LITTLE NELLIE OF HOLY GOD
Little Nellie Organ was a special girl who loved Holy God with all her heart. Because she never stopped talking about Holy God and to Him, she became known to all as Little Nellie of Holy God.
Nellie’s father was in the British army stationed in Waterford, so the family lived in the family quarters there and it was here, on 24th August, 1903 that Nellie was born. She had an older sister and two brothers.
Her parents were devout Catholics and, like most Irish catholic homes the rosary was prayed each night before going to bed. Mrs. Organ taught her children to kiss the crucifix and the rosary beads, something Nellie never forgot to do. Her mother also taught Nellie how to say the holy names of Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph, as well as those of other saints and Nellie always remembered to do so. In fact, she would have heard her mother refer often to “Holy God,” for at that time it was not unusual for parents to say to their children “Holy God wouldn’t like that” or “Holy God is very pleased with what you have just done,” if they did were good. Parents also commonly call churches “Holy God’s House.” Quite obviously, Nellie knew from very early on to do the things that made Holy God happy.
Nellie’s mother was a very pious and devout woman who suffered from poor health. Her father was transferred to Spike Island in Cork which was a blessing for her mother. The sea air was much healthier for her and she used to take Nellie, who was too young to be at school, to the nearby church each morning for Holy Mass. Soon, however, her health became very bad. Poor Mrs Organ had developed TB, a serious illness in those days. She prayed much to God during this time and the rosary was never out of her hands. Sadly, she died in January, 1907 when Nellie was only three and a half years old.
Nellie’s dad tried his best to take over his wife’s role in looking after the children, and he continued, when possible, to take his Little Nellie to Holy Mass. He was really surprised at how his little girl would chatter all the way there and back about “Holy God,” and noticed that there was something special about the loving way she referred to Him. Her dad also wondered how Nellie could have so much knowledge about God, but God knew as He surely had a big part in it.
Nellie’s dad sought the help of a local woman for his family because, as a soldier, he would have had to work many long hours. This worked out for awhile, but Mr. Organ realised it wasn’t enough to meet the needs of all his children. This was especially for Little Nellie who was found to be very delicate and in need of extra care. Sadly, he eventually realised he had to let the children go to other homes to give them the care and education he could no longer give them at home. Little Nellie and her sister Mary went to the convent school and home of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Sunday’s Well in Cork City and the boys to the Christian Brothers. One of the boys went to the Rosminians in Upton.
Although Nellie and Mary missed their mother dearly, the nuns cared for them with great kindness and they were very happy there. This happiness lasted for the rest of Nellie’s short life, a mere eight months in which she endeared herself to all the nuns and other children. Nellie called all the Sisters “Mother.” The sisters realised early on that there was something special about her and described her as an intelligent little girl who had an unusual sense of her Catholic faith for her age.
When she arrived at the home, it was discovered that Nellie had whooping cough. She was a bit cranky at times and cried a lot. Because of this, some people thought she had a bad temper. However, she was quite generous in sharing with other children and if she was mischievous towards any of them she always asked for forgiveness.
The nuns soon realised that Little Nellie had a twisted spine that must have caused her a lot of pain. Nellie was too small to explain what was wrong with her. The poor child also had tuberculosis and caries, a rotting disease of the gums and jaws that caused her to suffer terrible pain. At this point the nuns decided to remove her to a small cottage at the end of the garden where sick children were nursed and a girl named Mary Long looked after her.
Nellie loved to visit the chapel which she called “Holy God’s House” and she would spend time talking to Holy God. The Stations of the Cross impressed on her the terrible sufferings Holy God went through after they had been explained to her. Nellie burst into tears because of the pain suffered by “poor Holy God,” and this taught her to always say “sorry” to Him when she did anything naughty. It also encouraged her to offer up all her pains and sufferings for those suffered by Jesus on the cross.
Mary also told her the story of the child Jesus when she asked about the statue of the Infant of Prague. Nellie developed a great love for Him and she talked to Jesus a lot. It was then that the child had visions of the little Jesus who danced for her and on another occasion He gave her a flower.
