The little Cajun saint

Louisianan Cajun could become a saint

Aron Boehle, Worldview Editor

After decades of Catholic Louisianans’ attempts, Charlene Richard, a young Catholic Cajun girl born in Richard, La. in 1947, might have the opportunity to become an official saint in the Vatican.

Her story has inspired many Catholics in New Orleans and bolstered their faith, according to Alicia Bourque, Loyola’s interim executive director for student affairs. Richard’s impact even goes beyond Louisiana, with her influence reaching as far as the Balkans, with moves to translate her prayer cards into Croatian, according to folklorist Marcia Gaudet.

Richard was said to have performed miracles both before and after she died at 12 years old of acute Lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer that attacks your lymphoid line of blood cells. To this day, people frequently visit her grave for religious devotions.

“She almost became an influencer before social media,” Bourque said during a talk at Catholic Studies Night on Feb. 7.

According to Bourque, Cajun culture has tight-knit family communities, so word of Richard quickly spread and locals began devotions to her. Locals called her the “little Cajun saint,” and would bring prayer cards and petitions to her grave.

“Her grave is still very heavily visited,” Bourque said. “Hundreds to thousands per year.”

In 1989, so many people were visiting Richard’s grave that lights were installed nearby for nightly visits, as well as petition boxes for visitors to drop their prayer cards in. On the 30th anniversary of her passing, 4,000 people attended an outdoor mass held at her gravesite, Bourque said.

60 years after Richard’s death, U.S. Catholic Bishop Douglas Deshotal opened the case for sainthood in Jan. 2020. A year later, there was a unanimous decision by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to advance the case to the Vatican. Cases for Richard are currently being compiled by an Argentinian postulator named Luis Fernando Escalante who will present a plea at the Vatican in the near future.

To become a saint, a candidate must have significant evidence of at least two miracles. Ultimately, the choice is up to the Pope, and there are two levels he could designate before sainthood: venerable and blessed.

New Orleans native and Loyola professor Jordan Jones said he was “thrilled” to learn about Richard following his attendance of Bourque’s talk at Catholic Studies Night.

“It sounds like it would be super meaningful for the Cajun people in south Louisiana,” Jones said. “A saint from Louisiana would be really meaningful in that it can bolster the faith of all of us and point us closer to God.”

Additionally, he noted the lack of young saints, mentioning the blessing of Carlo Acutis, a 15-year-old also known for his cheerfulness before his death from Leukemia in 2006. Jones said that regardless of age, a young Louisianan saint could show that the Christian life is possible.

Bourque said that before Richard’s passing, Richard asked her grandmother if she too could become a saint by praying like St. Teresa of Little Flower, a 24-year-old French saint who passed from tuberculosis. Richard was said to pray for the health and conversion of others, despite the pain and terminality of her illness.

“It doesn’t matter how young you are, how much education you had, where you’re at in your life, you can still be a vessel for hope and peace,” Bourque said.