Thousands of people have flocked to view the body of a nun that was found seemingly “incorrupt” in rural Missouri.
Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster died at age 95 in 2019, but her body was exhumed by sisters about four years later so it could be moved to rest inside a monastery chapel.
Although she was buried in a simple wooden coffin, her body appeared to be “incorrupt,” which in Catholic tradition means a body shows little to no decay after death, a sign of the person’s holiness. Sister Wilhelmina’s body had not been embalmed, and her wooden coffin reportedly had a crack down the middle that would have let in moisture and dirt.
The African American founder of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles founded the order at the age of 70 in 1995. She was known for her devotion to the traditional Latin Mass. The Benedictine Sisters are known for their Catholic music albums that have topped Billboard’s “Traditional Classical” chart.
“We think she is the first African American woman to be found incorrupt,” said Mother Cecilia, the current abbess of the order.
The local Catholic diocese, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, released a statement on the discovery, saying there will be an investigation.
“The condition of the remains of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster has understandably generated widespread interest and raised important questions. At the same time, it is important to protect the integrity of the mortal remains of Sister Wilhelmina to allow for a thorough investigation,” the diocese said.
The bishop is currently working on ascertaining the nature of the condition of Sister Wilhelmina’s remains, the diocese said. In the meantime, the bishop has invited the faithful to continue praying.
The diocese cautioned that while incorruptibility has been verified in the past, it is “very rare,” and the case for sainthood has not been initiated yet for Sister Wilhelmina.
The news of Sister Wilhelmina’s body began to spread on social media earlier this month.
Since then, Catholics and others have traveled to the Benedictine monastery in Gower, Missouri, to pray in the presence of Sister Wilhelmina and even touch her body. Gower has only a little more than 1,500 residents, and the convent is not easily accessible by public transportation.
The story has even attracted the attention of legacy news outlets, which reported on it this week.
CNN’s Jim Sciutto appeared to want nothing to do with the story when the network reported it Monday.
“Not touching that story,” he said after CNN’s Boris Sanchez reported on it.
“Powerful experience, very powerful,” said one woman CNN interviewed.
“I’m not that old, but I’ve never heard of that in my lifetime,” said a young man wearing a religious habit.
“It’s enough of a sign where people can question it, but not enough where it’s absolutely certain because people have to take the leap of faith,” another man told local outlet KCTV.
The man told the outlet that he drove 16 hours from Pennsylvania to see Sister Wilhelmina.
More than 100 saints, blesseds, and venerables have been declared incorrupt by the Catholic Church.