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Ellen Organ, aged 4.
August 24, 1903|
|Died||February 2, 1908
|Resting place||Good Shepherd Sisters Convent Cemetery, Sunday's Well, Cork|
|Known for||Piety, Mystical experiences|
Ellen Organ or "Little Nellie of Holy God" (August 24, 1903 – February 2, 1908) was an Irish child, venerated by some in the Roman Catholic Church for her precocious spiritual awareness and alleged mystical life. Particularly dedicated to the Eucharist, the story of her life inspired Pope Pius X to admit young children to Holy Communion. In 1910, Pope St Pius X issued “Quam Singulari” which significantly lowered the age of Holy Communion for children from the age of 12 to around age 7.
Ellen was born in Waterford, Ireland, the daughter of William Organ and Mary Ahern: she was the youngest of four children. While baptised Ellen, she was always called Nellie. Her father had been a laborer but earning very little, he had joined the army in 1897. In 1905 William was transferred to Spike Island, an island fort situated in Cork harbour. Here, while the family hoped for better times, Nellie's mother Mary fell ill, and for over a year she struggled to raise her family as her health declined. In January 1907 she died of tuberculosis. With four children all under the age of nine William found it impossible to raise them and maintain his job. A helpful neighbour helped from time to time, but he was beginning to feel the strain.
Meanwhile, Nellie Organ, already a delicate child, was displaying signs of disability: it seems a serious fall as a baby had left its mark. Her spine had become crooked, her hips and back, out of joint, caused her constant pain and as she grew up she became unable to sit up straight.
William finally realised he could not care for the children himself, and in May 1907, he put each of his four children into care. Nellie Organ and her sister Mary were sent first to a hospital run by the Sisters of Mercy - the two girls were found to be suffering from Whooping Cough, and then later, they went to St Finbarr's Industrial School in Sunday's Well in Cork City, administered by the Good Shepherd Sisters.
Life in the orphanage
Her religious experiences
Organ referred to God as "Holy God", and her carers believed that she was having some form of religious experience. She loved to visit the chapel which she called "the House of Holy God", and she was fascinated by the statues and images on display, and in particular by the Stations of the Cross. When told the story of the suffering and death of Jesus she burst into tears. It is claimed that she developed a mysterious awareness of the Blessed Sacrament. One story relates how she knew a member of staff had not been to Mass that day, even though the young woman said she had. "You did not get Holy God today" the child said. This episode and others like it led some Catholics to believe that she had what is referred to as the mystical gift of "discernment".
Meanwhile, she began to claim to have visions. She related how she saw Christ - usually as a little child like her - and the Virgin Mary. On a number of occasions she claimed to have seen the Infant of Prague dancing for her. Her already precocious faith was growing, and those who came to know her testified to her holiness. She so impressed the sisters they began to entertain the possibility of recommending the child for the sacrament of Confirmation. Contacting the local bishop, he agreed, and she was confirmed on October 8, 1907.
Organ soon began to ask to receive Holy Communion. At first the sisters hesitated – she was too young for that sacrament. Wondering if she understood what the Eucharist was, they observed her at prayer in the chapel and saw that she was captivated by the tabernacle, which she usually referred to as "the lock-up". Nellie had been born in the army barracks, where the prison was called the “lock-up.” Upon seeing the Eucharist in the Tabernacle, she regarded Jesus as the “Prisoner” in the “lockup.” During Mass when her carers came back from Communion, Nellie would ask them to kiss her so she could somehow share in their Communion.
According to the rules of the Church no child could receive Communion before a certain age – Organ was at least six years too young. The sisters spoke with a Jesuit priest who ministered to the community, and while he was hesitant, he decided to come to speak to the child. After spending some time with her he came to the conclusion that she had reached the age of reason, albeit at an extraordinarily young age. He brought the matter to the bishop's attention, who after thinking about it for a short while, consented, and Organ made her First Communion on December 6, 1907.
Between December 1907 and February 1908, Organ's health declined and her sufferings worsened. Her condition left her in constant pain, but she neither complained nor looked for relief. Given the times, there was little that could be done. The sisters tried to make her as comfortable as possible. Various visitors, including the Bishop of Cork, noticed her fortitude and her intense prayer life. She was constantly happy. At this stage tuberculosis had set in and she was suffering from tooth decay, making it difficult and painful for her to eat. The mouth disease caused a horrible odour which her caregivers treated with disinfectant. Nellie did not complain of the pain this caused her as she instead, holding the crucifix in her small hands, contemplated the pain that Christ endured during His crucifixion, stating, "Poor Holy God. Poor Holy God." It was noted by the Sisters and nurses that after she began receiving Holy Communion, the smell completely disappeared. All Nellie wanted at this stage was to receive Communion. She was also aware that she was going to die soon, and this did not trouble her: it made her happy – in fact she was looking forward to it.
Organ died on February 2, 1908, at 4pm. Witnesses said she appeared to see something at the foot of her bed which caused her to smile and her eyes to well with tears. She followed that 'something' with her eyes, looking overhead, when she died. She was buried in St Joseph's Cemetery in Cork, but after a year, her remains were transferred to the Convent Cemetery in Sunday's Well.
Organ's fame spread throughout Ireland and beyond, even reaching Pope Pius X in Rome. Her life would prove providential for him. He had been considering lowering the age for the reception of the Eucharist, when he heard of Nellie, he took it as a sign and issued his decree Quam singulari admitting children to Communion at the age of seven.
Numerous books have been written about her, including a major study in French by Fr Bernard des Ronces.
Despite devotion to her over the years, and a growing interest in her in recent years, the Catholic Church has not yet opened a Cause for her canonization. Pope Pius X, having read Bernard des Ronces' book was considering opening a Cause, but his death in 1914 prevented any further development. Her young age had been considered a major factor in not proclaiming her a saint, however in recent years the beatification of a number of non-martyr children by the Catholic Church reveals a change in attitude.
- Authentic Sources compiled in The Life of Little Nellie of Holy God, Tan Books, Rockford, Illinois, 2007.
- Des Ronces, Bernard, Nellie, la petite violette du Saint-Sacrement, Maison du Bon Pasteur, Paris, 1908.
- Leo Madigan, Princesses of the Kingdom: Jacinta Marto and Nellie Organ, Kolbe Publications, Cork, 2001
- Sarah Ellen Collins Saucier, Ellen, My Joy, Xulon Press, 2008, 140 pages.
- Maire Cotter, Little Nellie of Holy God - A Lily Aflame - On the Life of Nellie Organ, 1956, 67 pages.
- « Ellen Organ », in Ann Ball, Young Faces of Holiness, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2004, p. 45-52.
- Leo Madigan.'Miniature: Nellie Organ 1903-1908. The Definitive Biography.' Fatima-Ophel Books. 2011. 318 pages.
- 'Little Nellie of Holy God' by Sister Mary Dominic, R.G.S., 2006, Tan Books.