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Discalced Carmelite Who Died at 26 to Be Beatified

Elisha of St. Clement (1901-1927)

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 16, 2006 ( Elisha of St. Clement of the Order of Discalced Carmelites will be beatified this Saturday during a Mass in the cathedral of Bari, Italy.

Archbishop Francesco Cacucci of Bari-Bitonto will preside, according to the announcement from the Holy See’s office of liturgical celebrations.

Below is a biography of the religious, written by the Discalced Carmelite Order. It is adapted here.

* * *

The new blessed was born in Bari, on Jan. 17, 1901, the third child of Joseph and Pasqua Fracasso. Four days later she was baptized in the Church of St. James by her uncle, Father Charles Fracasso, chaplain at the cemetery, and given the name Theodora. She was confirmed in 1903.

Her family then lived in St. Mark’s Square and were supported by what the father earned as a master painter and decorator. Around 1929, 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. The five remaining children were Prudence, Anne, Theodora Domenica and Nicola.

In 1905 the family moved to Via Piccinni, to a house with a little garden, in which, the little Theodora, aged 4 or 5, said 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 third grade. On May 8, 1911, after making a long preparation, she received her first holy Communion. The night before she dreamed 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.

Theodora entered the Association of the Blessed Imelda Lambertini, a Dominican nun with a special devotion to the Eucharist.

Afterward she joined the “Angelic Army” of St. Thomas Aquinas. She met 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.

Third Order

Her behavior and the good influence she had on her companions did not go unnoticed. In the meantime Theodora’s vague religious vocation was becoming clearer thanks to the advice of Dominican Father Peter Fiorillo, 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 war years, 1915-1918, Theodora found numerous occasions to increase her apostolic work, as a catechist and helper.

Toward the end of 1917, Theodora decided to seek advice from a Jesuit, Father 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.

1919 was a year of intense spiritual activity, as, under the guidance of Father Di Gioia, she prepared to enter the convent.

She entered the community on April 8, 1920, and took the habit that Nov. 24, taking the name Sister Elisha of St. Clement.

She made her first simple vows on Dec. 4, 1921. Besides St. Teresa of Jesus, she took as her guide Thérèse of the Child Jesus, following the “little way of spiritual childhood where I felt,” she affirmed, “called by the Lord.” She made her solemn profession Feb. 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.

Severe superior

The real problem arose after 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.

Always observant of the rule and community acts, Sister Elisha 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, Father Elias of St. Ambrose, the procurator general of the Discalced Carmelite Order, was a great comfort. He had first come to know of her in 1922, on the occasion of a visit to St. Joseph’s Carmel. The young Carmelite kept up an exchange of letters with him from which she drew great benefit.

In January 1927 Sister Elisha was struck down and weakened by influenza. She started to suffer from frequent headaches, but did not complain.

When, on Dec. 21, Sister Elisha also began to have a violent fever and other disturbances, the community assumed it was just one of her usual illnesses, but each day her situation caused more concern.

On Dec. 24 a doctor came to see her. Even though he diagnosed possible meningitis or encephalitis, he did not consider the clinical situation particularly serious. Only on the following morning were two doctors called to her bedside. At that point they declared that her condition was irreversible.

Sister Elisha of St. Clement died at noon on Christmas Day 1927. She had predicted: “I will die on a feast day.”

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