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The body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB, founder of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary Queen of the Apostles in MissouriTyler Pearson / Twitter

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.”

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We ask you to join us in thanking this faithful shepherd for his years of loving service to Christ and His Church. 

Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence, RI, known for his outspoken defense of the Church’s moral teachings on the sanctity of life, marriage, and human sexuality, has just resigned upon reaching the age of 75 on April 1.

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Here is our message to Bishop Tobin which you can sign: 

In a statement to the diocese on the occasion of his resignation, Bishop Tobin thanked the faithful and clergy of Providence for their support over the years, encouraging them to remain steadfast in the faith. “I urge all the members of the church to remain steadfast in your faith, to be proud of the good work you are doing, and to be determined to carry on the work that Jesus has entrusted to you,” Tobin said. 

As bishop, Tobin consistently raised his voice to clearly reiterate the perennial teachings of the Church that the life of the unborn is sacred, marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman, and the innocence of children must be protected in society.

He has also defended traditional Catholics who wish to worship according to the Church’s ancient liturgy in the Tridentine Latin Mass. 

Unafraid to hold to account so-called “Catholic” politicians who aggressively promote abortion and oppose the protection of the lives of the unborn, in 2019 Tobin excoriated Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, who says he is Catholic but voted against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Act, designed to protect children born alive during botched abortions from being left to die.   

In the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, Tobin called out the contradiction between a politician calling himself Catholic and yet rejecting Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life. In a tweet sent out on May 7, 2020, Tobin said one cannot be an “authentic” Catholic and hold a pro-abortion position. 

“Just saw a headline in a Catholic newspaper with the phrase ‘pro-abortion Catholic.’ Sorry. That’s a contradiction in terms. You can’t be a Catholic, at least not an authentic one, and be ‘pro-abortion.’ Or ‘pro-choice.’ It’s the same thing,” the bishop said

SIGN: Thank you Bishop Tobin for answering God's call to serve His Church

Several months later Tobin again sparked a heated Twitter debate over what constitutes a Catholic when he sarcastically implied that then-presidential candidate Joe Biden isn’t one. The outspoken bishop was hammered on Twitter with ad hominem attacks after he posted the following:  

Biden-Harris. First time in a while that the Democratic ticket hasn’t had a Catholic on it. Sad. 

— Bishop Thomas Tobin (@ThomasJTobin1) August 11, 2020 

Tobin doubled down on his criticisms of President Biden’s zeal for abortion in 2022, when he stated that he could not be “both a devout Catholic and a pro-abortion zealot”: 

President Biden cannot be both a devout Catholic and a pro-abortion zealot. The two are mutually exclusive. He is a poor, lost and confused soul. Truly, we need to pray for him, everyday. 

— Bishop Thomas Tobin (@ThomasJTobin1) September 23, 2022 

Tobin’s courageous defense of the Church’s moral teachings was not limited, however, to standing up against the prominent pro-abortion advocates of the Left. He also earned their hatred with his public stance against LGBT ideology and intimidation. 

On June 1, 2019, to mark the beginning of so-called “pride month”, the Rhode Island bishop tweeted that Catholics should not take part in “pride” events due to their conflict with the Catholic faith, making special note of the danger to children: 

A reminder that Catholics should not support or attend LGBTQ “Pride Month” events held in June. They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. They are especially harmful for children. 

— Bishop Thomas Tobin (@ThomasJTobin1) June 1, 2019 

The public stance made the bishop the target of high-volume vitriol from LGBT adherents and supporters, who moved swiftly to squash the Catholic shepherd’s advisory to his flock to remain faithful to “Catholic faith and morals,” demonstrating the resolve of anti-Catholic forces to silence Church teaching. 

Several days later, Tobin issued the following statement, declaring it his obligation as a bishop to preach the truth of Christ “even on very difficult and sensitive issues”, affirming that he would continue to do so. He stated, “As a Catholic Bishop, however, my obligation before God is to lead the faithful entrusted to my care and to teach the faith, clearly and compassionately, even on very difficult and sensitive issues.  That is what I have always tried to do – on a variety of issues – and I will continue doing so as contemporary issues arise.” 

SIGN: Thank you Bishop Tobin for answering God's call to serve His Church

Ever sensitive to the needs of the flock entrusted to this care, Tobin also supported those Catholics devoted to the ancient liturgy in the Traditional Latin Mass. In January 2022, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, he encouraged “respect and support” for “members of our own Church who are devoted to [the] TLM,” affirming their fidelity to the Church, a notable public defense in the face of attacks from authorities in Rome, such as Cardinal Roche, who has dubbed those who love the ancient Mass “more Protestant than Catholic.”  

In contrast, Bishop Tobin wrote: 

In this Week of Prayer for #ChristianUnity, let’s also work to safeguard and promote “Catholic Unity.” In particular, let’s resolve to respect and support members of our own Church who are devoted to TLM. They are faithful Catholics who greatly love the Lord and his Church. 

— Bishop Thomas Tobin (@ThomasJTobin1) January 18, 2022 

Again, earlier this year, Tobin criticized the increased ostracization of traditional Catholics by Rome in a tweet that contrasted the heavy-handedness of the Vatican’s restrictions with the Pope’s call for accompaniment and listening. The prelate wrote,  

The way the Vatican is dealing with the Traditional Latin Mass does not seem to me to be the “style of God.” Pope Francis himself has emphasized that those who are attached to the TLM should be “accompanied listened to, and given time.” 

— Bishop Thomas Tobin (@ThomasJTobin1) February 21, 2023 

With the courageous Bishop of Providence now retiring, the sentiments of Catholics grateful for his defense of life, family, and faith can perhaps not be put better than what was stated by those same Catholics several years ago: “Your clear and compassionate teaching gives hope to Catholics and Christians everywhere.”  

In the words of Bishop Strickland, “Thanks for speaking up Bishop Tobin….let us be mighty loving messengers of truth and light in Jesus Christ.” 

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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.”