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Catholics are flocking to Missouri to catch a glimpse of a dead nun’s corpse
The body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, who died four years ago, is well-preserved. Is that a miracle?
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A bunch of very deluded Catholics are descending upon Gower, Missouri in order to catch a glimpse of a dead nun’s corpse.
The body in question belongs to Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, who founded the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, when she was 70 years old. She died four years ago, in 2019, at the age of 95.
Dead bodies are often embalmed to prevent them from decaying. That was not the case for Lancaster. She was also inside a coffin that had a crack in it, creating an opening for moisture and dirt. The expectation would be that the corpse is rotting… but also, it shouldn’t really matter, since it’s six feet underground.
Recently, members of the Benedictine sisterhood she founded decided to move her body to a new (and final) resting place inside their chapel, as is customary for founders of a Catholic order. They expected to find the remains of the nun—bones but not much else. They were shocked to find that her body was still intact.
“We were told by cemetery personnel to expect just bones in the conditions, as Sister Wilhelmina was buried without embalming and in a simple wood coffin,” one of the sisters, who asked to be anonymous, told Newsweek.
Exhumers found a layer of mold on Lancaster’s body, likely due to condensation in the cracked coffin, reported Catholic News Agency. But little of Lancaster’s corpse or her habit decomposed while she was buried.
It’s certainly unusual. In fact, Catholics have a word for bodies that don’t decompose: “incorrupt.” It’s said to be a “sign of holiness” and a possible justification for later sainthood. 100 bodies have been deemed “incorrupt” by the Catholic Church in the past; part of the buzz this time around is that the label could be applied, for the first time, to a Black person.
“We think she is the first African American woman to be found incorrupt,” said Mother Cecilia, the abbess for the monastery, to Catholic News Agency. Cecilia was the first person to examine the coffin, as head of the monastery.
Because of the possibility that there’s something extraordinary happening—the body may belong to a future saint—hundreds of Catholics have flocked to the convent in order to witness what they think is “history” and to ask the dead body to intervene in their lives.
For its part, the Church has not yet declared this a miracle. The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph issued a brief statement saying they were still looking into it:
Bishop [James] Johnston is working to establish a thorough process for understanding the nature of the condition of Sister Wilhelmina’s remains.
Incorruptibility has been verified in the past, but it is very rare. There is a well-established process to pursue the cause for sainthood, but that has not been initiated in this case yet.
I can save them the time. There’s no miracle happening. There never is. It’s always wishful thinking that floods the gaps of our own ignorance. In fact, when reporters reached out to an expert in forensic anthropology, the reaction was mostly a shrug:
Western Carolina University Associate Professor and Director of Forensic Anthropology Nicholas V. Passalacqua told CNN in an email, “It’s hard to say how common this is, because bodies are rarely exhumed after burial. But there are many famous cases of well-preserved human remains. Not just things like Egyptian mummies which were intentionally preserved, but also things like the Bog Bodies of Europe which were very well preserved for thousands of years because they were in environments with low oxygen that restricted bacterial grown and access of the remains to scavengers.”
Passalacqua also noted “in general, when we bury a body at our human decomposition facility, we expect it will take ~5 years for the body to become skeletonized. That is without a coffin or any other container or wrapping surrounding the remains. So for this body, which was buried in a coffin, I personally don’t find it too surprising that the remains are relatively well preserved after only four years.”
So… let’s check back in a 100 years. Before then, there’s nothing to write home about.
But that won’t stop Catholics from pretending otherwise. They do the same thing any time there’s a purported miracle, whether it’s a consecrated communion wafer that creates a red stain or a Virgin Mary statue that appears to be shedding real tears. It never matters that there are natural explanations for all those seemingly supernatural phenomena.
Lori Rosebrough, a resident of Overland Park, Kansas, told USA Today in an email that the viewing was a “incredibly rare opportunity” to see “the hand of God at work”.
“Not many people can say that they touched and prayed over the body of a saint,” wrote Rosebrough. “I believe that the thousands of us that made the trip to Gower, Mo, this week can now say that we have.”
Royce Hood, who hosts a Catholic radio show, traveled with his wife, Elise, and their six kids to view Lancaster’s body. The drive from the Peoria, Illinois home was over five hours.
“I feel like people are like, ‘Wow, we need this right now,’” Hood said to Catholic News Agency.
They want hope, so they assume the outlandish. It’s illogical. It’s unscientific. It just makes them feel better. I have far more compassion for them than the Catholic leaders who refuse to set them straight and always lean into the possibility that they truly could be witnessing a “miracle.”
Why would they? If survey results are any indication, Lancaster’s body is one of the only things drawing people into Church these days. Why wreck with a business model that is functionally identical to Roswell?
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