Charlene Richard: Narrative, Transmission, & Function of a Contemporary Saint Legend

By Donna McGee Onebane


As a child growing up in the prairies of southwest Louisiana in the late 1950s, I spent long summer afternoons brooding over the lives of the saints and martyrs as recounted to us in dreadful detail by the Grey Nuns of the Cross, our teachers at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School. There was Joan of Arc who was burned at the stake for her faith, Saint Francis of Assisi who bore the stigmata of Christ, and, of course, who could forget Saint John the Baptist who was beheaded for his devotion to God. My impressionable mind would devour the images of piercing thorns and warm blood, the unimaginable humiliations, and the slow, agonizing death experienced by these super-human beings. Though I fervently believed in their existence and travails, I consoled myself with the thought that they and their heroic deeds were from a dim and distant past, and, most importantly, from a mysterious foreign land far, far away from the rice fields of southwest Louisiana. Certainly I could not imagine the possibility of a saint living among us in a remote French-speaking Cajun community named Richard. Yet in the last 43 years, I have witnessed the gradual "making of a saint" of one who lived among us. A typical brown-eyed, brunette, twelve-year-old Cajun girl named Charlene Richard, who died from acute lymphatic leukemia, has acquired a cult of thousands from around the world who firmly believes in her special intercessory powers with God.1

How could this be? She lived in my community and she was only six years older than me. She was not a martyr, nor an ascetic. She was described as an "average child," sometimes even "troublesome." Some who had known her were even rude in their assessment of her: "She ain't no saint" (Gaudet 1994: 160). As a folklorist, I wanted to conduct an objective study of a very personal and sacred folk belief that originated in my own back yard.

The purpose of this essay is to explore the saint legend narrative of Charlene Richard, from her childhood, through her illness and death, to the countless testimonials proclaiming her special intercessory powers, to the formation of a cult formed in order to spread her legend and to gain support for her eventual canonization. I will examine the transmission of this local legend that has been disseminated world wide in only a few decades. Finally, this study will investigate the function that this legend serves in the lives of the individual devotees who travel great distances to visit her tomb, the effect this legend has had on the small rural community where she lived her short life, and what the legend of Charlene reveals about the culture from which she has emerged.

Figure 1. Charlene Richard prayer card, front and back.

The Legend Narrative

In an amazing simplicity, Richard resident Frozine Thibodeaux captures the Charlene legend: "She was a neighbor with us, living in the field back there. She was a nice little girl. She had a long illness. She died in Lafayette in the hospital, and she did a lot of miracles. And they're going to make a show with her [Unsolved Mysteries]." Though Frozine captures the main components of the narrative, the particulars are what make this contemporary saint legend so compelling.

The story begins in 1947 when Mary Alice Richard, wife of Joseph Elvin Richard, gave birth to a baby girl, the second of ten children, whom they named Charlene. According to Mrs. Richard, she had the same interests as other young girls her age-horseback riding, baseball, and basketball. She had an active imagination that inspired her to write plays and then perform them for family and friends along with other children. Charlene and her parents lived in the heart of Richard where almost everyone was a musician, so she liked music and dancing. She was a good student who never wanted to miss a day of school. Like the other girls her age, she was a devout Catholic who liked to "play Mass" with her brother John Dale. She recited her rosary daily and even erected a small altar in her room with a picture of the Blessed Mother, a crucifix, and an old bible. Daily she placed fresh flowers on her altar.

On an otherwise typical day in the life of a young child, while playing outside, Mrs. Richard reports that her daughter came running into the house very pale and shaken. She told her mother:

Mama, you won't believe this. I know you'll laugh at me, but it really did happen. Mama, I saw a lady, a tall lady dressed in black. She stopped me. I looked up and saw something shaped like a woman but I couldn't see her face. I was scared. When I asked her, "'In the name of God, what do you want?" she just sailed under the oak tree and disappeared. (Mary Alice Richard qtd. in Gutierrez 41)

Her brother reports that the tall lady in black appeared to her the next day, as well. A few weeks later, her teacher sent a note saying that Charlene was "not herself," and that her mother should take her to a doctor. She was taken to a specialist who informed her parents that she had acute lymphatic leukemia and did not have long to live.

