Sister Wilhelmina’s intact remains raising ‘important questions’

Sister Mary Wilhelmina Lancaster, foundress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, is pictured in a Sept. 26, 2019, photo. (OSV News photo/Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles)

By OSV News

GOWER, Mo. (OSV News) — Mother Abbess Cecilia Snell puts the number of pilgrims who in the past six weeks have flocked to her Benedictine abbey in rural Missouri at between 10,000 and 15,000. It’s a conservative estimate, she said, of the droves of people who, at times, have waited hours in line to see the body of the community’s foundress, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster.

The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles disinterred her remains April 28, four years after her death at age 95, and discovered a surprising lack of decay, leading to claims of her incorruptibility and potential for canonization.

Bodily incorruptibility has long been regarded in both Catholic and Orthodox traditions as a potential — though not conclusive — divine sign affirming an individual lived a life of sanctity. The bodies of more than 100 canonized saints have been seemingly untouched by decay.

A May 22 statement from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, said the condition of Sister Wilhelmina’s remains “has understandably generated widespread interest and raised important questions.” It added, “Bishop (James V.) Johnston is working to establish a thorough process for understanding the nature of the condition of Sister Wilhelmina’s remains.”

Most visitors to the Benedictine abbey are locals, or from Kansas City or St. Louis. Some, however, have traveled from Washington state, Maine, California and Florida, but also from as far as Canada, Colombia and India, Mother Cecilia said.

“It was her relationship with Christ on the path (to) holiness that led her to greatness before him. She sends a message of the value of vocation, of charity and forgiveness, even through racial barriers, and that holiness is possible in our day. Quite a few people have said, ‘I knew her. This makes me realize that I can be holy, too!'” Mother Cecilia said.

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