Who was Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, the dead nun whose body thousands are flocking to see?

Photo: benedictinesofmary.org

In May 2019, the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, the founder of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary in Gower, was buried on the chapel grounds after her death at the age of 95. Recently, the convent decided to move her remains to the alter under the chapel and that was when they found out that the nun’s body had not decayed.

Despite being buried four years ago without embalming in a simple wooden coffin that was even cracked, the nun’s body was still in “excellent condition”, KCTV 5 News reported. The news of the unusual discovery spread on social media and since then, thousands of people have traveled to the convent in the small town of Gower, Missouri, to view Lancaster’s body. 

According to KCTV 5 News, the road to get to the convent is not easy, still, scores of people from all over the country including Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania are visiting the convent to see what many have called a miracle.

“This is something I didn’t want to miss because it’s once in a lifetime, okay?” said Parfait Miaktsindila to KCTV5 News. “Seeing miracles like this, it strengthens our faith so I would encourage other people to come with their own eyes and see and visit what we have seen today.”

Lancaster founded the convent in Gower at age 70 and here’s what you need to know about the woman who had a vision of Jesus at her first communion at age 9.

Born Mary Elizabeth Lancaster to Catholic parents in St. Louis in 1924, Lancaster was the second of five children who grew up in a pious home, according to the Catholic News Agency (CNA). Amid segregation, Lancaster was nicknamed “chocolate drops” as she ran through a white neighborhood to her house after school, CNA said, adding that her peers also made fun of her because she was the only Catholic.

Soon, the Catholic high school in her community became segregated, compelling her parents to start a Catholic high school she and other Black students could attend. Lancaster explained in her biography that her “parents, who did not want me to go to the public high school, got to work and founded St. Joseph’s Catholic High School for Negroes, which lasted until Archbishop Ritter put an end to segregation in the diocese.” 

Lancaster went on to graduate as valedictorian of the school before entering the Oblate Sisters of Providence, where she was for 50 years under vows. One of eight historically Black orders in U.S. history, the Oblate Sisters is also the nation’s and the modern world’s first Roman Catholic sisterhood established by African-descended women, history professor Shannen Dee Williams told OSV News. He added that the Sisters later gave rise to three additional orders including the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, which Lancaster founded in 1995.

She began the community as the Oblates of Mary, Queen of Apostles, with the help of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter in the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Later, the community was moved to a rural area in the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, changing its name to the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. 

Four years after Lancaster’s death, her body is described as “incorrupt” — a sign that she was a very holy woman. “She loved our Blessed Mother. That’s what she would tell everybody coming here. Pray the rosary. Don’t forget to pray the rosary. Love the Blessed Mother. She loves you,” said Mother Cecilia to the CNA.

Lancaster’s body is planned to be on display through Monday, May 29 for people to pray with and even touch. It is unclear whether there will be an investigation to examine her remains scientifically. All the same, Lancaster’s story “embodies the fundamental truth that Black history is and always has been Catholic history in the U.S.,” said Williams.

Last Edited by:Editor Updated: June 11, 2023


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