Father Joseph Brennan was a newly ordained priest when he was called to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Lafayette to tell the 12-year-old girl that she was going to die. He's said that he had no preparation for such a thing, but that she made it possible.
"I can remember that as I made my way up to the fourth floor, I asked the Lord, 'Please tell me how to tell a girl of twelve that she has only two weeks to live.' When I entered the room and gave her my name, I can still hear her saying, 'My name is Charlene.'
"The Lord answered my prayer as I heard myself saying, 'Charlene, you are a sick little girl.' She said, 'I know that, Father.' Then I said, 'In a couple of weeks a beautiful lady is going to come and take you home.' Looking at me with those brown Cajun eyes, she said, 'When that lady comes, I will tell her that Father Brennan said hello.'"
Charlene's family thought she only had a persistent case of the flu when they took her to the hospital. Instead, it was leukemia, in a very advanced stage.
Sister Theresita Crowley, who accompanied Father Brennan on his rounds remembered that Charlene "suffered a great deal."
"It's the nature of the disease," Sister Thersita said. "The pain is awful and there is almost constant bleeding and hemorrhage, but I remember her as a cheerful patient. She never complained." Charlene was especially fearful of painful bone marrow tests that involved inserting a long needle into the breast bone, but she bore them with "remarkable courage," the sister remembered.
When Father Brennan saw how much Charlene was suffering, he talked to her about the concept of offering her pain and suffering as a prayer for the benefit of others. After that, each day he visited her and talked about a particular person he felt might benefit from her prayers. Charlene would then offer that day's pain and discomfort as a prayer in the name of that person.
Father Brennan prayed with her daily and gave her last rites and marveled at the way that she handled her illness. He thought she was a very special little girl, and so now do a lot of other people.
"My little friend was gone," Father Brennan wrote in a little book about Charlene. "Yet she has stayed with me now for fifty years. I thought that night that no one would believe the story of the journey of faith that happened in Room 411. I was wrong about that. Ten thousand people now visit her grave site each year."
In his book, Father Brennan publishes accounts by people who believe that Charlene has miraculously cured loved ones of cancer and other diseases. Father Brennan says that not all of her intercessions have dealt with physical issues. Through her intercession, "a lot of people got jobs; their marriages were saved, they had things put back together in their lives. Those are the kind that don't show up on X-rays," he says.
Is she a saint? "My purpose is not to declare her a saint," Father Brennan says. "That's for others to do. But I will say that she was a special little girl who has remained for more than fifty years in my heart and in my life."
There is an active movement for her beatification.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.