While in a Lafayette hospital, she was visited by the hospital chaplain, Father Brennan, who was asked to inform Charlene that she was dying. According to Father Brennan, he announced to her, "Charlene, soon a beautiful lady will come to take you home to heaven with her." Her response was, "I will tell her Father Brennan says hello." Each day she offered her suffering for the benefit of someone else who was suffering. On August 11, 1959, she passed away, sixteen days after entering the hospital, "accepting God's will with faith and trust and love."

According to Father Brennan, he was so impressed by Charlene's great faith and love for others that he asked for her help shortly after her death. Going back into her room, he asked her to help another terminally ill patient in the hospital, a lapsed Catholic who was refusing to receive a priest and the sacraments. According to Father Brennan, that same night, the patient requested a priest to administer the sacraments to him. Father Brennan began asking for Charlene's help on a regular basis and he began to spread the word about her. He recalls, "I said to myself, nobody is going to believe me."

But they did. He told her story to his friend, Father Floyd Calais. In 1961 when Father Calais became ill, he remembered the stories Father Brennan had told him about Charlene. "That's when I asked for Charlene's help for good health and for a new parish. In two weeks, I was assigned to Saint Edward's parish in Richard." What Father Calais was to learn later was that his new parish was Charlene Richard's home, and the rectory where he was going to live was only a few hundred feet away from Charlene's grave. Thus began a legendary relationship between Father Calais and his "little girl friend."

Father Calais' mission was to build a new church at Saint Edward's parish. "How was I going to do that with no money?" he asked. "So I went to my little girl friend, and told her I needed help, that I couldn't do it without her. And the money started coming in." Two and a half years later, November 28, 1963, on Thanksgiving Day and his birthday, Father Calais said the first mass in the new church. Even after he left Saint Edward's parish, Father Calais accompanied others who had special problems to Charlene's tomb. Over the years, the stories of her intercessory powers spread.

Barbara Gutierrez recounts in dramatic detail the testimonials of several lay people who claim that Charlene's intercessory powers brought about miracles in their lives. First, there is the story of Angelique Marcantel who was diagnosed by the attending physician as a Down's Syndrome baby. Her mother, Jean Marcantel, from Lake Charles, Louisiana prayed to Charlene: "You know what it means to be a child, the freedom and the fun. I know you are with Mary in heaven. Please, for the sake of my child, ask Mary to intercede with her son, Jesus. . . ." According to the family, in the next six hours, a transformation began. When the pediatrician examined the baby, he declared that she was "perfectly normal." The attending physician stated in a written testimony: "If there were ever a miracle in the field of obstetrics and newborns, this is certainly one" (Gutierrez 1998: 112-115).

A second lay testimony comes from the Price family in Morgan City, Louisiana whose child, Nicole, was one of five children in the area to develop neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer. One day in the hospital, Nicole persistently asked to talk with Charlene. The confused parents had no idea who she was talking about. When the parents of another child with neuroblastoma contacted the Price family, they reported that they had been to Charlene Richard's grave. After explaining who Charlene was, Nicole's grandmother, Miriam Price, said, "It hit me like a bolt of lightning, my hair stood up" (121). The Price family took Nicole to Charlene's tomb and when she saw the picture of Charlene on the grave, she said, "That's Charlene" (122). It always remained a mystery how Nicole had come to know Charlene.

In time, the other four children with neuroblastoma passed away, but with chemotherapy, Nicole seemed to be in remission - at least for a while. Then one-day doctors discovered another tumor that was suspected to be malignant. This time the Price family called Father Calais to go to Charlene's grave to ask for help again. When the lab reports came back, it seemed that Nicole had once again narrowly escaped a dire fate - the tumor was benign. For years, the doctors were very optimistic that Nicole was in full remission. Nicole's grandmother said, "We believe that God answered our prayers. We have no doubt whatsoever that Charlene's prayers played a part in all of this."

