Did you have your communion at age 7? If so did you know that a little Irish girl is the reason you did, and that same Irish child may well be Ireland’s next saint?
Little Nellie – Ellen Organ was born in Waterford in 1903 but moved to Spike Island with her soldier father and family when he was stationed on Spike Island. She displayed a precocious spiritual awareness as soon as she could speak, constantly displaying her religious knowledge and spiritual passion. She adored the walk along Spike Islands shoreline to the village church which she made often with her mother on the way to mass.
When her mother tragically died of TB, Ellen was taken into the care of the Sisters of the Good Shepard convent in Sunday’s Well*, Cork. Here the sisters spotted her religious understanding which was well beyond her years and were devastated to learn that this pious child had contracted TB, the same disease which claimed her mothers life. Despite her affliction her devotion grew and Ellen would begin to describe visions and conversations with God and Jesus. She displayed knowledge of the Trinity beyond her years and she could tell without fail whether or not a person had been to mass and received Holy Communion. In spite of her illness she was always said to be in good spirits and her positivity both inspired and upset the sisters.
She began to express her adamant wish that she receive her first Holy Communion. At the time children received their Holy Communion at the age of 12 and younger that this age was unheard of, let alone at the age of 4. The sisters were well aware of this but so moved they contacted the local Bishop, who despite there being no precedent was utterly convinced that Ellen was ready to receive Holy Communion. At age 5 her wish came through and she remains the youngest ever recorded recipient of Holy Communion.
She died soon after in 1908 and was buried in her communion dress at St Josephs cemetery in Cork, but at the sisters wishes she was moved to the Good Shepard’s cemetery where she had spent her last days. On exhuming her body one year after her burial the priest and two men present reported she was found to be completely in-corrupt, unchanged in appearance, as if she had been buried the day before.
The story of this Irish child would reach Pope Pius X in Rome soon after her death, and the Pope had in private contemplation been considering lowering the age of Communion for children from 12. On hearing the story of ‘Little Nellie’ he exclaimed “this is the sign I have been waiting for”, and at what he saw as direction from God he duly lowered the age of Communion for all Catholics from 12 to 7. Queen Isabelle of Spain requested one of her relics be sent to her, as did a prestigious French family with royal connections.
How many hundreds of millions of Catholics worldwide since her time have been affected by this little girls devotion?
The story of Little Nellie is now back before the council of Rome, who are considering her for Sainthood over 110 years after Pope Pius X asked for it, but his passing meant it did not happen at the time. Since then other miracles have been attributed to Little Nellie, as she is known, as people praying to and visiting the grave of this influential child have reported.
You can see the house she lived in on Spike Island and visit a re-creation of her room to see relics and learn more about her tragic story.
* (The Good Shepard’s convnet in Sunday’s well is one of many ‘magdalene laundries’ locations in Ireland from which terrible stories of abuse and unmarked graves abound. Perhaps as a result of the ‘pious’ image the nuns had of her, there is no factual evidence that this influenced Ellen during her short stay there.)