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Bari (Italy) 18.03.2006

BLESSED ELISHA OF ST. CLEMENT

(1901-1927)

A Discalced Carmelite Nun

 

 

 

         The new Blessed was born in Bari, on January 17, 1901, the third child of Joseph and Pasqua (née Cianci) Fracasso. Four days later she was baptized in the Church of St. James by her uncle, Fr. Charles Fracasso, chaplain at the cemetery, and given the name Theodora. She was confirmed in 1903 by Mgr. Giulio Vaccari, Archbishop of the Diocese.

         Her family then lived in Saint Mark’s Square and supported by what the father earned as a master painter and decorator. Around 1929/30, after many sacrifices, he opened a shop for the sale of paint. Her mother was always busy with work in the home.

         They were both good practicing Christians and had in all nine children; four died in infancy. They were always a good example to their five remaining children (Prudence, Anne, Theodora Domenica and Nicola) for their human and spiritual development.

         In 1905 the family moved to Via Piccinni, to a house with a little garden, in which, the little Theodora – aged 4 or 5 – maintained she saw a beautiful “Lady” in a dream, who moved among the rows of blooming lilies, then suddenly disappeared in a beam of light. Later her mother explained to her the possible significance of the vision and Theodora promised that she would become a nun when she grew up.

         Theodora was sent to a nursery school run by the Stigmata Sisters, and continued her studies until the third elementary class. On May 8, 1911, after making a long preparation, she received her First Holy Communion. The night before she dreamt of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus who predicted to her: “you will be a nun like me”. Later she attended a work shop for sewing and embroidery near the same Institute.

         She entered the Association of the Blessed Imelda Lambertini, a Dominican nun with a special devotion to the Eucharist. Afterwards she joined the “Angelic Army” of St. Thomas Acquinas. She reunited with her friends from time to time in the dormitory where they would meditate and pray together, read the Gospel, 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. Teresa of the Child Jesus.

         Her behaviour and the good influence she had on her companions did not go unnoticed by one of the teachers, Sister Angelina Nardi. In the meantime Theodora’s vague religious vocation was becoming clearer thanks to the advice of Fr. Peter Fiorillo, O.P., her spiritual director. He introduced her to the Third Order Dominicans, who accepted her as a Novice on April 20, 1914. She took the name Agnes, and made her profession on May 14, 1915, with a special dispensation because of her young age.

         During the difficult war years, 1915-1918, Theodora found an infinite number of occasions, beyond the confines of her family and her own experiences, to increase her apostolic work, her work as a catechist and helper, and there was nothing to stop her ardent desire to help her neighbour.

         Towards the end of 1917, Theodora decided to seek advice from a Jesuit Priest, Fr. Sergio Di Gioia. He became her new Confessor. About a year later he decided to direct her, together with her friend Clare Bellomo, the future Sister Diomira of Divine Love, to the Carmel of St. Joseph, Via De Rossi, in Bari. They went there together for the first time in December 1918.

         The year 1919 was one of intense spiritual activity, as, under the prudent and enlightened guidance of Fr. Di Gioia, she prepared to enter the convent.

         The new Blessed entered the community on April 8, 1920, and took the Sacred Habit on November 24, the same year, taking the name Sister Elisha of Saint Clement. She made her first simple vows on December 4, 1921: “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 Therese of the Child Jesus, following the “little way of spiritual childhood where I felt – affirmed the Blessed – called by the Lord”. She made her solemn profession on February 11, 1925.

         Her journey, from the beginning, was not easy. Already in the first months of the novitiate she had to face not a few difficulties, which she did with a great spirit of faith. But the real problem arose after the Mother Prioress, Angelica Lamberti, in the spring of 1923, appointed Sister Elisha to be in charge of the embroidery machine in the girls boarding school attached to the Carmel; the head mistress, Sister Columba of the Blessed Sacrament, was of an authoritarian disposition, severe and with little understanding of others. She refused to see the goodness and gentleness with which Sister Elisha treated her pupils, and, so, after two years, had her removed from her post.

         Being always rigorously observant of the Rule and community acts, the new Blessed passed much of her day in her cell, dedicating her time to the embroidery that was given her. The Mother Prioress continued to esteem her greatly, and, in 1927, appointed her sacristan. During her painful trial Fr. Elias of St. Ambrose, the Procurator General of the Discalced Carmelite Order, was a great comfort. He had first come to know her in 1922, on the occasion of 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.

         In January 1927 Sister Elisha was struck down and greatly weakened by a bad influenza. She started to suffer from frequent head aches, but did not complain, in fact she bore them without taking any medication.

         When, a few days before Christmas (21st December), Sister Elisha also began to have a violent fever and other disturbances, they presumed it was just one of her usual illnesses, but each day her situation caused more concern. On the 24th December a doctor came to see her, who, even though he diagnosed possible meningitis or encephalitis, did not consider the clinical situation particularly serious. Only on the following morning were two doctors called to the bedside of the sick person, who, unfortunately, declared that her condition was irreversible.

         Sister Elisha of St. Clement died at 12.00 on the 25th December 1927. She made her entry into heaven on a feast day, as she had predicted: “I will die on a feast day”. Her funeral mass took place the next day and was celebrated by the Archbishop of Bari, Mgr. Augustine Curi, in the presence of the Servant of God’s family and many who had come to see her body.

         The young Carmelite nun left in everyone a fond memory, but also a great lesson: we must walk with joy towards Paradise because that is “the omega point” of every believer.

     
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Updated 06 mar 2006  by OCD General House
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