On Memorial Day, dozens of religious sisters of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, carried their foundress on a platform around the property of the Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus, reciting the Rosary and singing hymns. The procession culminated inside the abbey’s church.
The body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, an African American nun whose surprisingly intact remains have created a sensation at a remote Missouri abbey, was placed inside a glass display case Monday after a solemn procession led by members of the community she founded.
About 5pm, dozens of religious sisters of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, carried their foundress on a platform around the property of the Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus, reciting the Rosary and singing hymns. Some of the thousands of pilgrims who visited the abbey over the three-day Memorial Day weekend followed behind.
The procession, held in bright, late-afternoon sunshine, culminated inside the abbey’s church, where the nun’s body was placed into a specially made glass case. Flowers surrounded her body and decorated the top of the case, where there is an image of St. Joseph holding the Child Jesus. The church was filled with pilgrims, including many priests and religious sisters from other orders.
Sister Wilhelmina, who founded the Benedictine order in 1995 when she was 70 years old, died in 2019. Expecting to find only bones, her fellow sisters exhumed her remains on May 18 intending to reinter them in a newly completed St. Joseph’s Shrine, only to discover that her body appeared astonishingly well-preserved.
The sisters say they intended to keep their discovery quiet, but the news got out anyway, prompting worldwide media coverage and a flood of pilgrims arriving at the abbey in Gower, a city of 1,500 residents about an hour’s drive from Kansas City, Missouri. A volunteer told CNA that more than 1,000 vehicles came onto the property on Monday but no official count was available.
There has been no official declaration that Sister Wilhelmina's remains are “incorrupt,” a possible sign of sanctity, nor is there a formal cause underway for her canonization, a rigorous process that can take many years. The local ordinary, Bishop Vann Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, has said that a “thorough investigation” is needed to answer “important questions” raised by the state of her body, but there has been no word on if or when such an analysis will take place.
Sister Wilhelmina's body was reinterred in a glass display case inside the church of the Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus in Gower, Missouri, on May 29. | Joe Bukuras/CNA
Before Monday's procession, pilgrims again waited in line throughout the day for an opportunity to see and touch Sister Wilhelmina’s body before its placement in the glass case, where it will remain accessible for public viewing.
Among those who came on Monday were Tonya and William Kattner, of Excelsior Springs, Missouri.
“You've got to experience the magic and the miracle of it,” Tonya Kattner said.
“It’s a modern-day miracle, and it was just something we had to come to,” William Kattner said. “Especially with everything going on in the world today, something like this brings hope.”
Kate and Peteh Jalloh of Kansas City, Missouri, said it was a ‘blessing’ to view the apparently well-preserved body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster at her abbey in Gower, Missouri, on May 29. | Joe Bukuras/CNA
Kate and Peteh Jalloh, of Kansas City, Missouri, also didn't want to pass up the chance to see Sister Wilhelmina.
“I strongly believe in the Catholic faith. I believe in miracles, and I have never seen anything like this before. I’ve got a lot going on in my life, and this is the best time to get that message from a nun,” Kate Jalloh said.
“It could take another hundred years for us to see something like this,” she added.
Janie Bruck came with her cousins, Kristy Cook and Halle Cook, all from Omaha, Nebraska.
“I came to witness the miracle. I believe we’re in a Jesus revolution, and he’s sending us lots of signs,” Bruck said. Kristy Cook, a former Omaha police officer, said she was surprised that Sister Wilhelmina’s body had no odor of decay.
The body of Benedictine Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster lies in the basement of the church of the Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus outside Gower, Missouri, on May 28. | Joe Bukuras/CNA
The sisters have publicly thanked the many local law enforcement officers, medical personnel and volunteers who helped manage the influx of pilgrims over the holiday weekend.
Among the volunteers was Lucas Boddicker, of Kearney, Missouri, who joined members of his Knights of Columbus council based at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in nearby Plattsburgh, Missouri, to guide visiting vehicles to a makeshift parking lot in an open field. Other knights from local parishes helped set up tents and handed out free hamburgers, fruit and bottles of water.
“That’s one thing the Knights do pretty well,” Boddicker said. “They get the word out when we need manpower.”
Priests heard confessions in a large grass field for hours, some using trees for shade, as young children played on the abbey grounds.
Three religious sisters from the Poor of Jesus Christ order, based in Kansas City, Kansas, said they were inspired by seeing Sister Wilhelmina’s body.
One of the religious, Sister Azucena, said she “wanted to cry” while praying at the nun’s side. “I just had this feeling of peace and love. We share a vocation. Her fidelity to the Lord and her love, I could feel that there,” she said.
Jason and Jessica Ewell were excited to coincidentally be in town visiting Trish Bachicha (far right) when they heard about the discovery of Sister Wilhelmina's surprisingly intact remains. | Joe Bukuras/CNA
A married couple, Jason and Jessica Ewell, both of whom are blind, were visiting Kansas City, Missouri, from Pennsylvania when they heard Monday morning about Sister Wilhelmina’s body.
“It’s just kind of a neat thing. to be a part of the beginning of this story,” Jessica Ewell said.
“I was asking for her intercession for children for our marriage,” she said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, it’s the blindness,’ but, no, it’s not that at all,’” she said.
“Yesterday I was kind of in a place where I said, ‘God, I need something right now,’” she said. “We always hear about these miracles. But they’re long ago and far away and always happen to other people.”
Trish Bachicha, Jessica’s mother, said she believes that God is sending a message: “He saying, ‘I’m alive and well, and I haven’t forgotten you.’”