Six years later, the effects of the many chemotherapy treatments began to take its toll on the nine-year-old girl. On May 4, 1997, Nicole's long battle ended. But the Price family believes that her death was not in vain. Nicole's grandmother says that Nicole and Charlene gave her the strength to begin a fight against the hazardous waste company responsible for the deaths of the five children. She won the war against the hazardous waste company, finally forcing them out of business in 2002.

In retrospect, Miriam Price does not "hold a grudge against Him [God] because he has taken her. Instead, I thank Him for the 11 years He let me have her." Does she still believe in Charlene's powers? Absolutely. She said:

I see Charlene as a saint, who worked with Nicole while she was here. I think Charlene is the one that taught Nicole what she needed to know to leave behind a legacy of her own for her family. . . . I don't ask for help for Nicole anymore. Now my prayers are in thanksgiving. The real miracle is that through Charlene, my faith has been strengthened and my belief in the power of prayer has grown stronger. (134-135)

Gutierrez relates the stories of three other apparent miracles. There is the story of Alyse, the premature baby born to Tina and Paul Graham of Lafayette who had been disconnected from life support, waiting to die, when the grandfather, Gerald Taylor, placed a prayer card for Charlene on the dying infant's body (see Figure 1). Immediately the gray body began to turn pink and the oxygen gauge shot up from 20 to 95. All of the hospital staff, including the attending physician, have signed their name to a written statement that claims that they "witnessed a miracle." The final line reads, "What a beautiful miracle, glory be to God through Charlene" (143-151). The last two stories in Gutierrez's book give the testimony of Jennifer Corner, who had cervical cancer, and Tara Roy, who had a rare colon cancer that spread to her lymph nodes. Both young women survived their seemingly impossible fight with the deadly diseases. Both claim that it was through Charlene's intercession. Again, the doctors are astonished at their patients' recovery. Lafayette oncologist Dr. Luis Mesa stated in a 1998 television interview that Tara was "touched by some force that sometimes we do not understand in medicine" (137-163).

The Charlene legend narrative has many noteworthy characteristics. First, it is significant to note that this legend is continually in flux since the list of testimonials continues to grow. With each new testimonial, the legend is reinforced. Second, it is also important that the testimonials are not just accounts from anonymous persons, but specifically-named individuals who live in surrounding areas (Morgan City, Lake Charles, etc.) who can be contacted for verification. Third, the veracity of these testimonials seems further reinforced by the written testimony of authoritative sources, i.e., specifically-named local doctors and nurses. Finally, the pattern of belief is also striking in that, in the beginning, those who knew Charlene the best when she was alive were skeptical about the stories they were hearing about one of their own being called a saint. Even her mother, Mary Alice Richard, described her daughter as an "average child [who was] no different than anyone else." It is interesting that although thousands visit Charlene's tomb, her mother admits that she does not go very often. "I feel like I don't get the satisfaction I should get. I can think about her and remember her the way she was over here at home just as well." Mrs. Richard remains unimpressed and even somewhat confused by all of the attention her daughter has attracted. She thinks of Charlene as just another one of her children, no greater or lesser than the nine others. Gutierrez reports that in the beginning of her investigation, Charlene's father, Joseph Elvin Richard, "objected to participating in the process." She had been informed by the Richard family that he was "always sensitive to the situation of so many believing in Charlene was a saint, and that he still had problems with it" (71-72). Richard native Dean McGee echoes this typical egalitarian attitude of rural Cajuns: "I think everybody who leads a good life could be canonized." Dean's daughter, Theresa McGee, was the same age as Charlene and knew her through church activities in the 1950s. Theresa recalled that Charlene "was just like all the other girls." This local reaction should come as no surprise when one considers the two hundred year history of Richard, a typical Cajun community where no one individual is ever placed above the other, where Pride and its ugly cousin Pretension are scorned above all other sins. It was (and to some, still is) inconceivable that "one of their own," who played with their children in their back yards, who attended the same school and church, who had faults like everyone else, could be a saint.

