Efforts on behalf of gaining sainthood status for two lay Catholics from the Diocese of Lafayette will now be in the hands of people at and around the Vatican, a diocesan spokeswoman said. And it might take a couple of years — or more than a couple of generations — to settle the matter.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops this week voted to advance the causes for beatification and canonization of Auguste “Nonco” Pelafigue and Charlene Richard at their fall meeting in Baltimore. The former was a schoolteacher, catechist and steadfast supporter of the League of the Sacred Heart and Apostleship of Prayer League who lived most of his life in an around Arnaudville. Richard was a schoolgirl in Acadia Parish who, diagnosed at 12 with a fatal case of leukemia, offered up her suffering in prayer for others.

Both have enthusiastic groups of local supporters who have pressed for their canonizations, a process that was formally launched Jan. 11, 2020, at the Immaculata Chapel in Lafayette by Most Rev. Douglas Deshotel, bishop of Lafayette. On that cold morning before 200 people, the bishop signed documents recognizing Pelafigue and Richard as “servants of God,” an early step in the canonization process.

At the bishop’s fall meeting in Baltimore on Wednesday, Deshotel and Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, who chairs the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, led discussion of the causes for Pelafigue and Richard. By a voice vote, the bishops affirmed support for advancing the cause to Rome. As bishop in the diocese where both Pelafigue and Richard died, Deshotel was responsible for beginning the process locally.

“It was a joyful moment to hear a unanimous voice vote supporting our pursuit of both causes,” Deshotel said, adding that not many of the bishops had been familiar with either Pelafigue or Richard. But they were inspired by the faith journeys related about both lay people.

Now cases for both Pelafigue and Richard will be compiled by Don Luis Fernando Escalante, a native of Argentina and a postulator from Rome. He will put together a file to present the plea for beatification and canonization at the Vatican. A postulator is someone appointed to guide the cause for sainthood, especially through the second and third phases of the process, beatification and canonization. Escalante is expected to visit the area again in the spring.

The postulator will work through a complex process with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome to document the evidence from the diocese to prove heroic exercise of virtue or martyrdom. After examination of facts and by a panel of theologians, cardinals and bishops in the congregation will decide whether to move the case to the pope. The pope decides on beatification and canonization, but proof of miracles is necessary.

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Charles Hardy, Pelafigue’s grand nephew and president-elect of the Auguste “Nonco” Pelafigue Foundation, said compiling the records of Pelafigue and Richard for presentation in Rome might take some time — at least a year or two.

Of special concern in the process is documenting miracles attributable to Pelafigue or Richard. Witnesses have offered examples of what they believe to be miracles about both Pelafigue and Richard, but documentation is exacting and can be exhaustive.

There are 11 American saints. In the Diocese of Lafayette, evidence of a miracle involving St. John Berchmans, a Jesuit born in 1599 in what is now Belgium, was confirmed more than two centuries later after he was said to have appeared to a novice nun at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, not far from Arnaudville, in 1866. The novice, Mary Wilson, prayed that Berchmans would intercede on her behalf for recovery from dire illness; she was immediately cured. There is a shrine to Berchmans at the Academy of the Sacred Heart.

The cause of the Rev. Verbis Lafleur, a priest in the diocese of Lafayette who served churches in Opelousas and Abbeville, has also been started on the road to sainthood. Deshotel expressed his support for the cause for Lafleur on the same January 2020 morning that he initiated the causes for Richard and Pelafigue.

Lafleur left parish work in World War II to become an Army chaplain and was taken prisoner by the Japanese in The Philippines in 1942. He spent two years in prisoner of war camps and was en route to Japan on a POW ship in 1944 when it sank off the coast of the Philippines. Lafleur was lauded for heroic defense of U.S. POWs in his service and for helping to rescue prisoners when their ship sank.

His cause for canonization began in September 2020.


Email Ken Stickney at kstickney@theadvocate.com.