On Saturday, a photojournalist working for EWTN News witnessed pilgrims touching parts of Sister Wilhelmina's body with their hands or rosary beads and even kissing her hands. Such direct physical contact won’t be possible after Monday afternoon when the nun’s remains will be placed in a glass enclosure, though her body will still be available for public viewing.
A glass-enclosed case is being prepared to house the remains of Sister Wilhelmina. Craig J. Campbell/EWTN News
No investigation so far
Sister Wilhelmina, a St. Louis native, founded the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles in 1995 when she was 70 years old. She died on May 29, 2019, and her unembalmed body was buried in a simple wooden coffin in the abbey’s outdoor cemetery.
Expecting to find only bones when they exhumed her remains on May 18 to be reinterred in their newly constructed St. Joseph’s Shrine, the sisters were astonished to find her body and traditional nun’s habit still remarkably intact. In addition, pilgrims who have visited the body have told CNA they did not smell any odor of decay. The sisters say they have applied wax to Sister Wilhelmina's hands and face.
The condition of her body has puzzled even experienced morticians. "If you’re telling me that this woman went into the ground unembalmed in a wooden box with no outer container in the ground and it was not sub-zero up in Alaska, I’m telling you, I’m going to start a devotion to this sister, because something special is going on there,” Barry Lease, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, told CNA last week.
Many of the pilgrims brought rosaries to visit the remains of Sister Wilhelmina, who is remembered for her devotion to Our Lady. Craig J. Campbell/EWTN News
There has been no official determination that Sister Wilhelmina’s remains are “incorrupt,” a possible sign of sanctity, nor is there any cause underway for the nun’s canonization, a rigorous process in the Catholic Church that can take many years.
The local ordinary, Bishop Vann Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who has visited the monastery to see Sister Wilhelmina’s remains, has said that a “thorough investigation” is needed to answer “important questions” raised by the state of her body, but there has been no word if and when such an analysis might take place. On Sunday a spokeswoman for the diocese said she was mistaken when she told CNA last week that Johnston had “been in touch with someone in Rome” about what has happened at the abbey.
Discovery meant to be kept quiet