Divine Discovery or simple science? WCU's Rebecca George was front and center when many wondered about a dead nun in Missouri

Divine Discovery or simple science? WCU's Rebecca George was front and center when many wondered about a dead nun in Missouri

February 7, 20243 min read

It's a story out of a Hollywood writer's room - a nun who had been dead and buried for years was exhumed - and we were only to discover her body has not rotted or decomposed.

When news got out, many faithful and curious Americans descended upon Gower, Missouri (population 1,520) to see if this was a sign from God.

However, once national media got wind of this potential miracle, WCU's Rebecca George was one of the first people NBC News sought out for expert perspective, insight and opinion.

Volunteers and local law enforcement have helped to manage the crowds in the town of roughly 1,800 people, as people have visited from all over the country to see and touch Lancaster’s body.

“It was pretty amazing,” said Samuel Dawson, who is Catholic and visited from Kansas City with his son last week. “It was very peaceful. Just very reverent.”

Dawson said there were a few hundred people when he visited and that he saw many out-of-state cars.

Visitors were allowed to touch her, Dawson said, adding that the nuns “wanted to make her accessible to the public ... because in real life, she was always accessible to people.”

The monastery said in a statement that Lancaster’s body will be placed in a glass shrine in their church on Monday. Visitors will still be able to see her body and take dirt from her grave, but they won’t be able to touch her.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph also released a statement.

“The condition of the remains of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster has understandably generated widespread interest and raised important questions,” the diocese said. “At the same time, it is important to protect the integrity of the mortal remains of Sister Wilhelmina to allow for a thorough investigation.”

“Incorruptibility has been verified in the past, but it is very rare. There is a well-established process to pursue the cause for sainthood, but that has not been initiated in this case yet,” the diocese added.

The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, also said that Lancaster has not yet reached the required minimum of five years since death for the sainthood process to begin.

Rebecca George, an anthropology instructor at Western Carolina University in North Carolina, said the body’s lack of decomposition might not be as rare as people are expecting.

George said the “mummification” of un-embalmed bodies is common at the university’s facility and the bodies could stay preserved for many years, if allowed to.

Coffins and clothing also help to preserve bodies, she said.

“Typically, when we bury people, we don’t exhume them. We don’t get to look at them a couple years out,” George said. “With 100 years, there might be nothing left. But when you’ve got just a few years out, this is not unexpected.”

The story has gone global, and Professor George has been the go-to source on this story that's been carried by The Daily Mail, The Week and many others.

If you're looking to know more about this story or connect with Rebecca George - then let us help.  She's available to speak with reporters, simply click on her icon now to arrange an interview today.

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  • Rebecca L. George
    Rebecca L. George Instructor of Anthropology and Assistant Director of Forensic Anthropology Facilities

    Rebecca L. George focuses on the utility of dental morphology and metrics to estimate population affinity within forensic anthropology.

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