At their annual Fall Plenary Assembly in Baltimore November 15-18, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops agreed that the sainthood causes for three laypeople from the U.S. should be advanced by their respective dioceses. Two causes, those of Charlene Marie Richard and Auguste Robert “Nonco” Pelafigue, were presented by Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel of Lafayette.
Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu presented the third cause, that of Joseph Dutton. All three sainthood candidates have the title, “Servant of God,” given to them when their causes were officially opened.
Pelafigue and Richard now join Lt. Fr. Verbis Lafleur as three candidates from the Diocese of Lafayette on concurrent paths to canonization. Fr. Lafleur’s cause was similarly ratified by the U.S. Bishops earlier this year during their 2021 Spring Plenary Assembly.
The bishops’ vote represents the second step of the three-step journey toward canonization. The process now moves to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican in Rome which will document, in detail the lives of the three candidates and investigate any miracles attributed to their intercession.
Here’s a look at the new candidates for sainthood:
Servant of God Charlene Marie Richard
Charlene Marie Richard was born January 13, 1947, and died August 11, 1959, at the age of twelve years old. She was from the rural community of Richard, Louisiana, and the second oldest of ten children born to Joseph Elvin and Mary Alice Richard. In May 1959, after reading a book about Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the young Charlene Richard asked her grandmother whether she, too, could become a saint by praying like Saint Thérèse.
After reporting appearances of a tall woman in black who would vanish, and her teacher observing that the young girl was not herself, Charlene’s mother took her to a physician where she was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia and hospitalized at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Lafayette, Louisiana. At the request of her family, the hospital chaplain, Reverend Joseph F. Brennan, was called to her bedside to deliver the news of her terminal diagnosis.
Though the illness was painful, Charlene 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, the young girl prayed for other individuals to be healed or to be converted to Catholicism. The Director of Pediatrics at the hospital, Sister Theresita Crowley, OSF, also witnessed her calm acceptance of suffering and prayers for others. Father Brennan and Sister Theresita maintained that those for whom Charlene Richard prayed recovered from their illnesses or became Catholic. Richard died on August 11, 1959, about two weeks after meeting Father Brennan. She was later buried in her community of Richard, Louisiana.
In 1975, a series of articles about Charlene Richard in the newspaper of the Diocese of Lafayette increased interest in her story and were republished in a booklet, Charlene, A Saint from Southwest Louisiana, in 1979. Testimonials by individuals who believed that they had benefited by prayer to Charlene were added and then published as a book in 1988 entitled, Charlene: The Little Cajun Saint. A widespread belief formed in the area that Charlene would intercede in heaven in answer to the prayers directed to her.
By 1989, devotion and confidence in Charlene Richard’s intercession had spread outside the southwest of Louisiana with hundreds of people visiting her grave each week. On the thirtieth anniversary of her death in 1989, an outdoor Mass was celebrated by then Bishop Harry J. Flynn and was attended by more than four thousand people. Media coverage of the Mass expanded interest in her to a global audience and thousands visit her grave each year.
In January 2020, at the Immaculata Chapel in the Diocese of Lafayette, Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel officially opened the cause of beatification and canonization of the Servant of God Charlene Marie Richard.
Servant of God Auguste Robert Pelafigue
Auguste Robert Pelafigue was born on January 10, 1888. He was an unmarried man of the Catholic lay faithful who, by his profound simplicity of life and apostolic zeal, spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and participation in the Apostleship of Prayer to well over a thousand men, women, and children in his community.
As a young boy, Pelafigue traveled by boat with his family from France to the United States, settled in Arnaudville, Louisiana, and later he was given the nickname “Nonco.” In 1909, when he was 21, he left home to attend the Louisiana State Normal School in Natchitoches, Louisiana where he studied to become a teacher. It was during that time he became a member of the Apostleship of Prayer League of the Sacred Heart. He returned to Arnaudville and began to teach in public schools. In 1949, he joined the faculty of Arnaudville’s Little Flower Catholic School, the only man amongst a staff of women, all of whom were members of the religious order of the Marianite Sisters of the Holy Cross.
