GOWER, Missouri (LifeSiteNews) — Benedictine Sisters in Missouri have discovered what they believe to be the incorrupt body of their foundress.
On April 28, the Feast of St. Louis Marie DeMontfort, the body of Sr. Wilhelmina of the Most Holy Rosary, foundress of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, was exhumed and discovered to be incorrupt, the current abbess of the community, Mother Cecilia, OSB, told EWTN.
“We think she is the first African American woman to be found incorrupt,” Cecilia said.
During her life, Sr. Wilhelmina was known for her deep love of the Traditional Latin Mass, and her devotion to Benedictine contemplation and the Liturgy of the Hours. On May 29, 2019, the vigil of the solemnity of the Ascension, she passed away at the age of 95.
According to their website, the Sisters’ mission is to “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.”
Discovering Sr. Wilhelmina’s body
Nearly four years after Sr. Wilhelmina’s death, the Benedictine Sisters decided to move her remains into their monastery chapel, as is a traditional custom for founders and foundresses of orders.
However, the Benedictine Sisters were surprised to discover Sr. Wilhelmina’s body to be almost completely intact, despite not having been embalmed and the wooden coffin having cracked down the middle, allowing moisture and dirt into the coffin.
“I thought I saw a completely full, intact foot and I said, ‘I didn’t just see that,’” Cecilia related. “So I looked again more carefully.”
Upon closer examination of the coffin, Cecilia screamed, “I see her foot!” to which the community of nuns “cheered.”
According to Cecilia, the body weighed “between 80-90 pounds” instead of the expected 20 pounds which skeletal remains should have weighed.
“I mean there was just this sense that the Lord was doing this,” she said. “Right now we need hope. We need it. Our Lord knows that. And she was such a testament to hope. And faith. And trust.”
“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,” read a fact sheet to answer questions about the exhumation.
“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 similar material, was completely deteriorated and gone.”
Cecilia sees the preservation of the habit as an important aspect to the miracle since the religious habit is “a beautiful sign that this life is not all there is.”
“People see us and it’s like, ‘Oh, she’s a sister, oh she’s wearing that because she’s giving her life, she believes in God. Maybe I should think about God,’” she said, adding that the religious habit is, “a sign of the things to come, of the supernatural and of our last end: heaven, hell, purgatory.”
“This is not possible,” she said of the incorruptible sister’s body. “God is real. He protected that body and that habit to enkindle our faith, to rekindle it, to bring people back to the faith.”
The sisters have cleaned her face with hot water because, “Clinging to her face was basically a mask of thick mold.” However, this process caused Sr. Wilhelmina’s body to lose some of its volume and her skin to darken slightly. The sisters also placed a wax mask over Sister Wilhelmina’s face and hands.
Process of canonization
In the Catholic Church, the process of canonizing someone a saint, the term given by the Church for individuals who practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, is a multi-stage procedure which can take many years.
The Catholic Church examines the personal holiness of the individual in addition to miracles attributed to them either during or after their life.
The Church has canonized many saints whose bodies were discovered to be incorrupt including Saint Bernadette Soubirous, Saint Cecilia, and Saint Jean Vianney.
Pilgrims flocking to convent
LifeSiteNews contacted Mother Cecilia regarding the status of the miracle but did not hear back by the time of publication.
While the miracle has not yet been confirmed by the Church, hundreds of pilgrims have come to visit Sr. Wilhelmina’s body since the discovery, with some driving hours to Missouri from Kentucky, Illinois, and elsewhere.
The body has been placed in the sisters’ chapel where it will remain until May 29. On that day, the sisters are planning a rosary procession after which the nun’s body will be encased in glass near the altar of St. Joseph in the chapel.
Mother Cecilia sees the miracle as a sign that, “Heaven is real. The resurrection is real. Especially during these times in the Church and in the world.”
“Have hope,” she appealed. “God is still there. He still hears our prayers. He still listens. He still loves us.”
“Have faith,” Abbess Cecilia concluded. “Life does not end when we take our last breath: It begins.”
“And this is the kind of miracle that reminds us of that.”