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A pilgrim venerates the incorrupt body of Benedictine Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster on May 20. Sister Wilhelmina was recently exhumed in Gower, Missouri. (photo: Kelsey Wicks/CNA / EWTN)

Catholics travel to small Missouri town to view “incorrupt” body of dead nun

The remains of a Benedictine nun at a convent in Gower, Mo., are attracting worldwide attention. Gower is a small town about 40 miles north of Kansas City.

A story published Monday by the Catholic News Agency said hundreds of people have traveled to Gower after hearing the news about Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, the African American woman who founded the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of Apostles in 1995.

Sister Wilhelmina died on May 29, 2019, at age 95, and was buried in a wooden coffin. The organization recently decided to relocate her body to inside their chapel, a custom for founders. But instead of finding bones in the coffin, the sisters discovered what appeared to be an intact body. The body had not been embalmed, the article said, and the coffin had a crack that had allowed moisture and dirt to get inside.

Mother Cecilia, said they believe Sister Wilhelmina is the first African American woman to be found “incorrupt,” or not decomposed after death.

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“The body was covered in a layer of mold that had grown due to the high levels of condensation within the cracked coffin,” the Catholic News Agency reported. “Despite the dampness, little of her body and nothing of her habit disintegrated during the four years.”

The Catholic Church has more than 100 “incorruptible saints” who have been beatified or canonized, whose bodies have been entirely or partially immune to the natural decaying process years after their death. Catholic tradition holds that these saints provide witness to the truth of the resurrection of the body. The absence of decomposition also is considered a sign of holiness.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph posted a statement from Bishop James V. Johnston on its website.

“The condition of the remains of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster has understandably generated widespread interest and raised important questions,” Johnston said. “At the same time, it is important to protect the integrity of the mortal remains of Sister Wilhelmina to allow for a thorough investigation.

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“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.”

The church has not yet determined whether Sister Wilhelmina’s case is miraculous or ruled it an “incorruptible,” and a cause for her canonization has not been sanctioned. But the sisters in her religious community and those traveling from near and far to see the body describe it as something extraordinary.

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice


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