Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
The twofold character of Advent calls us to prepare for the remembering of the Word made Flesh at Christmas, and directs us to wait with alertness for Jesus’ second coming.
Blessed Elisha of St. Clement, Religious, 1901-1927
Born Theodora Fracasso in Bari, Italy on January 17, 1901, this saint knew from a very early age that she was called to be a nun. In a vision, the young girl, about four years old at the time, saw a beautiful lady walking among the flowers in a garden and then disappearing in a bright ray of light. Theodora’s mother explained the vision to her. The child decided then that she was being called to become a nun and devoted her young life to preparation for that calling.
Sent to a school run by nuns, Theodora continued to grow in faith. The night before she was to make her First Communion, she had a vision of St. Teresa of Jesus (St. Teresa of Avila) who told her that she would become a nun just as Teresa had. In later years, Theodora joined her friends in groups to study Scripture, the lives of the saints, and one that she especially liked, The Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
Introduced by the priest who was her spiritual director to the Third Order Dominicans, Theodora was accepted as a novice in 1914 notwithstanding her young age. Through the years of World War I, she worked as a catechist and to provide support in whatever way she was able to those around her.
A few years later in 1918, another priest, Fr. Di Gioia, who had become her confessor, suggested that she enter a convent in Bari, the Carmel of St. Joseph. Together with a friend, Clare Bellomo, Theodora visited the convent in December, 1918 where she and her friend both felt that this was the order they were being called to. Under the guidance of Fr. Di Gioia, the two girls spent the year 1919 in intense preparation for entry into the Carmel of St. Joseph.
Entering the convent in the Spring of 1920, Theodora took the name Elisha of St. Clement. Besides St. Teresa of Jesus, she also chose St. Thérèse of Lisieux as a model, citing her “little way of spiritual childhood where I felt called by the Lord.” Her final vows were taken in February 1925.
Sister Elisha’s life in the convent was never easy, but she persevered in each of the roles to which she was assigned. The Mother Superior, who recognized the holiness of this young sister as a novice, placed her at the boarding school for girls run by the convent where she taught embroidery. The headmistress of the school was less understanding and felt that Elisha, who showed her love for her students, was too lenient with the girls. Of strict disposition and lacking the skills to deal with people in any other than an authoritarian manner, the headmistress found fault with most of Elisha’s actions.
Eventually transferred back to the convent, Sister Elisha continued her prayerful and loving life. The Mother Superior appointed her as sacristan of the convent, but in January 1927, Elisha suffered a severe bout of influenza which led to frequent headaches and illnesses. All of this suffering the sister accepted without complaint and even refused to take medicine.
In December 1927, Elisha again suffered a severe illness and fever which was presumed to be just another episode in the series. Only on Christmas Eve was a doctor called in to see her. In his judgment, her condition was not serious. The next morning, her condition having worsened overnight, two doctors came to see her and stated that her condition was irreversible. She died at noon on Christmas Day, fulfilling a prediction that she had made sometime earlier that she would die on a feast day.
Blessed Elisha of St. Clement was beatified on March 18, 2006.
Elisha of St. Clement's message today: This saint discerned her vocation very early in life, something that most of us cannot do. But, at whatever stage of our life we choose a calling, it should be done with prayer and good judgment.