May 27, 2023

Missouri miracle? Exhumed nun whose body did not decompose attracts travelers to small town

Dana Mathewson

This story appeared -- incomplete -- on Fox News today, but my wonderful Catholic "church sister" had many more details for Martha and me in church today, which she sent me via e-mail.

First, the (amended) Fox story:

Thousands of people from around the country have traveled to the small town of Gower, Missouri, after it was discovered that the body of a nun who died there four years ago had not decomposed for the most part.

Sr. Wilhelmina (Lancaster) of the Most Holy Rosary, the foundress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, died at age 95 on May 29, 2019.

She was buried shortly thereafter in a simple wooden casket. She was not embalmed, and her grave was dug by hand by her sisters, said the website of the monastic order.

Recently, with construction of a new altar underway, the sisters of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles "decided the rightful place of our holy foundress was in the Church."

"This practice is very common in religious communities, even before their cause [for canonization] has been introduced," the website also noted.

Sr. Wilhelmina was exhumed on April 28 — and although the top of her casket had caved in and there was dirt on her remains, her body and the items she was buried with were in a "remarkably preserved condition," according to the sisters.

"The careful process of cleaning and removing the dirt and mold began, and the body began to lose volume since the initial exhumation with exposure to air," said the monastery.

"Thus some shrinking and darkening took place. All facial features were visible, but as falling dirt had caused damage, especially to the right eye, a Sister carefully created a wax mask to cover the face."

Her religious habit, which the monastery described as being "made from natural fibers," was completely preserved.

"The synthetic veil was perfectly intact, while the lining of the coffin, made of very similar material, was completely deteriorated and gone," said the monastery.

Sister Wilhelmina was known for her devotion to the traditional Latin Mass and her faithfulness to Benedictine contemplation and the Liturgy of the Hours, according to several sources.

The original Fox News story this morning had very few details, especially the reason for the exhumation. 

My "church sister" had better stuff, especially regarding the reason as attached here, from an e-mail she received from the website of the Benedictines of St. Mary:

Dear Families, Friends and Benefactors,

By now, most of you have heard of the events that have transpired at the Abbey, especially surrounding the exhumation of our Sister Wilhelmina. We simply want to reach out to you to clarify a few points.

Our Abbey had been planning the addition of a St. Joseph Shrine within the oratory for quite some time, including the reinterment of the remains of our beloved foundress, Sister Wilhelmina. Last month, in preparation for the construction of the shrine, we exhumed her, having been told to expect bones in the highly moist clay of Missouri, as she was buried in a simple wooden coffin without any embalming whatsoever four years ago.

The intent was devotional, and to carry this out in the privacy of our cloistered life. Nevertheless, the discovery of what appeared to be an intact body and a perfectly preserved religious habit created an unexpected twist to our plans. We had no intent to make the discovery so public, but unfortunately, a private email was posted publicly, and the news began to spread like wildfire. However, God works in mysterious ways, and we embrace His new plan for us.

Many have voiced concern about the disruption to our life, but we have, thankfully, remained unaffected and able to continue on in our life of ora at labora, prayer and work, as Sister Wilhelmina would have it. Unless we looked out the front windows, or out at the crowds attending our Mass and Divine Offices, we would not even know people are here. An army of volunteers and our local law enforcement have stepped forward to manage the crowds, and we are deeply grateful to each of them, as they allow us to continue our life in peace, while granting the visitors a pleasant and prayerful experience at the Abbey.

Regarding what seems to be the miraculous preservation of Sister’s body, we are given the opportunity to contemplate the great gifts God gives us every day, especially the ones that are literally hidden from our eyes. St. Augustine said that "We marvel at what is extraordinary. Think of the fact that a few seeds bring forth an entire field of wheat." Of this and ordinary daily miracles, he says, "We don’t bother to reflect on this fact because it is always there. What we notice are events that aren’t part of the ordinary course of nature. They are works that God has reserved for particular times and places to cause us amazement and dumbfound us so that we will open our minds to God’s presence and care in all events and beauties." We believe that even as Sister Wilhelmina’s whole life and death was a miracle, pointing the way to Almighty God, that what she has left behind continues to point to His Resurrection and the life of glory that awaits us.

The relics of a person are exhumed in the ordinary course of action for the opening of the causes of saints, leading many to believe that such a cause has been or will be opened. As this is not the case, we continue on with a simple reinterment of our foundress, and are seeking advice on a possible opening of a cause in the future, especially as Sister has not yet reached the required minimum of five years since death in order to begin.Initial statements regarding Sister’s extraordinary physical state have already been procured, but we acknowledge that further studies must be done later, in an official capacity.

While we can attest to Sister’s personal sanctity, we know that incorruptibility is not among the official signs taken by the Church as a miracle for sainthood, and that all things must be subjected to further scrutiny, especially by the competent authorities in the medical field. The life itself and favors received must be established as proof of holiness.

While we rejoice in the shared love for our foundress, we ask prudent patience for everyone, so that a proper process may begin legally, when the time is right, and if God wills that we should devote our efforts to working with Holy Mother Church on the advancement of the recognition of the holiness of our foundress. We know this is a long process, with the collection of data, and a more detailed study of her life and remains. We ask your prayers as we discern carefully where to go from here.

In the meantime, we follow her beautiful example, especially in appreciating the little daily miracles with which God blesses us every day. Please know of our prayers for all the people of good will who have contacted or visited the Abbey, the countless number of people who have shown their support and appreciation for the life and legacy of our Sr. Wilhelmina. May we pray, as she did, that God’s will be done in all things.

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at 10:58 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
Post contains 1233 words, total size 8 kb.

1 Very interesting Dana!  I hadn't heard about that.

Gower is a part of the greater Kansas City area, so it's outside of my turf. If I could still see to drive there I'd go and see for myself.

Years ago a man in Belleville Illinois, just across the river, was having visions of the Virgin Mary. I went to Our Lady of the Snows when he had one. I wasn't sure I believed it - but I wound up being interviewed by the local news while I was there and witnessed a personal miracle, so I came to believe it was happening.

I'd love to go and see what is happening here. But I'd be hard pressed to find it given my eyesight these days.

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at May 28, 2023 07:48 AM (kDOIk)

2 It seems that you are in an area of the country where "a lot of things are going on." I wish you could receive e-mail, Tim, because I'd send you everything my "sister" Anne sent me -- it's quite impressive. Suffice to say that the current DC regime is not going to squelch Christianity! God and His angels are still active.

Posted by: Dana Mathewson at May 28, 2023 11:11 PM (5O9A0)

3 I'll bet there are a lot of things not making the news Dana. Yeah; they can rage against His Church all they like but it will  not be broken!

BTW I had another encounter with the Blessed Virgin. One of the visionaries at Medjugorje came to my parish church - one block from my house. I attended and received a blessing and whatnot. One of the most spectacular sights I had ever seen awaited me as i walked home; a crescent moon with Mercury and Venus dangling off the tail. It was SO bright and vivid - in the heart of the city. I knew it was not natural.

I started feeling bad as I headed home (it was late November and cold) and I had the full blown flu by the time I got in. Fever and the whole works. I was sick about a week. Methinks I was being attacked by the Enemy for having gone there.

Interestingly Ivan Dragicovic (the visionary) only went one other place while in town; to a parish way out in the exurbs. Our parish, btw, was caught in the pedophilia scandal and the pastor and associates all disappeared shortly before this. Our Parish is called Our Lady of Sorrows.

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at May 29, 2023 08:04 AM (d5DIk)

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