“And now,” Sister Scholastica said, “that’s what’s standing out. That’s what she took on to show the world that she belonged to Christ, and that is what she still shows the world. Even in her state, even after death, four years after the death, she’s still showing the world that this is who she is. She’s a bride of Christ, and nothing else matters.”
‘I did a double take’
The Benedictine community exhumed Sister Wilhelmina after deciding to move her remains to a new St. Joseph’s Shrine inside the abbey’s church, a common custom to honor the founders of religious orders, the sisters said.
Members of the community did the digging themselves, “a little bit each day,” Mother Cecilia said. The process began on April 26 and culminated with a half-dozen or so sisters using straps to haul the coffin out of the ground on April 28.
The abbess revealed that there was a feeling of anticipation among the sisters to see what was inside the coffin.
“There was a sense that maybe God would do something special because she was so special and so pure of heart,” Mother Cecilia said.
It was the abbess who looked through the cracked lid first, shining her flashlight into the dark coffin.
“So I looked and I kind of did a double take and I kind of stepped back. ‘Did I just see what I think I saw? Because I think I just saw a completely full foot with a black sock still on it,’” she recalled saying to herself.
Sister Wilhelmina’s features were clearly recognizable; even her eyebrows and eyelashes were still there, the sisters discovered. Not only that, but her Hanes-brand socks, her brown scapular, Miraculous Medal, rosary beads, profession candle, and the ribbon around the candle — none of it had deteriorated.
The crown of flowers placed on her head for her burial had survived, too, dried in place but still visible. Yet the coffin’s fabric lining, the sisters noted, had disintegrated. So had a strap of new linen the sisters said they used to keep Sister Wilhelmina’s mouth closed.
(Story continues below)
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“So I think everything that was left to us was a sign of her life,” Sister Scholastica reflected, “whereas everything pertaining to her death was gone.”
Another revelation from the interview: Contrary to what one would expect in the case of a four-year-old corpse, Sister Wilhelmina’s body is “really flexible,” according to Sister Scholastica.
“I mean, you can take her leg and lift it,” Mother Cecilia observed.
EWTN News In Depth also spoke with Shannen Dee Williams, an author and scholar who is an expert on the history of Black Catholicism. Sister Wilhelmina’s story, she said, is an important reminder of “the great diversity and beauty of the Black Catholic experience across the spectrum.”
“It’s a really important story that reminds us of what is the great diversity of what is the Black Catholic experience.” – @BlkNunHistorian explains the significance of Sister Wilhelmina choosing a traditional habit for her community. pic.twitter.com/nJmyQ6UYjA
— EWTN News In Depth (@EWTNNewsInDepth) June 3, 2023