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A Miracle Among the Cornfields

The story of Sister Wilhelmina and why thousands flocked to her empty grave in Gower

Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster died in Gower, Missouri in 2019 at the age of 95. She was buried in a humble wooden casket with no embalming in a shady corner on the grounds at the Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus, where she had founded the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, an order of Catholic nuns. A Black woman born in St. Louis, she had lived most of her long life as a devoted nun, joining a convent at the age of 17.

Four years after her death, the sisters in her order exhumed her body, with plans to reinter her inside a shrine in the chapel’s altar. However, upon the exhumation, when they had been told to expect only bones because of the burial process and length of burial time, they found their foundress’s wooden casket caved in and, inside, Sister Wilhelmina’s body and religious nun’s habit intact and without decay. In the Catholic church, this was a sign of incorruptibility — a sign of divine intervention in an especially holy person. 

News of Sister Wilhelmina’s incorruptible body spread fast, and within a month, 25,000 visitors from all over had come to see the miracle in Missouri in the small town of Gower. Originally, Sister Wilhelmina’s body was displayed uncovered, and people laid their hands on her habit and body, sometimes hoping for miracles of their own. In September 2023, her body was enclosed in a glass case, but it did not quell the mass of pilgrims. 

Still today, visitors flock to see her body, hear about her life, attend the conservative Catholic Latin mass and hear the beautiful voices of the devoted nuns of the Benedictines of Mary, the order she founded.