The cause for sainthood of Auguste “Nonco” Pelafigue has advanced from the Diocese of Lafayette to Rome. The formal paperwork, documents and other items for Pelafigue’s sainthood cause are now at the Vatican in the possession of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, which oversees causes for beatification and canonization.
A ceremony took place in May to conclude the process begun by members of the Pelafigue family and friends from his hometown of Arnaudville and other supporters from the Diocese.
Pelafigue attended two terms at Northwestern State University when it was known as Louisiana State Normal School, from January through August 1909, where he was a member of the Apostleship of Prayer, a League of the Sacred Heart, a universal Catholic organization.
Pelafigue is described as a humble man, a teacher and faithful Catholic who lived simply and inspired faith in others. Affectionately called “Nonco” – a Cajun variation of uncle — by his family and neighbors, his legacy of piety, faith and humility was well-known in the Arnaudville community.
He was born in Beaucens, France, Jan. 10, 1888, and his family immigrated to Arnaudville a year later. He earned teaching credentials at Normal, and at what is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He taught at rural public schools in St. Landry and St. Martin parishes and at a small Catholic school and was a church volunteer.
For most of his life, he lived in a small cabin, participated in daily Mass, organized children’s plays on important holy days and took long walks around the countryside to share League of the Sacred Heart leaflets with neighbors.
In 1953, Bishop Jules Jeanmard presented Pelafigue with a Papal diploma and cross, courtesy of the Pope, at the request of the parish priest. A website dedicated to Pelifague refers to him as an apostle, missionary, catechist, evangelist and deacon of the 20th century. He died in a Lafayette nursing home on July 6, 1977, but his presence in the community was remembered and remained for many years.
Friends and relatives formed a foundation to propose Pelafigue for sainthood in 2012. Eventually, the cause came to the attention of Don Luis Fernando Escalante, a postulator from Rome, who will present the plea for canonization at the Vatican.
In 2020, he was among three individuals from Acadiana who were put forth for canonization and were declared Servants of God, itself an important honor. The other candidates are Charlene Richard, a devout 12-year-old who died of leukemia in 1959, and Lt. Father J. Verbis Lafleur, a priest who died aboard a Japanese prison ship during World War II. But whether any are named saints could take years, or centuries or not at all. The decision now lies with the Vatican.
In related developments, the cause for five French priests with ties to Natchitoches were advanced earlier this month during a plenary meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints granted that the five be considered together as one cause.
Commonly called the Shreveport Martyrs, they are Father Isidore Quémerais, Father Jean Pierre, Father Jean Marie Biler, Father Louis Gergaud, and Father François LeVézouë, who came from France in the 19th century to serve as missionaries in Louisiana when it was a frontier wilderness. They died within a three-week span while ministering to the sick and dying in the Shreveport yellow fever epidemic of 1873. Their cause for beatification was opened in 2020, the first from north Louisiana.
Biler and Gergaud were ordained in France and came to Louisiana with Bishop Auguste Martin, who was named the first bishop in the Diocese of Natchitoches in 1853. Biler ministered in Caddo Parish. Gergaud ministered in Ouachita, Morehouse, Union, Webster, Claiborne, Caldwell and Franklin parishes. Quémerais, Pierre and LeVézouët arrived in Natchitoches later and were ordained there. Quémerais ministered in Rapides, Avoyelles and Caddo parishes. Pierre ministered in DeSoto, Caddo, Bossier, Webster and Claiborne parishes. LeVézouët ministered in Sabine and Natchitoches parishes.
When the 1873 yellow fever epidemic struck Shreveport, one quarter of the population died within a matter of weeks. The dedication of the five priests to all citizens of Shreveport, including non-Catholics and African Americans, offered a call to hope, even as they succumbed to the disease. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the deadly pandemic.
Information on Pelafigue and his cause for beatification is available at https://www.nonco.org/.
Information on the Shreveport Martyrs is available at https://shreveportmartyrs.org/.