Heart of Louisiana: Cajun Saint

Published: Aug. 16, 2011 at 11:40 PM CDT|Updated: Jan. 11, 2013 at 3:23 PM CST
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St. Edwards Catholic Church sits in the middle of the Cajun prairie in the tiny settlement of Richard. People who come here say this is a place of miracles.

For more than 50 years, the people of this church and Catholics from around the world have been praying to a 12 year-old girl, Charlene Richard. Although not officially a saint, it's believed she has performed miracles.

Once a year, Sean McGowan and his wife Mary Margaret drive from their home in Houston to the church and cemetery in Richard to pray at the graveside of Charlene.

"This is one of God's miracles. God works in unknown ways. It's not for us to understand, it's for us to accept it," said McGowan. "She's given us grace, they're not real big things, but they're meaningful, recognizable."

By all accounts, Charlene was a normal, playful child from a devout Catholic family who had her life cut short in 1959.

Charlene's live changed drastically when she was just 12 years old and she saw the vision of a woman standing near an oak tree.

John Dale Richard, Charlene's older brother, remembers his sister seeing the same thing the next day. And then the pain started, and Charlene's diagnosis was a death sentence.

"She came back soon after. She ran into the house and she was afraid. She told our mother she saw a lady all dressed in black and she couldn't make out her face," he says. She was diagnosed with Acute Lymphatic Leukemia, and from that time she lived 13 days and she was dead," said John Dale.

But Richard says it is what his sister did in those final days, and after her death, that have made her so special.

"She had so much faith, she knew she was dying and she accepted that," Richard said.

For the last two weeks of her life, Charlene prayed with the hospital chaplain, and each day she offered her sufferings for others. And then after her death, people began to speak of miracles they attribute to Charlene, including stories of unexplained healings.

"This was a newborn, and the doctor called the family because she was not expected to make it. The grandfather came and he had a prayer cloth and picture of Charlene's, and he put it on the child and he started praying. And they saw the child getting well from that instant," John Dale said.

"The healing of the cancer of Rock Roy's daughter, when Rock Roy brought her up here and healed her. It's the biggest thing to me," said McGowan.

McGowan once served on a committee in the Diocese of Lafayette for the Formation of Sainthood for Charlene. That effort continues today.

Sandra Hanley Strassner now lives in Houston. she also returns to Richard each year.

"Just the simple fact that she was not so afraid to die, that she had this eternal peace, and that's what I find when I come to this area of the country is this undying faith and peace," says Strassner.

It's said that a day doesn't go by that someone doesn't stop in the grave and pray.

"To think that people that you have never seen write to you and tell you their intimate life and how they were blessed through Charlene," her brother says.

There are more stories of miracles, countless blessings and endless prayers offered to Charlene.

As is the case in most year, the annual Mass of Petition for Charlene Richard at St. Edwards Catholic Church was attended by a standing room only crowd of worshipers.

Thousands of people visit the child's grave on the church grounds.

For more information, go to http://www.charlenerichard.net/