Fr. Keith Pellerin, the pastor of St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Kinder, is pictured here as he delivers the homily during the Mass for the 59th anniversary of the death of his fourth cousin Charlene Richard. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks
Annual mass is held in memory of ‘The Little Cajun Saint’
When the Cajun and Creole ancestors of those currently living in South Louisiana first arrived, they brought with them vestiges of the ways of life from their native homeland. One major vestige is the faith that is taught by the Roman Catholic Church.
Evidence of this can be seen in the urban area of Lafayette where the bishop presides over the diocese but can also be found in parts such as rural Acadia Parish where Charlene Richard lived in the community of Richard.
Charlene was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia and died on August 11, 1959, at 12-years-old. While she was undergoing care at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Lafayette, she would offer her prayers and sufferings up to God for those of others.
Today, miracles are still being attributed to her prayer intercession, and there are hopes that her miracles will one day be validated by the Church in order to make her a saint.
Until that officially happens, a countless number of Catholics fill St. Edward Catholic Church in Richard every first Friday of August in memory of “The Little Cajun Saint.”
The Mass this year that was held Friday, August 3, marked the 59th anniversary of Charlene’s death and was offered for the ones involved who had passed away since last year’s Mass. One of those involved was Fr. Joseph Brennan, who was the first pastor of Our Lady Queen of All Saints Catholic Church in Ville Platte.
At the time of Charlene’s death, Fr. Brennan was the chaplain at Lourdes Hospital and ministered to her. He said about Charlene, “She was a faith-filled girl. I see Charlene as a witness for people of all ages to the power of resignation and acceptance of God’s will. She wasn’t different in any way except that when the crisis came in her life - and it came very early - she accepted it with faith and trust and love.”
This year’s Mass was also presided over by the pastor of St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Kinder Fr. Keith Pellerin, who is the fourth cousin of Charlene.
The main theme of Fr. Pellerin’s homily was about coming home. “As I was driving here, I was remembering that it’s so good to come back to the country area and to the family roots,” he said. “It’s like coming home. Today as we gather together, it really is about coming home, but we also know that our true home is with God.”
“The world is always telling us something different,” he continued. “It is telling us that our home is in this world and that the things of this world are important. But when we come here, we are renewed in hope. Everyone who comes to visit this gravesite of Charlene Richard comes to be renewed in hope that the home of our body and mind is not our true home. Our true home is with Jesus Christ.”
Fr. Pellerin then talked about how when Charlene was afraid that people would not believe her when she first started seeing apparitions of a lady in black. “It didn’t stop her,” he said. “It didn’t stop her from talking about it, from praying about it or from being renewed in faith and hope.”
He continued, “It didn’t stop her just like it didn’t stop Jesus. Even though people laughed at Him and rejected Him and crucified Him, it didn’t stop Him because His home, too, was not here.”
Fr. Pellerin then expressed the importance of remembering where our true home is. “It’s great to get together with family and friends in this wonderful life that we have,” he said. “It’s good to share a pound of boudin every now and then or a pound of cracklins or some good gumbo or some etoufée. It’s good to do that, but we always have to remind each other that none of us know the day or the hour. We have to be reminded that when we see each other is when we need to see the power of our true home that’s not here.”
Also in his homily, Fr. Pellerin compared the love Charlene had for others to God’s radical love that He has for us. “When Fr. Brennan was the chaplain, he would go see her, and she would ask him whom she needed to suffer for and pray for on that day,” he stated. “He gave her names and opportunities, and she took it upon herself with great love and with the power of God’s love that lived in her to offer her suffering for others.”
Fr. Pellerin ended his homily with his own witness story of the power of Charlene’s intercession. His mother Dorothy, who was Charlene’s third cousin, was diagnosed three years ago with a condition “where a sheath grew over a nerve ending that activated the muscles and ended up in her lungs.” Dorothy was not able to breathe on her own because of the condition.
“The doctors called the family in and said they had one opportunity for treatment,” Fr. Pellerin said. “My family began to gather around, and we began to ask for Charlene’s intercession day and night all day and begging God to truly hear our prayers. The whole time my mom was getting one liter of this treatment for five days, and the doctors said that if she didn’t make a turn then there was no other treatment.”
“On the third day of this treatment,” he continued, “my mom opened her eyes. We hadn’t seen her open her eyes in two weeks. On the fourth day, my mom was struggling because she had an intubation and wanted to get it out. She was trying to talk. By the fifth day, my mom was sitting up in bed. The doctor was saying that the treatment worked but there was no medical reason why she was doing so well.”
As he concluded his homily, Fr. Pellerin gave his hope for all believers. “My hope is that you never give up, never stop praying, and never stop believing,” he said. “For some reason, God gathers us together and restores and renews that belief and that hope. Keep believing and keep striving in your faith, and God will answer every single prayer in a way that it needs to be answered to usher us to the gift of eternal salvation.”