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'She was and is the ambassador of peace': The life and legacy of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster

Posted at 6:49 PM, Jun 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-08 12:22:47-04

GOWER, Mo — Tens of thousands of people flocked to the small town of Gower, Missouri, over the last few weeks to witness the “miracle” of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster.

Sister Wilhelmina was buried four years ago and was exhumed last month to be moved to her final resting place. The sisters expected to only find bones, but were shocked to see her body was intact and had not decayed.

To Catholics, this signifies holiness and gives witness to the truth of Christ’s resurrection.

The fact that her body is incorrupt is also showing that the spiritual world is even more real than the physical," said Sister Scholastica Randel. "Because physically her flesh should be gone. But spiritually there was something keeping her alive in life and it made an impression on her body."

Sister Wilhelmina was born in 1924 in St. Louis, Missouri. She was lively, witty, funny, and loved keeping people happy, according Sister Scholastica Randel. To relax and pass the time, she wrote poetry about her life in the monastery or her faith.

Sister Scholastica says Sister Wilhelmina was a life-long philanthropist, patriot and a devout Child of God.

At just 14-years-old, Sister Wilhelmina tried to petition for entry into nunhood. She dedicated much of her life to teaching inner city youth and advocating for civil rights.

“She actually attended the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. and was able to meet Coretta Scott King, who was apparently very impressed to meet Sister Wilhelmina,” said Sister Scholastica.

Perhaps her desire for advocacy started from childhood. Her family started the first Black Catholic high school founded west of the Mississippi River and she was a part of the first graduating class.

“She came from a segregated world, she joined a black community and then she founded an interracial one, which I think is very very remarkable. We come from all over, literally all over the world,” said Sister Scholastica.

While she had a great propensity for progress, she also deeply valued tradition. In 1995, at 70-years-old, Sister Wilhelmina started a new order in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She brought back traditional Latin mass and encouraged the sisters to wear their habits again.

“She knew that she had to be the change that she wanted to see in the world around her and she did it,” said Sister Scholastica. ”Sister Emmanuel and myself were actually the first two to join and stay. So we were able to know Sister Wilhelmina for a very long time.”

In 2006, the sisters felt a calling from God to move their religious community to Gower, Missouri. A piece of land was donated to them and the monastery as it is seen today was established.

“She really latched onto that idea, just being right in the heart of the country. And of course being a Missourian herself, she was going back to her old stomping grounds and she was just so thrilled about that,” said Sister Scholastica.

Sister Wilhelmina is the first African American to be found incorrupt in the Catholic Church. The sisters believe even in death, their foundress continues to promote her lifelong teachings of peace.

“All of this that we’re seeing is her success story, because here she was hidden away. Nobody knew her. And now, all of a sudden, she’s gotten world wide exposure from this,” said Sister Scholastica. “Now we have Sister Wilhelmina as a sign of unity and charity. Just looking at her legacy here — she’s always pointing to us to transcend what divides us,” said Sister Scholastica.