At the U.S. bishops’ conference fall assembly in Baltimore this week, bishops will vote on the causes for canonization for two Servants of God — lay Catholics, both from Louisiana, who might someday be declared saints.
Servant of God Charlene Richard and Servant of God Robert ‘Nonco’ Pelafigue were Catholics of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana. One a teacher who promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart, and the other a girl who died at 12, offering up the sufferings of terminal leukemia for the salvation of souls.
The bishops will be presented with information about their lives by Lafayette’s Bishop Douglas Deshotel. Votes are consultative; bishops promoting a cause for canonization are required to consult the bishops of their country before the cause can proceed.
Charlene Richard was born January 13, 1947, in Richard, Louisiana — a rural community in the state’s Acadiana region, the center of Louisiana’s French-influenced Cajun and Louisiana Creole communities.
She was the second-oldest of ten children, and had a very ordinary childhood for the region: she liked basketball, spending time with her friends, and St. Therese of Lisieux.
When Charlene was 12, she had a vision while playing outside, of a tall woman dressed in black.
According to her biographer, she told her mother:
“Mama, you won't believe this. I know you'll laugh at me, but it really did happen. Mama, I saw a lady, a tall lady dressed in black. She stopped me. I looked up and saw something shaped like a woman but I couldn't see her face. I was scared.
When I asked her, ‘In the name of God, what do you want?’ she just sailed under the oak tree and disappeared.”
Charlene saw the tall lady again the next day, she told her brother.
A few week’s later, Charlene was sent home from school; she was not feeling well. She was diagnosed with leukemia, and doctors her parents she wouldn’t have long to live.
She spent the next 15 days in the hospital.
At the request of her parents, Fr. Joseph Brennan, the hospital’s chaplain, told Charlene she was dying. Charlene was undisturbed.
She talked with the priest about her desire to offer her sufferings, in union with Christ on the cross, for others who were suffering, and especially for their salvation.
Fr. Brennan and the hospital’s director of pediatrics, Sister Theresita Crowley, said that Charlene’s faith was unlike that of any other children they had met. She took on faith that the Blessed Mother would be with her, and that her illness could have spiritual significance.
When Brennan would visit her each day, the young girl would ask him cheerfully for the name of the person she offer her sufferings for that day.
“Ok Father, who am I to offer my sufferings for today?” she’d ask in the morning.
Charlene Richards died at the age of 12, on Aug. 11, 1959.
Fr. Brennan, her hospital chaplain, began praying for her intercession shortly after she died.
Devotion to “Little Charlene,” as she’s sometimes remembered, spread across Louisiana. Today, thousands of people visit he grave annually.
Auguste ‘Nonco’ Pelafigue
They called him Nonco, or “Uncle,” because Auguste Pelafigue was an uncle to everyone he came to know.
Born in France in 1888, he and his parents emigrated to Louisiana’s Cajun country while he was a child. He become a public school teacher, and then taught as the only lay faculty member at the Little Flower Catholic school in Arnaudville, Louisiana.
Nonco, who never married, was part of the Apostleship of Prayer, which promotes devotion to the Sacred Heart, and spent his free time going door to door to visit sick shut-ins, and pray the rosary with them. He also visited Catholic who had stopped going to Mass, dropping by to ask what he could pray for.
He was animated by his love for Christ, his friends remember. He organized students to put on Christmas plays and dramas about the lives of the saints. He urged them to pray the rosary.
Nonco was most especially a penitent. He walked almost everywhere, even in bad weather, and even as he got older, because he offered up those walks for souls in purgatory.
He was in 1953 honored by a papal medal, the Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice. The medal didn’t weigh him down — he continued walking, visiting, and praying until his death at 89, on June 6, 1977, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.