The Little Cajun Saint
January 21, 2023 7:00 AM   Subscribe

The Miraculous Life and Afterlife of Charlene Richard. In 1959, a bright and devout young girl died of leukemia in Lafayette, Louisiana. Over the next sixty years, her story was transformed, beginning with folk sainthood in America's most Catholic country and traveling through the machinations of creating saints in an embattled modern Church.
NYT Magazine longread with option to listen; gift link.

(A slightly older story that only just popped up for me.)
posted by Countess Elena (7 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up in Lafayette, first I've ever heard of this story but it doesn't surprise me. Devout Cajun Catholics are weird to me, y'all. (Maybe it's just devout Catholics who are weird to me in general, but every facet of this article felt familiar, I don't know these specific people but have known so many like them.)
posted by LooseFilter at 8:53 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]

Play NORCO, the video game.

Childhood Leukemia is also not a divine accident in Louisiana. if the EPA NATA is to be believed, Louisiana's Childhood Leukemia rates are the work of a fallen World, specifically ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical.

What is a miracle is that local Jesuits have come out against the new Formosa Plastics mega-facility, because it is racist, and because it will cause abortions.

The Manresa retreat center is also within its airshed.
posted by eustatic at 10:46 AM on January 21 [9 favorites]

My heart breaks for this poor girl, who not only died too soon, but was told that she should endure suffering for some divine purpose rather than given morphine.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:05 PM on January 21 [8 favorites]

I grew up in Detroit before Father Solanus Casey was beatified (he ministered to my great-grandmother! it's a whole family story) and the local devotion sounds extremely similar to what was going on when I was a kid. Including the field trips (though we went to the Capuchin monastery where he was the doorman). I think I always assumed every community had their own version of Father Solanus?
posted by Tesseractive at 1:46 PM on January 21

eustatic: that game sounds amazing -- thanks for the tip and for the context. The writers should have made much more of the possible correlation; if it's true, she was indeed a martyr.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:12 PM on January 21

So let me get this straight…they exhumed the body of a child, removed it to a church—not a hospital, funeral home, or morgue—laid this child’s body out on an altar, removed her finger bones and hair, returned the body to a steel casket, then bagged up the filthy altar cloth that the body was resting on and sent it to the woman leading the cause for this poor child’s sainthood.

I was raised by a Catholic mom who once explained “we’re not big on relics,” so my family was definitely not of the holy-water-and-bleeding-heart-pictures variety, but this is beyond barbaric. I’m familiar with the power of ritual objects but if this little girl is interceding for people in heaven, nobody needs her finger bones to ensure the job gets done. Charlene, ma chère, I’m sorry someone did this to your poor body.
posted by corey flood at 8:09 PM on January 21 [8 favorites]

The writers should have made much more of the possible correlation; if it's true, she was indeed a martyr.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:12 PM on January 21 [+] [!]

I dont think the writers were thinking of Richard specifically in the game, but Catholicism (and Cancer) plays heavily into the game's plot and mood in a manner consistent with my experience with living in Louisiana.

The Virgin Mary, one of the game's puzzles

I suppose all the larger companies may not have been so much in play in Lafayette in 1959, at that time they were more in Baton Rouge, but Amoco, Conoco, Sun, and Chevron were all dumping into the air around Lafayette in 1959. There were companies like Hunt, ARCO, Getty, Freeport, as well as companies like Great Southern oil and gas company, who I am unfamilliar with.

And many of the companies drilling in Lafayette in 1959 have been lost to modern record. But the combination of sugar cane burning and oil drilling was very much in the air in 1959, and still is, and we still don't talk about it enough, to the point to where it becomes supernatural.

And it's not just Louisiana --witness the freakout about gas stoves in 2023. We have known the theory of why gas stoves should not be in homes with little kids for an embarrassingly long time, it has taken science too long to publish this kind of study--and you've got to pray when the government reacts to this study by declaring they will not take action on behalf of children's health.

NORCO on Steam
Geography of Robots on Tumblr--the game is coming to XBox and PS4.

NORCO soundtrack

Also, the True Detective TV show, Season One, has elements of this aesthetic. Danny Fontenot, The LSU Baseball star crippled by chemical exposure--that one scene haunts me. I really don't think critics have unpacked that very minor character choice, but it really resonates with me.

I read this NYTimes piece, as a Pregeant, and it strikes that dark chord with me.

These companies have literally plotted to destroy the world, so it's not surprising that they would hurt many kids along the way, so--is Richard a 'martyr?' well, a martyr for what? there are too many little martyrs. When you watch a family go through this hell...I have seen too many tiny mobility devices pushed to the curb.

But i am not about denying people their succor, or their saint. When kids get Leukemia, prayer helps. There aren't enough answers in the World. More of those answers must be political.

And the Church is not completely idle, although they could do more. the Church is an important spoke in a larger social movement.

Anyway, here's the Jesuit petition against the Formosa Plastics plant--which is an interesting environmentalism, how Catholic doctrine and consquences of chemical exposure intersect.

For Californians, Texans and other folks unfamiliar with Catholic environmentalism, it should be an interesting read.
Formosa Plastics: an assault on Human Life

Catholics in St James Parish are demanding that Chase Bank divest from this petrochemical mega-project, their 2022 petition:
posted by eustatic at 7:30 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]

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