Modernists simply cannot cope with the idea that the founder of a traditionalist order of nuns is a saint

Why tens of thousands are making a pilgrimage to the body of a black nun

Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster led a secluded life in a monastery in Missouri. Four years after her death, the black founder of the order of "Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles" is making headlines - and causing controversy.

The sisters remember a peaceful farewell. They had gathered around the bed of their order's founder, Wilhelmina Lancaster, and sang "Salve Regina"; like so often in the abbey not far from the small town of Gower. The little nun's eyes were closed, but it seemed as if she wanted to tune in again, says Prioress Scholastica Radel, describing the "holy" atmosphere in the room.

Sister Scholastica was also there when the community wanted to transfer the order's founder from the modest grave site to the abbey church this spring. “All the sisters screamed,” the prioress tells Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) about the moment when the fully preserved body came to light. "Even the flowers she had been holding were still dry in her hand."

The local undertaker, Jack Kline, who issued Wilhelmina's death certificate, shares the astonishment. Her body looked better after four years than many others did after three days, he told National Public Radio. The sister was neither embalmed nor was she in a special coffin.

“Thorough investigation” announced

The responsible local bishop, James V. Johnston, announced a “thorough investigation” in May. The condition of the body raised “important questions”. At the same time, he urged believers not to touch the body of the deceased or treat it as a relic. He expressed sympathy for the curiosity of a growing number of Catholics who made the pilgrimage to Missouri from all parts of the United States to see the alleged miracle with their own eyes.

At the end of May, the Benedictine nuns laid out their late founder in the abbey church, converted a field into a parking lot and put up signs leading to the empty grave. On their website, the traditionalist sisters posted rules of conduct for the visit and advised pilgrims to bring folding chairs because of the waiting times.

The flow of visitors to the monastery is considerable.

Since then, the electricity to the monastery has not stopped. More than 25,000 people came over the “Memorial Day” weekend at the end of May alone, currently there are fewer. But still enough to fuel speculation about a possible beatification process. Sister Scholastica interprets the stream of pilgrims as a sign "that their holiness is recognized outside our small sphere here." Previously, on normal days, “not a single visitor” came, whereas now hundreds come.

So far no intact body in the USA

Michael O'Neill, who hosts the show "The Miracle Hunter" on the conservative Catholic channel EWTN, emphasizes that there has never been an intact body in the United States before. “This is important news.” Critics ask why white traditionalists of all people are fueling the story of the Wilhelmina miracle. There is a suspicion that the black founder of the order is needed to promote a conservative agenda in the church.

“It is used to create a counter-reality.” — Quote: Shannon Dee Williams

At least that's what historian Shannon Dee Williams from the University of Dayton suspects in the New York Times. The author of a book about black nuns says the order's founder is anything but representative of African-American sisters in the United States. "It is used to create a counter-reality."

Discussions about hype

Dan Stockman from the "Global Sisters Report" doesn't go quite that far, but also recalls the poor treatment of black nuns by white sisters. "And yet they stuck to their faith and stayed in the church."

As for the supposed miracle of the non-decomposed corpse, there are also very secular explanations. According to experts, it is conceivable that the body of the deceased was mummified "naturally". Forensic scientist Nicholas Passalacqua recalls bodies found in northern Europe and the British Isles in astonishingly good condition after more than 4,000 years.

In order to comply with the Bishop's wishes in dealing with the dead, the sisters placed their order's founder under glass. Visitors can see her from the pew during the service.