"The greater the work the more
important it is to establish it on
a solid foundation. Thus it will
not only be more perfect; it
will also be more lasting.”

St. Louise de Marillac

“Be diligent in serving
the poor. Love the poor,
honor them, my children,
as you would honor
Christ Himself.”

St. Louise de Marillac

 

Keeping the Faith

By Erin Reder

Tomas Sanchez (pictured) and members of the production crew visited the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse and Archives to ensure the storyline stayed true to the spirit and life of S. Blandina Segale.

As a child growing up in northern New Mexico, Tomas Sanchez had heard the stories of a strong, hard-working, courageous nun who had run-ins with Billy the Kid. The tales, at times, seemed hard to believe, but then again, her work and legacy continued to thrive throughout the Southwest through the hospitals and schools she had built. Her story was intriguing, even as a young child.

Fast forward a few decades, as a grown man beginning his directing career in the film industry, Tomas recalls sitting with his dying mother and coming across the story of that heroic nun in a comic book collection he had from his younger years. His mom told her son that the stories of S. Blandina Segale were recorded in a book and that he should consider putting his time and effort into making these types of stories, ones that matter. He took the words to heart and eventually began developing films about his Catholic faith. In 2017 Tomas set out to make a pilot for a television series based on the life of Servant of God, S. Blandina Segale.

The road was not easy, as he explains. Hollywood did not seem too interested at the time in doing a faith-based film. He was frustrated and decided to use his own money to make the pilot, telling himself that once they saw the story they would change their minds. “I wanted to stay true to her story and words,” said Sanchez. “She had a mission and her mission was to be there to save the sinners, not the saints.” Using her journal, “At the End of the Santa Fe Trail,” as his guide, he carried forward with the project – and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Persistent, Sanchez knew this story needed to be told and changed gears, making the series into a feature film. In his mind he felt S. Blandina’s story could still be told and future endeavors could unfold once the world knew more about this heroine. “She was the light coming out of the darkness of COVID,” he said, “we all needed that story.”

On March 24, 2023, showings of the film were held at the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse as well as Mount St. Joseph University and were joined by (from left) Tomas Sanchez, film director; Steven Istock, executive producer; and Gabriel Sanchez, actor/set dresser/stunts.

Sanchez compares S. Blandina to a modern-day superhero. Never backing down from a challenge, standing up for justice, and physically and mentally strong, she serves as a role model and inspiration through the life she lived for others. Finding the right person to play S. Blandina was key to the success of the film. “I needed an actress who was strong, had a big heart and really understood S. Blandina.” Enter actress Alma Sisneros. She and Sanchez had worked together on a prior television series and he knew she embodied the spirit and grit he was looking for. Sisneros was also willing to travel to the Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse in the initial stages of filming to learn more about the Sisters of Charity Community and religious life. He says the actress changed after that encounter and it helped her to carry the character as she began filming.

Sanchez whole-heartedly believes the film is what people are looking for in today’s world. “We need to see more stories about real people,” he says. “This is a film for Catholics and people of all faiths and beliefs. It has a pure agenda. I want to make films that people can watch and feel good about.” He personally believes S. Blandina has changed him, bringing him closer to his own faith and the people in his life – and he feels that others will feel the impact as well.

At its February debut at the Santa Fe Film Festival, “At the End of the Santa Fe Trail” was nominated for best actress, best adapted screenplay and picture and won for best direction.

As he reflects back to those early conversations with his mom many years ago, Sanchez says he is aware that her presence was felt throughout the process. “This movie in itself is a miracle,” he says. “Hollywood didn’t want it; then COVID hit, financing, we even had half the set swept away in a heavy downpour. All these things happened; yet, I believe, S. Blandina and my mom helped us out.”

Despite the odds, the film is making an impact and reaching a world-wide audience. S. Blandina’s story, strength and deep faith are inspiring and a breath of fresh air in an industry filled with fairy tales and wizardry and fictional superheroes. Thanks to Sanchez’s tenacity and faith in the film and S. Blandina, “At the End of the Santa Fe Trail” offers viewers a real-life hero, a positive female role model, and someone to aspire to and believe in. Santa Fe Trail” in New Mexico.

Tomas Sanchez on set for filming of “At the End of the Santa Fe Trail” in New Mexico.

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