Ironically, belief in Charlene's special powers was much stronger from individuals outside the community. "First, the very fact that she was," as Father Brennan recognized, "an average child from a simple, rural Louisiana community. There is a mystique about this." This is probably why outsiders were able to accept Charlene as a candidate for sainthood sooner than the local community. It is significant that the organization Friends of Charlene is based not in Richard, but in Lafayette, the major urban center of the region and forty miles away. Chairman Steve Vincent states that he receives requests for prayer cards and information on Charlene from places all over the world such as Sri Lanka, South America, and the Philippines. These outsiders seem to have no problem believing that a little girl from the tiny community of Richard could be a saint.

Yet, as Friends of Charlene collected testimonials of apparent miracles, each new testimonial reinforced the local community's belief in Charlene's intercessory powers and her legend became firmly entrenched. Local resident Frozine Thibodeaux had heard many stories of miracles, but she knew of no stories that involved local people. There are "none around here, but many for people who come from outside." But Richard native Norris Melancon had heard stories that circulated in the community involving Charlene's family: "There's so many miracles that happened in her family." He recounts how doctors had given up on Charlene's aunt after having a heart attack. Charlene's brother, John Dale, "jumped on the table. He started saying, 'Charlene, help me. Charlene, help me,'" and she recovered.

In time, most in the Richard community came to believe in Charlene's special intercessory powers largely in part because of the credibility of those telling her story. Evon Melancon says that after hearing Father Calais and Father Brennan talk about Charlene, she was "impressed." Evon says, "I believe after hearing Father talk about it that there really was something." Etta Guidry, a one hundred-year-old native of the area, enthusiastically agreed: "I'm a great believer. Every morning when I'd go to Mass, I'd go to her grave before I'd go to church." Charlene's father, right before he passed away in 1990, when asked by Gutierrez if he prayed to Charlene said, "Every day. Every day I say a prayer to her" (71-73).

Transmission of a Modern Saint Legend

In The Passing of a Saint, John M. Mecklin has noted that a saint is a "child of folklore or the wisdom of the people" (1941: 17). Since only the dead can be canonized as saints, their story is dependent upon the judgment and recollection of others. Pierre Delooz, author of Saints and Their Cults, believes that canonized sainthood is "born in the opinion of others," and argues that saints are "more or less constructed" since they are "remodeled in the collective representation which is made of them" (1983: 195). It follows that opinion must be strong enough to provide the impetus for a cult or a grassroots movement that will circulate the story of the saint among the folk. If the story is compelling and if it is believed to be true by the folk, it ripens into an orally transmitted legend that eventually gains enough acceptance to warrant church involvement.

But the transmission of the legend of Charlene followed a different path than is typical of other saint legends. Marcia Gaudet has pointed out: "It is significant that in Charlene's case, the stories started not with the folk, but with the Catholic 'establishment.' Typically, church officials tend to discourage a local saint's cult" (1994: 156). Charlene's legend began in the hospital even before she died. It was there Charlene's mother first heard about her "specialness" from Father Brennan and the attending nun, Sister Theresita (Gaudet 1994: 155). After her death, it did not take long for these stories to spread. When Father Calais began to tell about his experiences with Charlene, the legend began to spread. Saint Edward's parishioner Delia Link recalled that it was Father Calais "who pushed this" (qtd. in Gaudet 1994: 161).

In addition to oral transmission, in 1979, the legend of Charlene was put in print, lending a new kind of credibility and permanency to it. That year, Barbara Gutierrez was commissioned to write a series of articles for the diocesan newspaper The Morning Star that was eventually published as a booklet named Charlene: A Saint From Southwest Louisiana. Now the legend of Charlene Richard was in print, and could be distributed over wide areas. Books were widely distributed and interest grew quickly.

Eventually a cult (i.e., a community of religious veneration) developed. According to Father Brennan, this is a typical and necessary stage in the process toward canonization. On January 17, 1991, thirty-two years after Charlene's death, an organization called Friends of Charlene was formed. The group collects information, including testimonials of cures and petitions that have been answered through Charlene's intercession, and is responsible for expanding the transmission of her legend by distributing printed information such as booklets, prayer cards, newsletters, and bumper stickers. Friends of Charlene has a membership of over one thousand national and international members.

