Prominent in the Catholic media over the past three of four weeks has been the story of the African American Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster whose body was found incorrupt at her convent in Missouri four years after her death in 2019 aged 95. Incorrupt bodies of many saints has been a phenomena in the Catholic Church for many centuries, but each case has to be fully investigated. It gives witness to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body.
As a young woman Sister Wilhemina joined the Oblate Sisters of Providence and remained with them for fifty years, but had become very unhappy with the changes made to their religious life after Vatican II and the abandoning of the religious habit. So in 1995 aged 70, with permission, she left the Oblate Sisters and founded the Community of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. She wanted this community to return to regular religious observance. She wrote that this was “a complete leap of faith.” But God blessed it and it has been a great success, and over time her new order has taken on a more contemplative and Marian charism with a special emphasis on praying for priests.
Her body was exhumed a few weeks ago on 18th May, because being the Foundress of the community, the sisters wished to place her mortal remains under an altar in their newly consecrated church. The sisters dug up her simple wooden coffin themselves from the ground, and they were expecting to find only bones. They were amazed when her body and religious habit were found to be completely preserved, even though the coffin’s fabric lining had disintegrated. Jack Klein who signed her death certificate in 2019 confirmed that her body had not been embalmed, and neither had it been placed in any specially sealed casket. He couldn’t understand how her body could have been preserved. Thousands of pilgrims have already been on pilgrimage to the monastery to witness her incorrupt body which defies science, and where they have been able to come right up to it and touch it. This is very unusual, so the sisters are clearly not trying to hide anything. And her religious habit which she fought so hard to retain, after being in a wet coffin for four years with all the dirt and bacteria “is in better condition than most of our habits … completely intact, every thread … She’s still showing the world who she is, she’s a Bride of Christ” said Mother Cecilia. Her body is also said to be really flexible.
This is all under investigation by the Church and the Bishop of the diocese has also been to visit. The Church won’t be in a hurry to declare it miraculous as they will want to be absolutely certain there is no natural explanation for it before making such a declaration. But there is a sign here. The sisters of this community are leading a very good and holy life. They’re very joyful when you see them on video, and they are attracting vocations – many! God seems to be at work here.
JESUS said, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11: 25-26). Do YOU believe this?
Fr Paul Gillham, IC