When Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, the foundress of The Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles, died on May 29, 2019 at age 95, her body was not embalmed and was placed in a simple wooden coffin to be buried in the convent where she lived.
Recently, it was decided to move her body into the chapel of the convent. When the body was exhumed and the coffin opened, it was discovered that there was a crack in the wooden casket that had allowed dirt and moisture into the coffin, which would have accelerated any decomposition. Despite this, her body had not decayed as expected and appeared to be relatively intact. In addition, her habit, which she so zealously fought for, was completely preserved, while the lining of the coffin had deteriorated and was gone.
The nuns created a wax mask for Sister Wilhelmina’s face and also coated her hands with wax, the story said. Her body will be displayed in the chapel at the Abbey of Ephesus in Gower, Missouri until May 29, when there will be a rosary procession. After that, her body will be encased in glass in the chapel.
We are not in a position to say that the body is incorrupt….nor are the Sisters. The local ordinary, Bishop Vann Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, visited the monastery to see Sister Wilhelmina’s remains. Johnston issued a statement the same day, saying that a “thorough investigation” was needed to answer “important questions” raised by the state of her body More investigation will be required before that can be decided. You can read the statement here.
You can find an email that was recently sent out by the Sisters of The Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles explaining the recent events here.
Here is a video with Reverand Mother of the Order describing the unearthing of the body.
And here is a great video concerning Sister Wilhelmina by Father Mark Goring.
Huge crowds came to see her body while it was still open for visitors to see and touch. Now, her body has been placed in a glass case but can still be viewed.
As you can imagine, this has created an influx of visitors to the Abbey….and, in fact, the Sisters are no longer taking phone calls since it interferes with their spiritual life.
If you do plan a visit to view the body of Sister Wilhelmin in Gower, Missouri, please be aware of the following;
1. There is a dress code in their chapel; Marian modesty: Women must wear sleeves, a veil, and a dress below the knees or lose fitting pants when they visit. Veils, skirts, and shawls can be borrowed. Men also need sleeves.
2. DO NOT TALK. Not at all.
3. You are in their home. Be aware of that. They are VERY hospitable, and won’t complain if you violate things, but please be respectful.
4. Her body will be encased in a glass case on May 29, so you need to visit before that if you wish to touch her.