In August, 1989, Friends of Charlene organized the first Anniversary Mass marking the thirtieth anniversary of Charlene's death. Over five thousand devotees descended on the tiny community of Richard, which became the setting of a media event with several television crews (including CNN) and print journalists in attendance, turning this local folk legend into national and international news. For the last fourteen years, Saint Edwards continues the tradition of the Anniversary Mass. In the last few years, in order to reduce the massive crowd of the first year, other churches in many other areas celebrate a mass for Charlene. The Anniversary Mass is always held on the Friday evening closest to August 11, the date of Charlene's death.

Though the crowd of devotees and media has dwindled in Richard (approximately 350 people attended the 2002 mass), the faith and fervor of those in attendance is palpable. Before the mass, Charlene's steadfast followers first visit her grave, which for many is not the first time. They kneel and pray and touch the grave, the headstone, and her picture (see Figure 2). Then, as they enter the vestibule of the church, they collect prayer cards and various handouts and memorabilia and also sign their name in a book. In 2001, Mr. Gerald Taylor, the grandfather of the premature infant, Alyse, handed out flyers describing how Charlene saved his granddaughter. In fact, many of those in attendance were beneficiaries of Charlene's intercessory powers. Also, for the past several years, copies of Barbara Gutierrez's most recent book were available for purchase.

After the mass, the Charlene Richard Knights of Columbus in full regalia led the procession to Charlene's grave. Solemnity permeated the atmosphere and many shed tears as they lined up to touch the tomb one last time. Stories told in hushed tones floated through the air. One resident of Richard told how close to death he was a few months ago and gives Charlene the credit for his recovery. "I believe!" he proudly asserts, as his wife earnestly nodded her head in agreement.

Other means of transmittal of Charlene's legend include a music CD named Cajun Saint produced by Ray Richard, Charlene's uncle. This is a collection of Cajun and country songs, with the first song recounting the life and legend of Charlene. In the year 2000, the parishioners of Saint Edwards hosted the Charlene Fest which included one of Charlene's relatives dressed as Charlene, as well as many local residents who portrayed their ancestors who built the community of Richard. Professional actor Caroline McGee performed a play based on my ethnography, Pointe Noire: A Study of Place and Identity (Pointe Noire is a former name for the Richard area). In addition, the Charlene Fest provided entertainment, live music, and a street fair.

Transmittal of Charlene's legend was further encouraged by a three-and-a-half hour tape produced by KSLO radio station in Opelousas, Louisiana which includes interviews with Charlene's mother, family members, and Father Calais. By 2001, Charlene's legend made it to the prime time television series, Unsolved Mysteries and is listed on their Web site as on of their "most popular stories."

The legend of Charlene, having been transmitted orally, in print, on radio and prime time TV, was catapulted into cyberspace through computer technology and the Internet. With the click of a mouse, her legend is being transmitted to millions around the globe. A quick survey on one search engine (Google) turns up 14 Web sites that list the legend of Charlene Richard, including where Barbara Gutierrez advertises her new book for $22, along with contact information for Friends of Charlene. KSLO Radio's Web site advertises their tape, Our Little Cajun Saint Collectors' Edition, which can be purchased for $39.95. Zydeco Cajun Scenic Byways Web site exhibits a picture of Charlene's grave, and Haunted Sites of Louisiana also lists her gravesite. Find a Grave tells Charlene's story and lists over 50 petitions to her. The Web sites for the towns of Church Point, Eunice, Opelousas, and the Acadia Parish Economic Development Corporation list Charlene's gravesite as a "tourist attraction." Clearly, in 44 years, the Charlene legend has spread across the globe.

Figure 2. Devotees gather at Charlene Richard's tomb. Photo: Donna McGee Onebane.

Function of the Charlene Legend

It is evident that Charlene plays an important role in the lives of the individuals of the community, as well as believers from around the world, in spite of the fact that veneration of saints is not considered necessary for salvation by official church doctrine. Saint legends have survived centuries of changes within the church, including the widespread removal of saints' statues within churches. Given these facts, one can only conclude that saints' legends must perform some vital function within the individual and within the culture. What does Charlene's legend reveal about the culture? About the legend's individual believers?

