Saturday, January 18, 2014
A SAINT FROM SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA
CHARLENE MARIE RICHARD was born in 1947 of Catholic Cajun (French-Canadian) descent in Louisiana. Charlene has become the focus of a popular belief that she is a saint, a person who is in heaven, who has performed a number of miracles. The Roman Catholic Church has not given any official approval or begun any processes leading towards her canonization, but local Catholic clergy and diocesan officials have permitted, promoted, and participated in the popular veneration of Charlene.
Charlene was the second-oldest of ten children born to Joseph Elvin and Mary Alice Richard. Adults and children who knew her considered her to be smart but otherwise unremarkable. She was a devout Catholic but no more so than was customary in the local Cajun community. Her mother said, "She liked sports and was always busy with something. She went to church and said her rosary, but she was just a normal little girl." In May 1959, after reading a book about Therese of Lisieux Charlene asked her grandmother whether she, too, could become a saint by praying like Therese.
She became ill and only two weeks before her death was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia and hospitalized at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Lafayette, Louisiana. At the request of her family, she was informed by the hospital chaplain, Joseph Brennan, a newly ordained Catholic priest, that she was going to die.Though the illness was painful, she remained cheerful, meekly accepted her fate, and offered up her suffering to God. Father Brennan was deeply impressed by her faith and visited her daily. While dying, Charlene prayed for other individuals to be healed or to be converted to Catholicism.. The Director of Pediatrics at the hospital, Sister Theresita Crowley also witnessed her calm acceptance of suffering and prayers for others. Father Brennan and Sister Crowley claimed that those for whom Charlene prayed recovered from their illnesses or became Catholic. Charlene died on 11 August 1959 at the age of 12.
No official canonization procedures have begun for Richard, though the Layfayette diocese began collecting testimonials about reputed help obtained through her in 1991. Unlike the traditional support for canonization of a saint, which begins with popular devotion and is only later recognized by the Church, support for Richard began outside her immediate home area and was first promoted by the clergy, beginning with Brennan, Crowley, and Calais. The bishop of the Layfayette diocese at the time of her death, Maurice Schexnayder, visited her grave multiple times and referred to her as a saint.