Exhumed Nun Wilhelmina Lancaster’s Final Words Revealed


A nun whose body was found to have barely decomposed when it was exhumed earlier this year had sung her final words, according to a member of her order.

Earlier this year, hundreds flocked to Gower, Missouri, to see the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, the founder of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, after it was exhumed. She died on May 29, 2019, but there was little sign that her body had decayed in four years when it was exhumed in April, which some see as a sign of holiness in Catholicism.

The nuns had been preparing for the addition of a St. Joseph shrine, which involved “the reinterment of the remains of our beloved foundress, Sister Wilhelmina,” according to a statement on the order’s website.

They had been told to expect to find only bones, as Lancaster had been buried in a simple wooden coffin without any embalming, a nun who asked to be anonymous told Newsweek earlier this year.

Stock photo showing nuns. Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster’s body was found to have barely decomposed in four years when it was exhumed this year.

But what they found instead was an intact body and “a perfectly preserved religious habit,” the statement on the website said. They had not intended to widely publicize the discovery, but a private email was posted publicly, and “the news began to spread like wildfire.”

In a recent interview with Crisis Magazine, a Catholic publication, Sister Mary Josefa said Lancaster died with nuns gathered around her beside singing hymns.

“We were singing the ‘Salve Regina’ around her bedside, and she had her eyes closed,” she said. “She couldn’t speak at that point or respond very clearly, but as she heard us singing the ‘Salve Regina’ her lips started to move. And her last words were, ‘Oh, Maria,” sung in the ‘Salve Regina.’ Very beautiful for us.”

Josefa said she was among four nuns who prepared Lancaster’s body for burial.

“We didn’t use any sort of embalming. We simply washed her, put on a fresh habit and placed her in a very simple wooden coffin,” she said. “It was actually made by a Fraternity priest. We had lined the coffin with some synthetic material, kind of a satin, so it would be beautiful.”

They dressed Lancaster “in her full Benedictine habit and just put the lid on the coffin and buried her directly in the ground,” she continued. “There wasn’t any sort of protection against the elements there. And so it was all the more amazing what happened almost four years later.”

The nuns “weren’t expecting anything extraordinary” when they began digging up Lancaster’s remains, she said. “But when we opened up the coffin, the first thing that Mother Abbess saw was a very intact foot, just as it had been when we put her in the coffin originally.”

The material that lined the coffin “had completely disintegrated,” she said. “You couldn’t even tell there had been any cloth in the coffin. But Sister Wilhelmina’s body, remarkably intact, still had the full habit, and it had no wear or tear, no sign of moss or disintegration of the natural fibers. It was all perfectly there.”

The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, said that Lancaster has not yet reached the required minimum of five years since death for the sainthood process to begin. But they are “seeking advice on a possible opening of a cause in the future,” according to their statement.

“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 statement said. “The life itself and favors received must be established as proof of holiness.”

Newsweek has contacted the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, for further comment through their website.


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