Hundreds of Catholics have made a pilgrimage to Missouri to view the perfectly preserved body of a nun who died in 2019.
The body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, the founder of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary in Gower, had been buried in the chapel grounds following her death aged 95, in May 2019, but it was recently decided that her remains should be moved to the alter under the chapel.
However, on close inspection of the simple wooden coffin she had been buried in, a crack was found, leading to the discovery that Sister Lancaster’s body was still very much intact, and prompting a huge outpouring of worship from Catholics locally and further afield.
Bishop James Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph said in a statement: “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.
“I invite all the Faithful to continue praying during this time of investigation for God’s will in the lives of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles; for all women religious; and all the baptized in our common vocation to holiness, with hope and trust in the Lord.”
Sister Lancaster was described by those who knew her as having a deep faith and love for her religion.
“She loved our Blessed Mother,” Mother Cecilia told the Catholic News Agency. “That’s what she would tell everybody coming here. Pray the rosary. Don’t forget to pray the rosary. Love the Blessed Mother. She loves you.”
“Her death was beautiful. God arranged everything.”
The church has put the body of Sister Lancaster on display until 29 May, allowing all worshippers who wish to see the preserved remains to visit, pray with and even touch the body of the deceased nun.
Catholics travelling to Gower said they were witnessing a miracle.
“It’s great to be reminded that it can happen in our lifetime,” one person told Fox 4.
“She’s a Saint already. I already have her canonised,” another added.
“We drove in, like a three-hour drive, and walked straight into mass,” a third person said.
The nuns at the monastery said the body is “incorrupt,” according to the local TV station. The word has a special meaning to Catholics as it indicates that an individual may become a saint, Fox 4 noted.
The sisters told the Catholic News Agency the woman was not embalmed before she was buried. Four years after her death, the sister thought that only bones would remain in the coffin, but the deceased was found to not look that different from when she was buried.
People arrived from Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania on Tuesday to visit the Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus.
Speaking about a body being “incorrupt”, Sister Faustina Marie of Iowa told Fox 4 that it’s a “sign that she was a very holy woman and the lord blessed her and her life and at death because she was faithful to her vocation”.
The sisters said they intend to place Sister Wilhelmina in a glass case to make viewing possible.