Saints are mirrors of the culture that creates them, reflecting the values that are important to that particular culture. Father Brennan attributes Charlene's popularity to her simplicity, piety, faith, and acceptance of God's will. At the thirtieth Anniversary Mass, he said: "Today we live in a society dominated by Wall Street, Madison Avenue, and the Pentagon-a philosophy of money, power and success. Yet, thousands have come here, not to hear about power, but to learn about the power of humility" (Saint Edward's 1990: 28), something which the folk of Richard and Cajuns, in general, had had much experience. After having survived a long history living among the wealthier, more powerful Américains, it is no coincidence that a folk saint emerging from Richard would not only be humble and ordinary, but indeed powerless, in this case, against the forces of disease. Acute lymphatic leukemia rendered this child helpless; but instead of fighting it, she calmly accepted her fate, even offering her daily sufferings for others in need. This acceptance of God's will is a basic tenet of the Roman Catholic Church which plays such a significant role in the lives of Catholic Cajuns and is perhaps why she has been called by many "The Cajun Saint."

Lawrence Cunningham in The Meaning of Saints has written that through their life and death, saints provide the culture with a lesson in living and dying, and they give individuals a standard by which they may judge their own lives (1980: 83). Saints demonstrate "potentialities of goodness" within human beings. Cunningham notes the value of saints in the lives of the average individual: "They give us encouragement to be more self-giving, more loving, less inclined to hate, more compelled to love. They invite us, in short, to transcend ourselves" (1980: 162). Richard native Woodrow Daigle's feelings about Charlene echo this sentiment: "I'm not like I used to be. Because of her, I don't curse any more and I am a much better man." Steve Vincent, director of Friends of Charlene, claims that after hearing the story of Charlene and visiting her grave, he experienced a conversion. "I turned my life around that day. I am no longer concerned with material things. I care about others more and I want to do things that have real meaning in life." As William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience stated, "It is not possible to be quite as mean as we naturally are, when they have passed before us" (1958: 277).

The saint whom a culture venerates also reveals its fears (Wilson 1983: 4). Certainly death is a fear of most cultures in every period of history. Though we all must face death, we hope that it will not come through long suffering. Father Brennan says that he observed this twelve-year-old girl accept the news of her fate and embrace her suffering with great courage. He remembers that she "settled in and accepted it-no complaining, no blaming God." In fact, every day when he visited her, "she looked up at me with those big, brown Cajun eyes and asked, 'Who am I going to offer my suffering for today?" Father Brennan calls this "redemptive suffering," embracing pain for the benefit of others. Reminiscent of Christ's agony, Charlene's redemptive suffering was described by her mother as "offering her blood for others." The "Prayer to Charlene Richard" printed on a prayer card also makes the correlation: "You joined yourself to Jesus on His Cross and offered your intense pain for others. You thereby echoed Saint Paul's words . . . 'Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.'" Father Brennan sees death as another of life's crises. "Crisis is the burning point. We either grow, or crumble. This twelve-year-old child showed us how to face and accept death. She chose to grow." Charlene's calm acceptance of her fate and her redemptive suffering represent the highest values of her culture. As Father Brennan said, "We read many books that tell us how to live, but Charlene taught us how to die."

Visitation of Charlene's grave has become a ritual for many locals who visit her tomb regularly either before or after mass. Frozine Thibodeaux and her husband are regulars. "We used to go every morning to church. We went to pray to Charlene's grave-we made some novenas. She helped us a lot." Woodrow and Thelma Daigle claim that when life gets "rocky," they feel a strong urge to visit her and they always return feeling encouraged. The Daigles have prayed for causes such as heart disease, collection of Social Security checks, and financial security during a period of unemployment. They have brought several visitors to Charlene's tomb. They state, "Charlene takes care of us, so we like to share her with others too."

