The Remarkable Case of Sister Wilhelmina, One Year Later

Would our mainstream media have given Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster even less coverage had it not been pushed by social media buzz?

A pilgrim venerates the incorrupt body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster on May 20, 2023, after her exhumation in Gower, Missouri.
A pilgrim venerates the incorrupt body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster on May 20, 2023, after her exhumation in Gower, Missouri. (photo: Kelsey Wicks / CNA / EWTN News)

What if Heaven decided to publish and circulate a newspaper, perhaps called The Paradise Daily, to inform those of us on Earth about current events that are actually important? 

I suppose that St.  Francis de Sales, being the patron of journalists, would be handed the duties of editor-in-chief. 

How often would the headlines of our mainstream newspapers match those that grace the front page of The Paradise Daily? How often would certain events covered by The Paradise Daily be mentioned, even in a blurb, in our mainstream newspapers?

The Paradise Daily’s commitment to reporting events truthfully would be unmatched, given that the sharing of the underlying Truth would be a priority, and the Owner’s concern for profit margins would likewise be nil. Page 6 also wouldn’t be wasted on anything so petty as celebrity gossip. 

The self-imposed limits of such a newspaper, driven by keen foresight and a deep sense of responsibility, would prevent us from having to worry about how the attention given to certain events could attract copycat criminals, seeking infamy, to do the same. In fact, such a newspaper’s coverage could even lead to a very new phenomenon among its readership: copycat saints.

The Paradise Daily would be bound to have its share of critics. Many such critics would complain that the paper’s coverage is much too centered around religious topics, or that its stance is far too blatantly pro-life, and thus the newspaper could never qualify as “neutral” or “fair.” Such objections would, in almost all cases, be thinly-veiled complaints that Heaven’s views fail to adequately conform to the particular worldviews of those detractors. They’d much prefer that Heaven agree with their own opinions. 

The Paradise Daily would likewise discard several of those self-imposed limits regularly practiced throughout our mainstream media. To affirm the existence of God, the existence of Heaven and hell, or that miraculous events do indeed occur, wouldn’t be considered taboo as it is for other newspapers. 

St. Frances de Sales wouldn’t consider The Paradise Daily too “sophisticated” to cover miraculous events, nor would he shy away from the very use of the word “miracle.” Saints are not too proud to acknowledge the facts as they are, no matter how astonishing they may be.

The miracles that have been approved by the Church are indeed facts. The Church has been in the business of investigating alleged miracles for a very long time. Alleged miracles undergo intense scrutiny, by the Church, before ever gaining official recognition. And such scrutiny very much includes exhausting the known scientific explanations, and investigating as to whether the person who’d reported an alleged miracle was fraudulent or of unsound mind. To understand that the miracles approved by the Church truly occurred, accepting them as facts that is, isn’t the same as indulging in superstitious beliefs.

And while we’re on the subject of superstition, it shouldn’t be lost how common it is today for mainstream newspapers to print daily horoscope readings.

If reporting certain facts is considered to be taboo, or perhaps even in poor taste, then what becomes of the upper limit of accuracy among our mainstream news sources?

There was indeed a news event, about a year ago, that tested exactly that.

The exhumation of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster last year, and with it the discovery of the remarkably intact state of her body, served as something of a litmus test. Catholic media didn’t hesitate to report it. Our worldly media was, for the most part, far less eager to report it. Mainstream print media was also far more prone to surrounding the word “miracle” with quotation marks if and when it did so.

Try typing the name “Wilhelmina Lancaster,” along with “Washington Post,” on a search engine. Articles about Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, whose body had remained remarkably well-preserved after four years in a grave, despite never having been embalmed, will indeed appear. It’s just that none of those articles happen to have been published by the Post, as of the date of this writing.