Nellie had a great spiritual sense of the closeness of Jesus. Her helper Mary used to go to Mass most days. One day she was not able to go and when she came into Nellie’s room the little girl said to her “You have not had Holy God today.” Mary was surprised and asked her “How do you know that Nellie?” How could a three year old child know if Holy God came into our hearts during Holy Mass? Did Holy God Himself tell her? Surely this information came from Him Himself.
The Sister who looked after Nellie told her all about Almighty God and His dear Mother, and also how to say her prayers. Nellie loved to hear about them and about the holy angels. Sister had also told her all about Holy God living in the tabernacle, and the very first time she carried Nellie into the chapel for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, she pointed to the tabernacle and cried, “There He is. There is Holy God now.” From then on the little girl knew, without being told, when Eucharistic Adoration was taking place in the Church.
When the Bishop of Cork, Bishop O’Callaghan, heard about little Nellie and her great love for Holy God, he said he would come to the convent and give her the holy Sacrament of Confirmation. This happened and then Nellie longed to make her First Holy Communion. “When will Holy God come into my heart?” she would ask. “Oh, I am longing for Holy God.”
Dear Little Nellie longed to receive Holy God into her heart. However, as she had only recently celebrated her fourth birthday, she was far too young. In those days, the Church preferred that children fully understand all about Jesus in the Eucharist before receiving Him and it was felt that this was about eleven or twelve years of age. However, Little Nellie not only understood about Jesus coming to her. Wasn’t He her special friend after all? She knew Him better even that many grown - ups do.
Nellie coped with this by asking that Sister and those who received Him come straight to her bed so she could adore Him in them and then they could return to the chapel to finish thanksgiving.
A priest was visiting the convent and he was told all about Little Nellie and her ardent desire to receive Holy Communion. He told the bishop all about her and the bishop asked him to assess Nellie. The priest then visited her and, after interviewing her at length, realised that indeed she was ready to receive Jesus in Holy Communion even though she was only four years and three months. He sought permission from the Bishop and this was readily given. The nuns made her a little white frock, a veil and wreath. Her feet were so small they got her soft white slippers and socks for her to wear.
Nellie was then brought to the convent chapel for her first Holy Communion. It was the 6th December, 1907, the First Friday in Advent and the Feast of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. She had spent all night preparing her little heart to receive Holy God and the moment had finally arrived. Mother Frances described the radiance on the face of Little Nellie as she received her First Communion. “Her features shone as if in the presence of the great light in her heart reflected itself in her face.” The child seemed to be totally lost in the wonder of what she had just received and each time afterwards when she received Holy God into her heart it seemed that Nellie was transported into Jesus as He was in her. More than many Nellie understood the words of Jesus when He said:
“For my flesh is real food
And my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
Lives in me
And I in him.” (John 6:55-56).
It is said that Nellie’s thanksgiving after receiving Holy Communion would continue until late in the afternoon. It was Holy God Himself who taught her this. From the day of her First Holy Communion, the odour from Nellie’s mouth caused by the rotting of her gums and jaws ceased.
Nellie’s health got worse and worse. The priest used to bring Holy God to her in bed. Although she suffered terrible pain she would say: “Look at Holy God on the Cross, He suffered more than this for me. Oh, I am longing to go to Holy God.”
Nellie received Holy God 32 times in her short life. The 33rd time, He received her into His Heavenly Kingdom. It was 2nd February, 1908.
Nellie is a beautiful example of Jesus transforming us when we receive Him in Holy Communion. Not only was Little Nellie transformed after receiving Jesus in Holy Communion, but in a sense the entire Church has been transformed after her. Pope Pius X was considering lowering the age for children to receive Holy Communion from twelve years to seven and when he heard of Little Nellie he said she was the sign he was waiting for. On August 15th 1910, the Holy Father did just that.
Sources: Little Nellie, True Stories for First Communicants,Neumann press, 2003
Homily on Little Nellie, copyright Fr. Tommy Lane, www.frtommylane.com
And used with permission.