“Little Cajun Saint,” Arnaudville Man One Step Closer to Canonization
For many Catholics in Acadiana, the names Charlene Richard and Auguste "Nonco" Pelafigue evoke the epitome of holiness and total selflessness in the name of Jesus Christ.
On Wednesday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops heard their stories and came to the same conclusion that many here in our region have already found: They are worthy of sainthood.
The USCCB voted without objection or dissent to advance the causes of sainthood for both Richard and Pelafigue. That vote advances the cause for beatification and canonization on the local level. Vatican officials will make the final decision about Richard's and Pelafigue's cases for sainthood.
Auguste "Nonco" Pelafigue was born in France and raised in Arnaudville. A Korean War veteran and an alumnus of what is now the University of Louisiana, Pelafigue was devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. He recruited people to join the League of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, traveling by foot in and around Arnaudville to spread the word. Pelafigue is credited with registering more than 1,200 new members to the society. He also spread the word through education. He taught religion to public school students in the Arnaudville area. He also produced plays for children to further expose them to the Gospel.
Pelafigue did all this while making large personal sacrifices. According to his biography, his house was essentially a shed with only one light bulb and jury-rigged plumbing and electricity. Pelafigue never married so he could fully devote his life to Christ. What's more: All of the work he performed--from teaching to evangelizing--was for free. Pelafigue never accept a single penny for his life's work.
Pelafigue's work to spread the Gospel continued for 68 years until his death in 1977. The cause for Pelafigue's canonization began in earnest around 10 years ago when members of his family launched an effort to have the Vatican make him a saint despite no evidence of any miracles being attributed to him. Supporters of the cause say the body of his life's work more than qualify him for sainthood.
Charlene Richard's case for canonization is well known in Acadiana, especially in and around the Acadia Parish hamlet of Richard.
In 1959, Richard, who by all accounts was an active and healthy girl, was diagnosed with leukemia. She died two weeks after her diagnosis. In the time between the diagnosis and her death, Richard asked Father Joseph Brennan, then the chaplain at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, how she could offer up her suffering for those who needed God's intervention.
In the more than 60 years since her death, Richard has been credited with making positive interventions on the behalf of thousands of people. Father Floyd Calais says he prayed to Charlene that he be assigned to a parish after being ordained. He was. The Diocese of Lafayette sent him to the church and parish where Richard is buried. People have bought prayer cards with Charlene's picture on it and, in many cases, have made pilgrimages to her grave in Richard. Many of them have credited Richard with helping them survive grave medical conditions, restore their marriages, and overcome other hardships.
There's no timetable for the Vatican to review Richard's and Pelafigue's canonization causes. Still, Acadiana someday may have two native saints.