’s cause for canonization seems more than coincidental. It appears something greater is at work.
In February Alma Sisneros, the actress portraying S. Blandina Segale in the television series based on Sister’s life, visited with S. Annina Morgan to research her character.
The Spirit most certainly is at work in the actress portraying S. Blandina. From her home – a 14,000-acre working buffalo ranch in central New Mexico – Alma Sisneros begins the interview speaking about the similarities she sees in her and the tenacious S. Blandina, who has captured the hearts of the cast and crew working to tell her story.
The daughter and granddaughter of strong, Catholic women, Alma grew up in a small New Mexico town, coincidentally a town that S. Blandina herself traveled to while ministering in the Southwest. Both teachers, they shared other parallels as well. “She shared my passion for children and for the underdog,” says Alma. “Like S. Blandina, I have always gravitated toward people that need help. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty, and strive to be a part of something that needs to be done for the greater good.”
As Alma describes her first audition for the role, she says that she didn’t know much about the woman she would soon come to admire. However, after she was booked for the role, she began to research S. Blandina and that’s when the inspiration came. That preparation included a visit to the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse in February. “I had the best time,” Alma says as her voice breaks. “It was really such a beautiful experience, the hospitality and happiness that I felt there. I didn’t want to leave to be honest with you.” She met with Sisters Loretto Burke and Annina Morgan to talk with the only two living Sisters who knew S. Blandina personally in her later years, and she also spoke with many Sisters who lived and ministered in the Southwest – where S. Blandina spent 22 years and is widely known for her compassion for outlaws, championing for justice, and building schools and hospitals in the rugged Southwest. “Being there with the women, hearing their stories of their time in the Southwest, their love for New Mexico and teaching, and their love of S. Blandina, it put me at ease to portray her. I left with a sense of peace and a greater understanding of what these women did their entire lives. I came home feeling calm, relaxed, and centered.”
Filming for the pilot of “At the End of the Santa Fe Trail” took place in Colorado and New Mexico.
Even though S. Blandina lived and ministered decades ago, her life and her stories are still relatable in today’s world. And Alma, as well as the entire production crew, feel there is a need for her story to be told. “When it comes to entertainment today,” she says, “and what people are seeing on television and in movie theaters there’s not a lot of clean, family-oriented shows that the whole family can watch and enjoy. I think this will be something anyone of any age can get something positive and beneficial from.” The actress also sees S. Blandina as a positive role model for young girls and for women in general: “To have a strong, intelligent, aggressive, go-getter like S. Blandina, I think it’s important for young girls and women to know that anyone can make a change in the most difficult of times. That’s what S. Blandina did.”It is important to the producers – and the Sisters of Charity – that the series stays true to the book and the stories S. Blandina herself told. First step in production was the filming of the pilot, which concluded in March. For her part, Alma said she began reading “At the End of the Santa Fe Trail,” the book containing S. Blandina’s letters to her sister, Justina, also a Sister of Charity. “I stopped reading the book up to the point that I knew the script ended for the pilot episode,” she explained, “because I purposely didn’t want to know anything about Blandina after that point. I wanted to be very specific to who she was at that time in her life – in 1872, leaving on her first mission. I finished reading the book after filming the pilot. Of course my idea of her, and my thoughts and perceptions, have changed slightly because she has changed in 10 years.”
What can viewers look forward to from the series and S. Blandina? Alma says her character is appealing and intriguing on many levels. In the year 1872 viewers are greeted with this young, petite female immigrant, who was penniless and sent – alone – to a lawless territory in the Southwest. She displayed faith, courage, perseverance, honesty and hard work. “I feel like people today and always will be moved by her spunk, tenacity, and dedication to better the lives of others,” says Alma. “People love those kinds of stories and gravitate towards people like that. I’m at the very end of her book now, and every day that I read I keep finding more and more surprises. I shouldn’t be surprised – but I am! She was just an amazing woman; she found a way – through God – to get the job done without hurting anyone.
S. Carol Marie Power had the opportunity to visit the set of the pilot and meet with cast and crew members in March.
“As I read the book, I envisioned the episodes,” she continues. “I envisioned being in the habit, jumping over the archbishop’s wall to steal vegetables from his garden to give to the poor. I envisioned at the top of a building knocking down adobe to build the school, tending to the sick. People who had tuberculosis and small pox, she did not fear. I think of these episodes and playing these stories. She was there and present. I see why this [series] could go on for many, many episodes; there’s so much storytelling – not just her life in the Southwest but her work in Cincinnati with Italian immigrants, prostitutes and the poor. The love she had for human life was amazing. Her story needs to be told. There’s not enough of these female leadership roles being told in the media. She is a beautiful place to start.”In Alma’s eyes, the role of S. Blandina was meant for her. “I think that all the things in my life have led up to this point and I feel like I’m meant to tell her story,” she said. “I can’t get her out of my head. I think of her every day. I talk to her. Since this has all happened everything around me is better, and I think it’s because of her. I think she’s with us in this process. …
“This whole experience has re-grounded me,” Alma continues. “I have always thought I was a very observant, compassionate person but this has taken things to another level, my thoughtfulness, my observations of human life around me; it makes me want to be a kinder, nicer, calmer person – but still strong like Blandina. … She has reinvigorated my love for God, my upbringing and everything I did know and learn as I was growing up. This is so much more for me, it’s personal.”
If the success of the pilot hinges on the commitment and passion of the actors, actresses and crew, then a series and its success are imminent. They have embraced S. Blandina’s spirit, and by doing so are bringing Blandina’s story and her legacy to life.