The exhumed body of Sr. Mary Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB, founder of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, lies in repose at the Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus in Gower, Mo., May 21. OSV News photo/Megan Marley

Old-school nun shames self-indulgent ‘Sisters’

  • June 29, 2023

The recent kerfuffle regarding the Los Angeles Dodgers honouring “The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” at Dodgers Stadium got me investigating the bad Sisters. I knew very little about them, except that they would often show up on the news in full nun regalia (over-the-top garish and even ghoulish, akin to the horror film The Nun) to receive accolades for their “charitable work.”

“The Sisters” are a group of men, founded in San Francisco in 1979 as “a charity, protest and street performance organization that uses drag and religious imagery to satirize issues of sex, gender and morality,” according to Wikipedia. They have a structure mimicking religious life. There is an application process and a time of novitiate until vows are made. They are worldwide, including Canada, with “convents” in Toronto, Montreal, Regina, Vancouver and Victoria. Their charities are self-referential, funding various queer organizations.

Why pick on us nuns? Are the founders Catholics who had mean nuns in school? Were they sexually abused by hypocritical clergy? Is the Catholic Church the last bastion of censure to their lifestyles? I suppose if you have a beef with God’s law and you do drag, the natural role would be a nun. But it’s not just nuns being dragged through the mud. Blasphemous portrayals of Jesus’ crucifixion are regularly re-enacted in front of unsuspecting crowds. Is the demonic at play here as well?

Ordinary folks are getting fed up. An organized pushback is in its infancy. Adults will tolerate a lot of unnecessary guff lobbed at them — but you come after our Faith or our children? The gauntlet has been thrown down. Dodgers Stadium was practically empty when the “Sisters” were fêted, while hundreds of protesters and prayers gathered outside.

Still, you have to hand it to the anti-brides of Christ for their commitment and their success at being so high profile. Am I — the real deal — as dedicated to proclaiming Christ’s Gospel? Am I really the polar opposite of these iniquity-glorifying spectres? In these troubled times, God has given us a rootin’ tootin’ old school nun who very well may be an answer to all the deviant debauchery, and, oh yes, she may also be a saint.

Sr. Wilhelmina Lancaster was an African-American Sister who entered religious life at a young age. “How could I say ‘no’ to Jesus when He’s so handsome?” was her explanation. “Wilhelmina” is her religious name, and she liked to say: “I have a hell of a will, and I mean it.”

She watched her fellow Sisters doff the habit and relax the community’s rules and spiritual practices. She continued to wear the full habit because she saw it as a sign of God’s presence and beauty in the world, and she constantly advocated for a return to more religious discipline. At 70, she felt God calling her to begin a new community of contemplative nuns who would be dedicated to the traditional Latin Mass, prayer and singing the praises of God.

The community of The Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of Apostles was born in rural Missouri and  flourished with vocations. Sr. Wilhelmina died at 95 in 2019. In 2023, the Sisters wished to transfer her remains from an outdoor grave to an indoor one. Digging up their beloved foundress, who was laid to rest unembalmed in a cracked wooden coffin, they discovered her body and habit were intact. Some saints have been found to be incorruptible throughout history, but it’s only heroic virtue that makes for sanctity. It seems Sr. W had both, and accounts of miracles and healings due to her intercession abound as ecclesiastical investigations are undertaken.

This outcome is satisfying and fitting on so many levels. An African-American Sister’s body is being visited by thousands of predominantly white people. The religious habit Sr. W was so devoted to shared in enduring the ravages of time. The Archdiocese of St. Louis is closing 35 churches while nearby the witness of a traditional lover of God is shining forth for the world to marvel at. The Sisters have been shot at multiple times on their property (no one was ever caught), but now the monastery is a pilgrimage destination, and it will be hard for the perpetrators to continue their life-threatening harassment. She who laughs last laughs best.

(Sr. Raphael Burns, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA. Twitter: @srhelenaburns #medianuns)

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