COLUMN: Sister Wilhelmina could be the first black, female saint

Published 8:33 pm Monday, July 17, 2023

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Part one of a three-part series

You won’t be surprised if, in the near future, we may have a new saint — a female American nun of African descent, to be added to the list of saints in the Catholic Church. (Or, perhaps, she’s already considered a saint by faithful pilgrims and people who have known or learned about her.)

Sister Mary Wilhelmina Lancaster is apparently the first African American to be found incorrupt in the Catholic Church. St. Agatha, St. Rita Cascia, St. Catherine Laboure, St. Cecelia and St. Bernadette of Lourdes are some of the well-known incorrupt female saints. If Sister Wilhelmina becomes a saint, she’ll likely be a role model of holiness and deep faith in Jesus-God, not only for African Americans but also for the entire church community worldwide. Her incredible, inspiring life story is something to be known, read and told. Hers is inspirational, especially in her devotion to Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, our spiritual mother.

She has been in the spotlight lately. As thousands and thousands flock to see her “incorrupt” remains in Missouri, her name continues to be heard and read. She has been the topic of news in print and TV, such as the Catholic News Agency and Eternal Word Television Network, podcasts, vlogs, by both mainstream and Catholic media for months.

She’s a newsmaker and trending, as this article is being written, to remind all of us, mortals, that there’s life after death. That is, if you believe in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. There are videos on YouTube that tell us about her, her amazing life story as a Catholic Benedictine nun, in particular. 

She defied many challenges in order to be a bridesmaid of Jesus, a servant to God. Eventually, she founded the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles in Gower, Missouri, in 1955. She was traditionally conservative, having followed the Rule of St. Benedict.

The Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia, originally written in Latin c.530 for monks and monastic life, consists of a prologue and 73 chapters. They provide basic monastic virtues of humility, silence and obedience, as well as directives for daily living. According to St. Benedict, all things — eating, drinking, sleeping, reading, working and praying — should be done in moderation.

Benedict wrote that everyone in the community needs to listen to one another, and that sometimes God speaks through the youngest person in the community. 

In chapter 7, of the Rule of Benedict are 12 steps to humility: 

  • Live ever in the presence of God. 
  • Seek not your own will or desires. 
  • Be obedient to superiors. 
  • Endure obedience under unpleasant conditions with fortitude. 
  • Do not hide a troubled heart from the Abbot. 
  • Be content with insignificant tasks. 
  • Be convinced in your heart that you are of small importance. 
  • Do only what is endorsed by the monastery and the examples of the superiors. 
  • Remain silent. 
  • Avoid easy laughter. 
  • Speak gently, modestly and quietly. 
  • Manifest humility in manner and posture.

Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk and Chesapeake. Email him at