I just finished reading an outstanding book called God’s Will. It’s about the incorrupt African-American Benedictine nun, Sr. Mary Wilhelmina, Foundress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. She was born Mary Elizabeth Lancaster on the 13th of April 1924 in St. Louis. She died on the 29th of may 2019. She was found incorrupt on the 18th of May 2023. To be “incorrupt” means the body of the deceased has miraculously refrained from the normal post-mortem decomposition process.
I (top-right) have no plans on being incorrupt like her (top-left) but I noticed a few similarities in our intellectual conversions from modernist Catholicism to traditional Catholicism. Before entering the contemplative live, Sr. Mary Wilhelmina was in the active life. As a black woman, she was encouraged to “Give’em gospel.” This didn’t work. She wrote: “One just sang or played the way one felt, the louder the better. I also experimented with the music of Ray Repp, writer of folk songs for the Mass and tried to make the Mass more meaningful and appealing with ‘Here we are! Altogether as we sing our song, joyfully!’ Neither ‘gospel’ nor the songs of Ray Repp solved the problem of Mass attendance.”—God’s Will 99.
Now, I was raised charismatic and I will admit the charismatic movement is better than the folk music of the Catholic Church. But it seems all sincere roads are currently leading to tradition. Another similarity is that Sr. Wilhelmina and I both felt like we were betraying our family in becoming traditionalist. My extended family of south-side Chicago Catholics are all Democrats. I remember when I was about 18 years old, my great-aunt (God rest her soul) told me why Cardinal Bernadin should one day be canonized.
Sr. Wilhelmena had a similar account: “In 1968, the National Black Sisters’ Conference (NBSC) begun by Sr. Martin de Porres Gray RSM, gathered in Pittsburg, PA, and forty-some OSP attended it. I was one of them, and I mistakenly believed that at last Catholic sisters were going to do something about the injustices towards Blacks so eloquently preached about by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, a Baptist minister.”—God’s Will 101
But she later realized she was being commandeered by the left for their own social justice projects when she wrote: “I disengaged myself from the NBSC in 1971 after their publication of ‘Celibate Black Commitment’ in which they stated that Blacks couldn’t or shouldn’t be celibate.”—God’s Will 102. Notice the glaring racism of progressive Catholics in the last sentence: “Blacks couldn’t or shouldn’t be celibate.”
Once Sister had fully made it to the TLM, she saw how black-religious were just pawns in this country to many “elite” Catholics. She wrote a prayer to disengage from the race-baiting: “Lord Jesus, help me as a true religious to surrender all attachment to my ethnic origin. You were rejected by your people, the Jews, and handed over to the Romans. Yet You loved your people dearly. Ridiculed as ‘King of the Jews,’ You became the Savior of the World. Help me to humbly follow You, the Good Samaritan, the Nazarene, my Beloved.”—God’s Will 144.
I made it to the TLM many years after Sr. Wilhelmina arrived at tradition. But because she was born in 1924, her approach to the TLM in the 1980s was actually “a return.” She wrote: “I have finally come to my senses. I am resolved to return to the traditional Latin Mass, so that I can pray to God without distraction. In the old days, before the Novus Ordo, my eyes were always wide open as I watched the mysterious, endlessly fascinating actions of the priest. With the Novus Ordo, I find myself sometimes obliged to close my eyes so that I can’t see the priest. In the old days, my neighbor seemed just as intent as I was in watching the altar.”—God’s Will p. 137.
I have been encouraged by her words containing a tremendous supernatural hope in reaching heaven, even here in America during the 21st century. Thus, I have asked her to be a spiritual-mother to me from heaven. Her biographer wrote about her supernatural hope just before she died:
The novice’s prayer was answered, when, on the morning of January 10, she went into Sr. Wilhelmina’s cell to find her smiling radiantly with “a very pure and innocent expression.” “Jesus, Jesus!” Sr. Wilhelmina exclaimed, “He is the Good Shepherd. He wants everyone to go to heaven! He says everyone is supposed to go to heaven!” When asked if she had seen the Lord, she answered “Yes, I saw Jesus! Everyone in the world, everyone should go to heaven. Heaven, heaven, I want to go to heaven!” She looked up and smiled again, and then turned her eyes to her profession crucifix and gazed at it a long time. To the novice’s query, Sr. Wilhelmina replied, “Yes, I look at the cross. We should meditate every day on the cross, every single day. We should meditate about His Passion…He wants everyone to go to heaven, Oh, how I want to go to heaven!—God’s Will p. 209.