A childhood image of Charlene Richard, a sainthood candidate who has the title "Servant of God," is seen in this undated photo. Charlene, a young Cajun girl in the Diocese of Lafayette, La., who died of leukemia in 1959 at age 12, is regarded by many in south Louisiana and beyond as a saint, saying her intercession has resulted in miracles in their lives. She is known as "The little Cajun saint." CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Lafayette.
A childhood image of Charlene Richard, a sainthood candidate who has the title "Servant of God," is seen in this undated photo. Charlene, a young Cajun girl in the Diocese of Lafayette, La., who died of leukemia in 1959 at age 12, is regarded by many in south Louisiana and beyond as a saint, saying her intercession has resulted in miracles in their lives. She is known as "The little Cajun saint." CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Lafayette.
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. bishops agreed Nov. 17 that the sainthood causes for three laypeople from the United States should be advanced by their respective dioceses.

Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel of Lafayette, Louisiana, presented the causes of Auguste Robert "Nonco" Pelafigue and Charlene Richard.

Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu presented the third cause, that of Joseph Dutton.

The 2007 Vatican document "Sanctorum Mater" requires the diocesan bishop promoting a sainthood cause to consult with the body of bishops on the advisability of pursuing the cause.

The bishops affirmed advancement of all three causes via voice votes with no audible dissent on the second of two days of public sessions during their Nov. 15-18 fall general meeting in Baltimore.

All three sainthood candidates have the title "Servant of God," given to them when their causes were officially opened.

In Pelafigue's case, he joined the Apostleship of Prayer League of the Sacred Heart while a college student, and maintained a lifelong devotion to the Sacred Heart and to the Blessed Mother.

"On Saturdays he taught religion to public school children, and during the summer, Christmas and Lent, he introduced children and adults of the area to the stage by inviting them to perform in Sacred Heart programs and plays he personally wrote and directed for the children," according to a biography of Pelafigue submitted by the Lafayette Diocese.

Pelafigue organized a League of the Sacred Heart with about 1,200 members, traveling on foot to spread the word. Offered rides "even in the poorest of weather conditions, he always declined, saying it was his way of doing penance for conversions and for the poor souls in purgatory," the biography said.

"As he grew up, he was given the nickname 'Nonco,' derivative of the French 'oncle' – uncle. He was everybody's uncle," said Bishop Deshotel in addressing the bishops Nov. 17.

His house, the biography said, was basically a shed. Pelafigue only reluctantly accepted "the most rudimentary forms of electricity and plumbing; the house had only one lightbulb."

Pelafigue's ministry spanned 68 years, and ended only with his death June 6, 1977, the feast of the Sacred Heart. A foundation in is name was established in 2012 to carry on his work and explore the possibility of beatification and canonization.

Charlene Richard was described as a "laywoman," but she was just 12 and a half years old when she died in 1959 from acute lymphatic leukemia.

Charlene was described as "a normal little girl" who liked sports and went to Church – until four months before her death, when she read a book about St. Therese of Lisieux. She asked her grandmother if "she, too, could become a saint by praying like Therese," according to a diocesan biography of the girl.

The last two weeks of her life – the only time she spent outside her rural town – "were gifts of grace," Bishop Deshotel told his fellow bishops. "Priests who attended to her spiritual needs were asked by her who she could suffer for on that day."

The biography said when the hospital chaplain, a newly ordained priest, was sent to tell her of her prognosis, Charlene replied, "Father, when the Blessed Mother comes, I'll tell her you said hello."

Franciscan Sister Theresita Crowley, who witnessed Charlene's acceptance of her suffering, would later say, "I can't forget her. I feel her presence. I feel her smile," adding she prayed to Charlene daily.

The religious sister's devotion spread to others in the area, where people prayed to "the Little Cajun Saint," asking for her intercession for situations ranging from marital problems, to finding jobs to seeking good weather for their crops.

One story is told of another girl with cancer who kept asking for Charlene, even though she had never been told of her existence. When someone supplied her with a prayer card bearing Charlene's picture, the girl said, "Charlene," and her cancer went into remission. Although the case was never submitted as a potential miracle, many people in the area considered it one.

By 1989, the biography said, hundreds of people were visiting Charlene's grave each week. The cemetery installed a light so visitors could more easily identify the gravesite, and added a box so they could leave written requests.

"Her gravesite is visited by busloads of people," Bishop Deshotel said. Charlene is considered "near and far as an example of redemptive suffering ... this innocent child who has proven to be an inspiration to all of us as we carry the cross of illness," he said.

Joseph Dutton was born in Vermont in 1843, moved with his family to Wisconsin in 1847 and later served in the Civil War.

Bishop Silva, in addressing the bishops, said Dutton might have been victimized by what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder.