Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Thousands travel to see ‘incorrupt’ remains of nun

Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster: Photos, Video Show Nun's Body |

The body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster was placed inside a glass case inside the monastery she founded in Missouri last night after thousands of pilgrims travelled to witness her seemingly “incorrupt” remains. 

Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster died aged 95 four years ago but when exhumed on April 28 in Gower, her body and habit showed little sign of decomposing.

The African-American Benedictine had not been embalmed and had been buried in a wooden coffin whose cracks have exposed her corpse to moisture and debris. 

“We think she is the first African American woman to be found incorrupt,” said Mother Cecilia Snell, prioress of the convent of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles.

Sister Lancaster founded the congregation at the age of 70, having left her original congregation. The nuns follow the 1962 Monastic Office and have produced chart-topping recordings of Gregorian Chant. 

Born in St Louis, Missouri in April 1924, Mary Elizabeth Lancaster was raised by Catholic parents descended from slaves. Growing during the era of racial segregation laws, she suffered repeated abuse and name-calling while running through a white neighbourhood on her way home from school. 

When the Christian Brothers introduced segregation at the local Catholic secondary school, Mary’s parents founded a Catholic secondary school devoted to St Joseph for African-Americans. This remained open until the then archbishop stopped segregation in the diocese. 

At the age of 13, Mary wrote to request entry to the Oblate Sisters of Providence. She later entered the community, the first religious order established by Afro-American woman in America. Once, she explained her name in religious life as follows: “I am Sister WIL-HEL-MINA – I’ve a Hell of a Will and I Mean it!” 

In 1995, Sr Wilhelmina left her congregation to found the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles with Fr Arnaud Devillers in the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania. In 2006, Bishop Robert W Finn of the Diocese of Kansas-St Joseph invited the community to Missouri.

On 29 May, Sister Wilhelmina’s body was placed behind glass near the altar of St Joseph in the convent chapel, in order as her community explained, to welcome the growing number of “her devotees”. 

More than 10,000 are expected to visit from North America and Mexico.