“Not touching that story,” CNN anchorman Jim Sciutto himself had quipped, while on air, immediately after one of his colleagues finished reporting on the story. His colleague had reported on the event in a manner that seemed rather more focused on a sudden, and seemingly “odd,” new tourist attraction in Gower, Missouri, rather than the possible miracles that those pilgrims sought to witness.

Fox News’ reporting had been something of an exception among our mainstream news sources, having gone so far to explain that the Church considers incorruptibility as a sign of a person’s holiness, as well as an explanation of necessary steps for a person’s canonization. (May 29 of this year will be the fifth anniversary of Sister Wilhelmina’s passing.)

Would our mainstream media have given Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster even less coverage had it not been pushed by social media buzz? Why would acts of violence and other disasters be given so much attention, whereas possible miracles on our own home soil would be given relatively little? What are the priorities of our mainstream media?

How often does dedication to an ideology — I obviously didn’t find any coverage of Sister Wilhelmina by MSNBC — prevent the reporting of facts that could be considered “inconvenient” to certain political agendas? How often does the fear of offending some of the readers, or viewers, hinder the reporting of facts? What about disbelief among those in the press? And how often are facts neglected as a result of a pretentious consideration that a certain news source is much too “sophisticated” to cover such events?

The Church has obviously neither approved nor denied the incorruptibility of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster as being a miracle. It took 13 years for the Church to officially recognize Our Lady of Fatima as a legitimate Marian apparition, after all. 

But would our worldly media continue putting quotation marks around the word “miracle” if and when, down the line, the Church were to recognize the incorruptibility of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster as a miracle? Would our worldly media bother to pay any attention at all if, and when, that were to happen? 

The Gospels themselves, reports of the Good News, are filled with the accounts of miracles performed by Our Lord. The Evangelists had reported these miracles as facts, without shame, and with reckless disregard for how “unsophisticated” they would appear before any of their skeptical contemporaries. The pride in considering oneself to be too “educated” to believe in the miraculous can blind a person to the truths most essential to his soul.

Miracles did not stop occurring during the time of the Evangelists.

Our Lady did indeed appear before the seers in Guadalupe, Lourdes and Fatima, as well as those other sites formally recognized by the Church. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which remains with us today, was imprinted on material that was supposed to have dissolved several centuries ago. Documented cases of stigmata, and of persons who lived for decades subsisting solely on the Eucharist for food, are all likewise facts that are beyond any scientific explanation. It was by the miracles attributed to the intercessions of the saints that their own causes moved forward. 

If the incorruptibility of Sister Wilhelmina’s body does earn the Church’s approval, she will join a list of slightly more than 100 saints and blesseds throughout the world whose incorruptibility the Church has formally recognized, a fact that The Paradise Daily would not hesitate to report.   

But, of course, openness to accepting approved miracles as factual does likewise carry with it the risk that the person learning about them would proceed to actually practice their Catholic faith. Ceasing to consider myself much too “refined” to believe in the miraculous, and going on from there to learn about the approved miracles, was one of the steps that ultimately led to my confirmation in the Church. I wonder to what extent it is the case that, at the heart of it, that is precisely why miracles would be underreported, or altogether ignored, by our worldly media.  

A Protestant friend of mine had learned about the strange case of Sister Wilhelmina when the news of her exhumation broke out last year. She had approached the pastor of her Presbyterian church later on that week, and asked him what he knew about incorruptibility. The pastor admitted to knowing almost nothing about it. She went to a bar trivia later on that week, and went on to ask the nearest practicing Catholic what he may have known about it, who just happened to be me.  

It was an opportunity to tell her the little bit I did know about incorruptibility among the saints, as well as other miraculous phenomena, in between the trivia host’s questions. That brief conversation had left me wondering much about our duties as Catholics in particular, and as Christians in general.

The Gospels made it very clear that it is our task to share, and to spread, the Good News through our witness. The Gospels are rather silent on the matter of our dependence upon news media as a crutch to keep the world up to date. At the end of the day, our witness is the closest thing the world has to a newspaper sent from Heaven.