Throughout the community of Arnaudville, Pelafigue was known for his passionate devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. He organized the League of the Sacred Heart with some 1,200 members and 100 promoters who helped him distribute monthly leaflets in their communities. Pelafigue himself traveled throughout the community on foot to visit with his neighbors and deliver monthly Sacred Heart leaflets. Many people who recalled seeing him on this errand are said to have offered him a ride, but even in the poorest of weather conditions he always declined, saying that it was his way of doing penance for conversions and for the poor souls in purgatory. Pelafigue is said to have lived a life of radical simplicity, reluctantly accepting only the most rudimentary forms of electricity and plumbing. Nevertheless, he would pay the membership dues of the League of the Sacred Heart of his poorest members, making heroic personal sacrifice the measure of his charity.
In 1953, Pope Pius XII awarded Pelafigue with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontificemedal in recognition for his dedicated and humble service to the Catholic Church. For 24 more years, until he died, Pelafigue continuously spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In total, over the 68-year span of his apostolate, he promoted the intentions of 6 popes, until the day he died on June 6, 1977, which was that year the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
On June 6, 2012, the 35th anniversary of his death, the Auguste “Nonco” Pelafigue foundation was born with the mission of providing religious, educational, and charitable programs to continue his work, and to explore the possibility of his beatification and canonization by the Roman Catholic Church in recognition of his tireless commitment to it.
On January 11, 2020, at the Immaculata Chapel in the Diocese of Lafayette, Bishop Deshotel officially opened the cause of beatification and canonization of the Servant of God Auguste Robert “Nonco” Pelafigue.
Servant of God Joseph Dutton
Ira Barnes Dutton, known as Joseph Dutton or Brother Dutton, was born April 27, 1843, in Stowe, Vermont. His father, Ezra Dutton, was a farmer who also worked as a cobbler and his mother, Abigail Barnes, was a schoolteacher. The family moved to Janesville, Wisconsin in 1847. Dutton was interested in the military and became a member of the Janesville Zouave Corps. With the onset of the Civil War, the cadets of the Janesville Zouave Corps were enrolled, as Company B of the volunteer regiment, which later became known as the 13th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Dutton was soon appointed regimental quartermaster sergeant, later promoted to lieutenant and ultimately captain. After the war, he remained in service as a quartermaster’s agent on cemetery construction duty, which involved the task of disinterring bodies from scattered graves and reinterring them in national cemeteries.
Dutton was married on January 1, 1866, but when his wife left him a year later, it began a period in his life that Dutton later referred to as the “degenerate decade” where he engaged in heavy drinking. In July of 1876, he became “strictly an abstainer.”
Dutton was determined to do penance and make atonement for his “wild years,” and after studying the Catholic faith, he decided that being Catholic would best enable him to lead a penitential life. He was received into the Catholic Church at St. Peter’s in the city of Memphis on April 27, 1883, his 40th birthday, and took the name of “Joseph” as his name.
In 1884, he entered the Trappist Monastery at Gethsemane in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, where he stayed for 20 months, devoting himself to a life of hard work and silence. However, he realized that the best way for him to do penance was not through a life of contemplation but through a life of action and he left the monastery, with the blessing of the abbot.
The Servant of God Dutton first learned about Father Damien DeVeuster, now Saint Damien of Molokai, and the Kalaupapa leprosy settlement on the island of Molokai in Hawaii when he read the account The Lepers of Molokai, written by Charles Warren Stoddard. With Stoddard’s encouragement, he traveled to Hawaii, and with the approval of the bishop and the Board of Health, he went to Kalaupapa. Father Damien, who had just been diagnosed with leprosy, needed an assistant to help him carry on his work after he was gone. Dutton threw himself into the work and soon became an expert in caring for the patients’ medical needs. He was methodical and accurate in his work and quick to learn the rudiments of medicine and surgery.
Father Damien, who died in 1889 from leprosy, had established homes for the “orphan” boy and girl patients near his church and house. In 1888, Mother Marianne Cope, now Saint Marianne of Molokai, and the Franciscan Sisters had arrived to care for the girls in a new home in Kalaupapa. In 1892, at the request of Mother Marianne, Dutton was received as a Secular Third Order Franciscan and in 1895, he took charge of the Baldwin Home for Boys with a capacity of 120 beds for boys and young men. He labored there for the next 35 years. Joseph Dutton died at St. Francis Hospital in Honolulu on March 26, 1931.