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A Miracle in Missouri

Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster was found incorrupt and has made history in both her life and death.
Annie McShane
A statue of St. Francis stands outside of the church of the Benedictines of Mary Sept. 2.

Sister Mary Wilhelmina Lancaster died on May 29, 2019. On April 28, 2023, she was exhumed and her body was found incorrupt (had not decomposed at all). This miracle is extraordinary for many reasons, but one of the most significant is that Sister Wilhelmina is the first African American nun to be found incorrupt in the Catholic Church. 

Sister Wilhelmina was born Mary Elizabeth Lancaster in St. Louis on Palm Sunday in 1924. She knew from early on in her life that she wanted to be a nun, writing to the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore when she was only 13 years old. Before she entered into the convent, Sister Wilhelmina was a member of the first graduating class of the first Black Catholic high school west of the Mississippi River, which was founded by her family. After graduating, she joined the Oblate Sisters of Providence, where she remained until 1995.

In 1995, Sister Wilhelmina founded her own order, the Benedictines of Mary in Scranton, Pennsylvania. In 2006, the order joined the Diocese of Kansas City–St. Joseph and moved to Gower, Missouri, where they still reside today.

STA math teacher Lisa Anielak made the pilgrimage that many others have made to visit Sister Wilhelmina. She was there a few days after Sister Wilhelmina was exhumed and was amazed by her condition.

“She looks like she’s asleep,” Anielak said. “Like she just fell asleep today, not four years ago. I have no idea what’s supposed to happen, but I know skeletons don’t look like that.

This visit was Anielak’s first time seeing the body of an incorrupt saint, and she was surprised by how accessible Sister Wilhelmina was.

“I’ve been to churches that have had saint relics but I’ve never seen a whole body,” Anielak said. “It seems like in most churches they’re under a stone and you can’t see them, but [Sister Wilhelmina] was laying on a table with nothing over her and you could touch her. Some people were kissing her face and her hands.”

STA alumna Louise Meyers (‘82) visited Sister Wilhelmina on the final day before she was encased and moved into the Abbey church. Meyers did not know much about Sister Wilhelmina before her visit and was anxious to learn more about her.

“I have to admit that I was initially curious to see the state of her body, but curiosity completely dissipated when I was instructed to her side,” Meyers said. “She was in a state of preservation that science and logic would defy.

During her visit, Meyers was able to witness the veneration of Sister Wilhelmina. She shared that what they witnessed was a tender and genuine demonstration of love.

“The respect, and adoration for her was palpable and literally a gentle love that we could all only hope to experience when we ourselves leave this world,” Meyers said.

There have been immense amounts of people coming to Gower to visit Sister Wilhelmina. Anielak shared that she has received newsletters from the convent about whether or not these visitors are disruptive to them.

“[The sisters] say that it’s not disruptive at all to them because there are so many volunteers there to help them,” Anielak said. “They can just keep living and praying and it doesn’t bother them that people are there. They’re very gracious about all of it.

Since visiting Sister Wilhelmina, Meyers has experienced two “mini miracles,” as she calls them. The first was her phone background mysteriously changing from a picture of her and her husband to a photo of Sister Wilhelmina. Meyers emailed the sisters of the Benedictines of Mary about her experience and they agreed with her belief that it was a sign from Sister Wilhelmina.

“That sounds like [Sister Wilhelmina],” Sister Missouria Cordia said. “She was full of mirth, joy and was a bit mischievous!

The second miracle Meyers experienced was during a visit with one of her friends who is sick and living in an assisted living home.

“I prayed the Rosary at her bedside with a special prayer to Sister Wilhelmina to protect her mind and spirit,” Meyers said. “When I arrived a few days later she was wearing the Rosary as a necklace and still won’t take it off.”

Meyers shared that visiting Sister Wilhelmina left her with a new sense of gratitude, humility and grace. Since experiencing two small miracles after her visit, she believes that there are signs of God’s love everywhere.

“There are signs of “mini miracles” of God’s abundant presence in everyday life if we are paying attention,” Meyers said.

Anielak was in awe when she visited Sister Wilhelmina and shared her thoughts on the importance of something like this happening for the Catholic church in this day and age. 

“It made me feel kind of excited about a sign of God today,” Anielak said. “You read about all these miracles in The Bible and it’s so cool that this is happening right now. What more do we need?”

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Annie McShane
Annie McShane, Editor-in-Chief
Hey, everyone! My name is Annie McShane, and I am a senior! This is my third and final year on the Dart staff, and I am one of the Editors-in-Chief. One very important thing you should know about me is that I am the biggest Taylor Swift fan at STA (and maybe in the whole world). When I’m not listening to Taylor Swift music, you will probably find me reading, playing instruments, like piano and guitar or hanging out with my dog Phoebe. I am so sad that this is my last year on staff but I am so excited for all of you to see the awesome content we create this year! Happy reading!

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