Sister Mary Wilhelmina


Sister Mary Wilhelmina of the Most Holy Rosary, OSB

By Sara Kraft

“She was the treasure of our community and bedrock of charity,” said Mother Abbess Cecilia Snell, OSB, of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles located in Gower, Missouri.

Sister Mary Wilhelmina of the Most Holy Rosary, OSB died Wednesday, May 29 at 8:35 pm. She was born Mary Elizabeth Lancaster on April 13, 1924 on Palm Sunday. Sister Wilhelmina recently celebrated her 75th anniversary of vows and her 95th birthday.

As a young girl living in St. Louis, Sister Wilhelmina wanted to become a nun. At age thirteen, she wrote a letter requesting to go to the convent as soon as possible because she wanted to become a nun. Later Sister Wilhelmina was able to join the Oblate Sisters of Providence. She began her formation in 1941. As a sister, she took the new name “Wilhelmina” when she took her vows. Wilhelmina was chosen in honor of her pastor, Fr. William Markoe, S.J. who encouraged her to pursue her vocation.

Sr. Wilhelmina spent many of her years with the Oblate Sisters of Providence teaching in schools. Throughout her career, she taught in the Archdioceses of Baltimore, Washington, Charleston, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Miami. While in Baltimore, her habit saved her life. The stiff guimpe (the high necked collar) deflected a knife that was thrown at her by a troubled student. From 1973 to 1985, she was archivist for the Oblate community. From 1985-1995, she assisted in the Mount Providence Center of Music and General Culture.

In 1995 on the Feast of St. Bede, after 50 years in the Oblates Sisters of Providence, Sister Wilhelmina formally left her community to found the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles with Fr. Arnaud Devillers in the Diocese of Scranton in Pennsylvania. The order was totally consecrated to Our Lady in prayer and sacrifice for priests through the Rule of St. Benedict.

Today, the order devotes approximately five hours a day to the chanting of the Mass and Divine Office. The sisters’ remaining time is spent doing manual labor (such as sewing vestments for priests all over the world, gardening, cooking, cleaning, farm work and other duties), mental prayer, and prayerful reading. The order is primarily contemplative.

“It would seem I’ve done a very foolish thing,” Sr. Wilhelmina stated. “After fifty years as an Oblate Sister of Providence, I am starting religious life anew as the foundress of a new community affiliated with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. To those who say that my leaving my old community to found a new one doesn’t make sense, I reply that it is understandable only in the life of faith. When other people came, I welcomed them because I wanted to share what I had. ‘The disciples were persevering in prayer with Mary the Mother of Jesus.’ This is a perfect description of the religious sisterhood that has formed.”

In 2004, she broke ties with her community and made private vows until 2014, when the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles received formal recognition from the Vatican.

In 2006, the new order moved to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. In 2010, the sisters moved to Gower, Missouri. Sister Wilhelmina was the order’s first Prioress (or superior).

“She has been such a support to the community,” explained Sister Scholastica Radel, OSB, Prioress. “Even though we were taking care of her, it really seemed like she was sustaining us spiritually.”

“Many years ago, our first chaplain asked Sister Wilhelmina, ‘Why did you become a religious?’ Her instantaneous reply was: ‘because I was in love with Our Lord.’ It could be easily said even in her declining years that she never fell out of love with Him,” explained Sister Scholastica.

St. Bede the Venerable was Sister Wilhelmina’s favorite Benedictine saint. Thirteen hundred years ago on the evening prior to the Ascension, St. Bede the Venerable died peacefully as the evening Offices were being completed. Although it was technically Wednesday, due to liturgical accounting he is said to have died on the Ascension since it was after sunset and First Vespers of the Ascension had been chanted.

“Following not only in her beloved saint’s footsteps in the love of the Divine Office and our Blessed Lady, our dear Sister Wilhelmina followed him even in the manner of death,” stated Sister Scholastica.

On May 29th, following First Vespers (so the Ascension had already begun), the entire community of thirty-eight nuns gathered at 7 p.m. in Sister Wilhelmina’s cell. After reading and singing, the community chanted Compline (or night prayer) in her cell. As Mother Abbess was giving the traditional sprinkling of water from oldest to youngest nun, immediately after sprinkling Sister Wilhelmina, Sister Wilhelmina peacefully breathed her last breath.

Sister Wilhelmina’s funeral was held Friday, May 31 at the monastery. Burial was at the monastery graveyard. The nuns both dug and filled her grave by hand.

“May God have mercy on me,” Sister Wilhelmina said before her death. “I trust in the mercy of God. Oh, I am grateful to be here! I’m so grateful to be here! I’m grateful to be alive and to serve Him in this community. I’m praying for Mother Cecilia. If there’s anything I would want to pass on to the community, it would be this: Devotion to Our Blessed Mother, True Devotion to Our Blessed Mother.”

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Saturday
October 19, 2019
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph