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GOWER, Mo. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The earthly remains of a traditional Benedictine prioress in Missouri were found in 'remarkable preserved condition' after recently being exhumed.
The Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles in Gower, Missouri, exhumed their founder, Sr. Wilhelmina of the Most Holy Rosary, on April 28, the Feast Day of St. Louis Marie DeMontfort.
Sister Wilhelmina went home to the Lord on May 29, 2019, at the age of 95. She was not embalmed. Sister Wilhelmina was buried in a simple wooden coffin without a vault. The top of the grave caved in at the time of her burial, and upon exhumation, there was a puddle of water at the bottom of the grave.
Her body is currently resting in the parlor of the monastery while a new altar is being constructed. Near her feet lay explanatory notes for visitors. The fifth paragraph of the note reads:
Not only was her body in a remarkable preserved condition, her crown and bouquet of flowers were dried in place, the profession candle with the ribbon, her crucifix, and rosary were all intact. Even more remarkable was the complete preservation of her holy habit, made from natural fibers, for which she fought so vigorously throughout her religious life. The synthetic veil was perfectly intact, while the lining of the coffin, made of very similar material, was completely deteriorated and gone.
Depending on conditions such as humidity, temperature and submergence in a substrate like water, the fifth and final stage of decomposition, skeletonization, can occur anywhere from three weeks to several years.
Buzz in Missouri over the exhumation is quickly spreading. Sources on the ground report that the former bishop of the Kansas City–St. Joseph diocese, Robert Finn, and Bp. Athanasius Schneider have already come to see Sr. Wilhelmina. Sources further report that the current bishop of the Kansas City–St. Joseph diocese, James Johnston, is slated to visit at the end of the month.
Born Mary Elizabeth Lancaster on Palm Sunday of April 13, 1924, in St. Louis, Missouri, Sr. Wilhelmina was a religious sister for 75 years.
She began her formation in 1941 for the Oblate Sisters of Providence, taking the religious name "Wilhelmina" to honor Jesuit Fr. William Markoe, who encouraged her vocation.
As an Oblate Sister of Providence, she taught in the archdioceses of Baltimore, Washington, Charleston, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Miami. Once in Baltimore, her habit saved her life. A troubled student hurled a knife at Sr. Wilhelmina, but her high-necked collar deflected the projectile.
In 1995, after 50 years as an Oblate Sister of Providence, she left the community to found the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles in the diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, with the help of Fr. Arnaud Devillers. In 2006, the order was moved to the diocese of Kansas City–St. Joseph at the invitation of the bishop.
At the time of the founding, Sr. Wilhelmina remarked, "It would seem I've done a very foolish thing. After fifty years as an Oblate Sister of Providence, I am starting religious life anew as the foundress of a new community affiliated with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter."
"To those who say that my leaving my old community to found a new one doesn't make sense, I reply that it is understandable only in the life of faith," she continued. "When other people came, I welcomed them because I wanted to share what I had."
The foundress concluded, "'The disciples were persevering in prayer with Mary the Mother of Jesus.' This is a perfect description of the religious sisterhood that has formed."
The Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles describe their mission on their website:
Totally consecrated to the Queen of Apostles, we take Our Lady's hidden life at Ephesus as an inspiration for our own. We seek to be what she was for the early Church: a loving and prayerful support to the Apostles, the first priests, and daily offer prayer and sacrifice for the sake of her spiritual sons.
Before her death, Sr. Wilhelmina exhorted her sisters, saying, "If there's anything I would want to pass on to the community, it would be this: Devotion to Our Blessed Mother, True Devotion to Our Blessed Mother."
The notes currently near Sr. Wilhelmina's feet explain, "Once the popular cultus is well established, her cause for sainthood may be introduced within the Diocese, so that Sister's holiness may eventually be recognized by Holy Mother Church."
Visitors are asked not to take anything from the display but are welcome to touch objects to her earthly remains — a popular Catholic devotion for making third-class relics.