Little Nellie of Holy God -The Life of Nellie Organ (1903-1908)
“There! That is the sign for which I was waiting.” -Pope St Pius X after hearing about the holy life of little Nellie. A few months later in 1910 he issued “Quam Singulari” which significantly lowered the age of Holy Communion for children.
Little Nellie Organ lived to be only four and one-half years old, and yet for very good reason she is known as “The Little Violet of the Blessed Sacrament.” The remarkable story of her short yet holy life begins with her birth on August 24, 1903. Her father, William Organ and her mother Mary Aherne Organ were married on July 4, 1896 and their marriage was soon blessed with four children: Thomas, David, Mary and, lastly, Nellie. Because unemployment was very high at that time in Ireland, her father William Organ had to choose between emigration and enlistment as a soldier. He chose the latter and in October, 1897, he joined the British Army then in occupation in Ireland, in a garrison in the maritime town of Waterford.
Thus little Nellie was born on August 24, 1903, in the “married quarters” of the Royal Infantry Barracks in Waterford, Ireland. Soon afterward she was brought to the parish Church of the Trinity where she was Baptized with the name of “Ellen,” though she would be familiarly called “Nellie.”
“When only two,” Nellie’s father writes, “she would clasp my hand and toddle off to Mass, prattling all the way about Holy God. That was the way she always spoke of God, and I do not know where she could have learned it.” Nellie loved her father dearly, and her first request when her mother went out was to buy a rosary for Daddy. One night her father said he was going on sentinel duty. Nellie said, “I will be sentinel in your place.”
“You go to sleep,” said her father.
“No,” said Nellie, “I shall wait for you”-and when he returned some hours later she was awake, waiting for him.
The holy names were the first words that Nellie learned, and at night the family Rosary was said. Her mother taught her to kiss the crucifix and the large beads, a habit which Nellie retained.
The death of her mother
In 1905 the family moved to Spike, an island fort situated in Cork Harbor. The mother’s health, which had never been robust, now visibly deteriorated.
Pious and devout, Mrs. Organ turned in her last months entirely to God, and her rosary was never out of her hands. Toward the end she clung to Nellie with such transports of affection that the child had to be torn, almost rudely, from her dying embrace. She died of consumption (tuberculosis) in January, 1907.
The eldest of the Organ children was only nine at the time and her father was engaged throughout the day in his military duties, so initially a charitable neighbor gave occasional help in the Organ household. However since the children were so young and couldn’t help much with all the necessary household duties, it was soon realized that this makeshift arrangement was a poor one, and in addition it was discovered that Nellie was painfully delicate and was requiring special care, for it was soon discovered that she had a crooked spine, though this was not recognized completely until she came into the care of the Good Shepherd Sisters. Sitting upright in a chair was painful for her and in fact holding her body still for any length of time pained her a great deal. Her hip and her twisted back were out of joint. She cried, but there was no loving mother to soothe and comfort her. Nellie’s father at length realized that he could not carryon any longer in a motherless family, so he asked a kind priest friend to find a home in some convent for his forlorn orphans.
Nellie and her sister is sent to the Good Shepherd Sisters
The priest friend came to his assistance, and with his kind help each of the little ones was provided with a home in the charitable institutions of the diocese. Thomas was sent to the School of the Brothers of Charity at Upton; David, the younger brother, to the convent school of the Sisters of Mercy, Passage West; and it was arranged that Mary and Nellie should be sent to live at St. Finbarr’s Industrial School conducted by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd at Sunday’s Well, in the city of Cork, Ireland.
Nellie and her sister arrived on May 11th, 1907. It was with truly maternal care that Mary and Nellie were surrounded there by the kind Good Shepherd Sister and Nellie was truly happy there, and she called all the Sisters “Mothers.” Upon her arrival Nellie was three years and nine months old; she would live the remaining eight months of her life with the Sisters.
