Bl. Elisha of St. Clement (1901-1927)
L'Osservatore Romano
A Young Discalced Carmelite Nun is Beatified in Bari, Italy: Bl. Elisha of St. Clement

Theodora Fracasso was born on 17 January 1901 in Bari, Italy, to Giuseppe Fracasso and Pasqua Cianci. Four days later she was baptized in St. James Church by her uncle, Fr. Charles Fracasso, chaplain at the cemetery.

Theodora was the third of nine children, four of whom died in infancy. Her parents were good practicing Catholics who were very concerned with the human and spiritual development of Theodora and her four remaining sisters. Theodora's father worked as a master painter and decorator, while her mother was always busy with work in the home.

When Theodora was 5 years old, she claimed to have seen a beautiful "Lady" in a dream, who moved among rows of blooming lilies and then suddenly disappeared in a beam of light. From this experience, the young girl promised she would become a nun when she grew up.

'You will be a nun like me'

Theodora was sent to a nursery school run by the Stigmata Sisters, where she continued her education until the third grade.

On 8 May 1911, after a long preparation, she made her First Holy Communion. The night before, she had a dream about St Thérèse of the Child Jesus who prophesied to her: "You will be a nun like me".

Theodora began attending a workshop for sewing and embroidery near the Institute of the Stigmata Sisters, and also entered the Association of Bl. Imelda Lambertini, a Dominican nun with a special devotion to the Eucharist.

Later, she joined the "Angelic Army" of St. Thomas Aquinas, gathering together her friends for periodic meditation, prayer and the reading of Sacred Scripture and other spiritual works such as The Eternal Maxims, the Imitation of Christ, the Fifteen Saturdays of Our Lady, the Lives of the Saints and in particular, the Autobiography of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

Her behaviour and the positive influence she had on her companions did not go unnoticed by one of the teachers, Sr. Angelina Nardi.

At the same time, Theodora's "vague" vocation was becoming clearer under the spiritual direction of Fr. Peter Fiorillo, O.P. He introduced her to the Third Order Dominicans, who accepted her as a novice on 20 April 1914. She took the name "Agnes" and made her profession on 14 May 1915, with a special dispensation because of her young age.

During the difficult war years (1915-18), Theodora found numerous occasions, beyond the confines of her family and her own experiences, to increase her apostolic work and her work as a catechist.

At the end of 1917, she decided to seek advice from a Jesuit priest, Fr. Sergio Di Gioia, who became her new confessor. A year later, he directed Theodora, along with her friend Clare Bellomo, to the Carmel of St. Joseph in Bari. They went there together for the first time in December 1918.

The way of 'spiritual childhood'

The year 1919 was one of intense spiritual activity for Theodora as she prepared, under the prudent and enlightened guidance of Fr. Di Gioia, to join the convent. On 8 April 1920 she entered, and on 24 November she took the habit and the name "Sr. Elisha of St. Clement".

She professed simple vows on 4 December 1921, with this phrase in her heart and on her lips: "Alone at the feet of my Crucified Lord, I looked at him for a long time, and as I looked I saw that he was my whole life".

Besides St. Teresa of Jesus, she took as her guide Thérèse of the Child Jesus, following the "little way of spiritual childhood" to which she "felt called by the Lord". She made her solemn profession on 11 February 1925.

From the start, her journey was not easy. Already in the first months of the novitiate she had to face many difficulties, which she did with a great spirit of faith.

But the real problem arose in the Spring of 1923 after the Mother Prioress, Angelica Lamberti, appointed Sr. Elisha to be in charge of the embroidery machine in the girls' boarding school attached to the Carmel. The head mistress, an authoritarian and severe person with little understanding of others, refused to see the goodness and gentleness with which Sr. Elisha treated her pupils, and after two years she removed her from her post.

Always closely observant of the Rule and community acts, Sr. Elisha passed much of her day in her cell, dedicating her time to the embroidery that was given her. Throughout all of this, the Mother Prioress continued to hold her in high esteem, and appointed her sacristan in 1927.

During her periods of trial, Fr. Elias of St. Ambrose, Procurator General of the Discalced Carmelite Order, was a great comfort. He had first come to know her in 1922 after a visit to St. Joseph's Carmel. The young Carmelite kept up an exchange of edifying letters with him from which she drew great benefit.

Feast day prophecy

In January 1927, Sr. Elisha became very ill with the flu, and then suffered from intense and frequent headaches; she never complained and bore the pain with no medication.

A few days before Christmas of that year, Sr. Elisha came down with a violent fever and other disturbances; it was "dismissed" as one of her usual illnesses, but each day her situation was a cause for growing concern.

On 24 December, a doctor came to see her; although he diagnosed possible meningitis or encephalitis, he did not consider her clinical situation particularly serious. Only on the following morning were two doctors called to Sr. Elisha's bedside who sadly confirmed that her condition was irreversible.

Sr. Elisha of St. Clement died on Christmas Day 1927, having predicted that she would die on a feast day.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
12 April 2006, page 2

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