"Sharing her with others" has resulted in a steady stream of outside visitors who flock to pray for her help. Sometimes busloads have descended on the tiny community. Most leave ex votos such as pictures, letters, meals, flowers, rosaries, coins, and money. Charlene's mother incredulously laments: "They just leave beautiful rosaries there!" The devoted usually make vows when visiting her tomb. In a quid pro quo pact, the faithful ask for her to pray for various causes. Former pastor of Saint Edwards, Father Arthur Warren, collected these petitions which he characterized as "everything from foolishness, like 'Please make John meet the right girl,' to the most serious illnesses and problems, like 'Please help me to accept my terminal disease." He sees pain and fear in the petitions, yet there is great faith and hope. Local resident Sylvia McGee insists: "You have to have strong faith in order to have your prayers answered."


What effect has Charlene's fame had on Richard? One can only imagine their reaction on August 11, 1989 when an estimated four thousand people descended on this tiny community with umbrellas and lawn chairs, filled with hope and devotion to Charlene on the thirtieth anniversary of her death. I remember my mother called me in Lafayette that evening when she returned home from the event, deeply moved by the emotional fervor of the crowd that gathered around Charlene's tomb at sunset. It was then that she realized that Charlene was no longer just "ours," but now belonged to a much wider community. Indeed, it was a watershed moment in the two hundred year history of this Cajun community.

At present, the Louisiana Department of Tourism has plans underway to include Richard, along with Robert's Cove and Grand Coteau, as one of the three destinations on a tour of sacred sites in Louisiana. One thing is certain-Charlene's legend is here to stay. The Lafayette Advertiser summed it up best: "For hundreds, even thousands of faithful who have learned the story of Charlene Marie Richard, the lack of official sanction by the church is just a minor concern" (Gaudet 1994: 157). Whether she will eventually be canonized or not is a moot point. Her legend is firmly rooted in the lore of folk culture, as well as the lore of the local Catholic Church. More significant is the function she plays in the lives of those who venerate her. Charlene is not only a role model, but a compassionate friend who is always available to listen and to offer hope.


Brennan, Joseph. 1 Dec. 1995. Interview by author.

Calais, Floyd. 21 Nov. 1995. Interview by author.

Cunningham, Lawrence. 1980. The Meaning of Saints. San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row.

Delooz, Pierre. 1983. Towards a Sociological Study of Canonized Sainthood in the Catholic Church. In Saints and Their Cults: Studies in Religious Sociology, Folklore and History, ed. Stephen Wilson. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Gaudet, Marcia. 1994. Charlene Richard: Folk Veneration among the Cajuns. Southern Folklore 51 (2): 153-66.

--------. 3 March 1999. Interview by author.

Guidry, Etta. 8 Aug. 1998. Interview by author.

Gutierrez, Barbara Lenox. 1988. Charlene: A Saint from Southwest Louisiana. Lafayette, LA: n.p. [privately published].

--------. 2002. Charlene: The Little Cajun Saint. Lynd Publishing.

James, William. 1958. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York, NY: Mentor.

McGee, Dean. 28 July 1998. Interview by author.

McGee, Sylvia. 26 Nov. 1995. Interview by author.

McGee, Theresa. 3 Dec. 1998. Interview by author.

Mecklin, John M. 1941. The Passing of the Saint: A Study of a Cultural Type. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Melancon, Evon. 7 Nov. 1998. Interview by author.

Melancon, Norris. 7 Nov. 1998. Interview by author.

Richard, Mary Alice. 11 Nov. 1995. Interview by author.

Saint Edward's Church: Golden Anniversary. 1990. n.p.

Thibodeaux, Frozine LeJeune. 21 Nov. 1998. Interview by author.

Vincent, Steve. 29 Nov. 1995. Interview by author.

Wilson, Stephen. 1983. Introduction. In Saints and Their Cults: Studies in Religious Sociology, Folklore and History. Ed. Stephen Wilson. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.


1. This article is an excerpt of Onebane's 1999 dissertation, Voices of Pointe Noire: A Study of Place and Identity, University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

This article was originally published in the 2000 issue of the Louisiana Folklore Miscellany and is reprinted with permission. Donna McGee Onebane received a Ph.D. in English with a major in Folklore at the University of Louisiana. She is a south Louisiana cultural researcher and writer.