Aleteia

She died at 12 and is already known as the Little Cajun Saint

Charlene Richard
Share

People quickly claimed that the prayers of little Charlene Richard were bringing about miracles.

Joesph and Mary Alice Richard were part of the Cajun community of Richard, Louisiana. Joe and Mary Alice would eventually have 10 children together. The second oldest, named Charlene, was as average as she could be. She was considered smart, but so were other children. She was a devout Catholic, as were other children, and she played sports and said her Rosary. She even got into a bit of trouble just like the other kids. But unlike the other children in her community, she passed away when she was only 12 — from leukemia.

The road to becoming a canonized saint in the Catholic Church is not an easy one. Many times it takes centuries before someone is declared a saint. There must be no mistakes about a candidate’s life and the path he or she followed. Investigation begins in the person’s home town, and follows the life of the proposed candidate. In today’s modern age, the process starts when the local bishop agrees to take up the cause for a person nominated by the local community.

Local Catholics will have compiled a dossier on the individual, attesting to his or her character and faithfulness. The bishop appoints a postulator who does a thorough investigation. After several years or longer, the bishop may declare the person a Servant of God and refer them to the Vatican’s panel for Saints’ Causes. Then begins step two in the process.

So while Charlene Richard is already recognized by many as the Little Cajun Saint, she still has a long path to follow before an eventual canonization.

Charlene was an active girl at 12 and played sports and received good grades when she began to get sick. She had read a book about St. Therese and visited the church to pray to the Little Flower. Then the youngster went home and asked her grandmother if she prayed like St. Therese, she could become a saint like her. Her grandmother assured her that she could. 

When Charlene’s symptoms began to persist, her parents took her to the doctor. He sent her for testing, and it was discovered that she had Acute Lymphatic Leukemia. The family quickly turned to the parish priest and the hospital chaplain. The chaplain was a newly ordained priest and had been assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, where Charlene was a new patient. His name was Father Joseph Brennan. 

Father Brennan would visit Charlene every day. When he arrived, Charlene would ask him for whom they should pray that day. She had told Father Brennan that she accepted her illness as God’s will and that she wanted to “offer up” her suffering for others. Father Brennan was deeply moved by the faith and love the 12-year-old little one displayed. 

Shortly before Charlene’s death, Father Brennan told her a beautiful lady would come to take her away to heaven. She replied, Oh, you mean the Blessed Mother. When she comes, I’ll tell her Father Brennan says hello.” The priest was speechless. He was with her when she died on August 11, 1959.

Another person who was much impressed by Charlene was a friend to Father Brennan. His name was Father Floyd Calais, and he was from Lafayette, Louisiana. Father Calais never met Charlene, but he listened carefully to the stories Father Brennan told him — especially about the cures people experienced as she prayed for them while she was dying. Many converted to Catholicism before their deaths. Sister Theresita Crowley, director of pediatrics at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, told others about the child’s acceptance of her illness and how hard she prayed for others. Local people began praying to her for special favors and insisted that her prayers helped them.

Since then, many have prayed to Charlene for her intercession and believe that she has interceded for them. Sister Theresita recalled, “I can’t forget her. I feel her presence. I feel her smile.” There are those who have prayed to Charlene for medical cures, marital problems, help with employment, and good weather to save the crops. Charlene quickly developed a following that spread beyond the south.

Finally, after years of consideration, Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel of the Diocese of Lafayette recently opened the cause for Charlene Richard’s sainthood. 

Servant of God Charlene Richard, please pray for us.