A Physicians Diagnosis
Mary Long was a young girl who slept next to Nellie and she told the Sisters that Nellie seemed to be in pain and would often be up much of the night crying and often coughing. Because of this, little Nellie was transferred to the school infirmary where she would share her meals with a little black kitten, of which she grew very fond and which fully reciprocated the child’s affection.
While classroom lessons had now ceased for the suffering child, she was however taken at times join the kindergarten games on the playground. One day she was given a box of beads string. She put some in her mouth and inadvertently she somehow swallowed, or rather half swallowed them. They stuck in her throat and she seemed to be suffocating. The teacher snatched her up and went running to find the nurse and together they rushed Nellie into the Sacred Heart Infirmary on the convent ground, and immediately those present performed the operation of extracting the beads from her throat. Five were removed from the neighborhood of the trachea. Remarkably, Nellie did not cry during the painful experience, but sometime later she became listless, so they sent for the doctor. With grief in their hearts they soon heard his diagnosis: Along with her crooked spine Nellie was the victim of the dreaded tuberculosis–the disease that had proved fatal to her mother. Since the disease was already quite along in its progress, the doctor held out no hope whatsoever of her recovery. In fact he informed them that she had only a few months of life remaining.
Her devotion to the Child Jesus
Little Nellie remained for two months in the Sacred Heart Infirmary. Her nurse, Miss Hall frequently considered it necessary to stay the night with her, and Nellie’s gratitude for this attention was full of childlike love—“Holy God took my Mudder,” she would say, “but He has given me you to be my Mudder.” She would put out her tiny hand between the rails of her crib to take that of her “Mudder,” and she would clasp it affectionately until the little fingers gradually relaxed and she fell into a fitful sleep.
During this time when Nellie was still confined to bed in the infirmary, a little altar on which stood a statue of the Holy Infant of Prague attracted her attention. She asked Miss Hall about the statue and she explained to Nellie that the statue was an image of Our Lord when He was a child. Immediately Nellie’s interest was aroused. Miss Hall proceeded to narrate the story of the birth of Christ and His great love for us. The child listened with evident enthusiasm, and ever afterward she delighted in “the story of Holy God when He was a little child.”
Her remarkable recovery
And from that moment she turned with all the sweet simplicity of childhood and spoke to little Jesus, and at the suggestion of the nuns she soon made a novena to Him, asking Him to make her well. When the novena was ended, she unexpectedly became so far recovered as to be able to walk about in the garden holding someone’s hand. Naturally, this inspired in her a great confidence in the Holy Child, with whom she now began to chat familiarly and of whom she made the most extraordinary demands.
When, shortly afterwards her former nurse, Miss Hall became unwell, Nellie called one of the older girls and said to her, “Go and bring me Holy God (referring to the statue of the Infant Jesus), and put Him on the chair near me. I want to ask Him to make Mudder better. He made me better, you know.”
The dancing Child Jesus
Among Nellie’s toys was a tin whistle which she often enjoyed playing with. One day toward the end of September, Mary Long was busy in the kitchen and was engaged in copying some verses which the children were to recite on the occasion of a visit from the Mother Provincial, who visited each day. For awhile Nellie was there playing quietly with her toys, but then she came over to Mary and said “Longie, give me my baby,” for that is how she always spoke of the little statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague. Mary paid no heed at first, but Nellie went on: “Longie, give me my baby,” until Mary, to have peace, said:
“I will give it to you, Nellie, but please do not break it or Mother Francis will be angry.”
‘Mary went into the other room, got the statue, and gave it to Nellie. Nellie, now perfectly happy and content, hugged the little image, hushing it in her arms and kissing it, with many lisping words and murmurs of affection. Then she put it on the floor beside the pots and pans. Mary went on with her copying, but let us now continue in Mary Long’s own words:
All of a sudden Nellie got very excited and called out: ‘Longie, Him dance for me! Longie, play music,’ and she snatches hold of her whistle and keeps on blowing, only stopping to cry, ‘Him dance for me! Longie, play more music!’ I thought the child had gone mad. Then Josephine, the girl who helped with the cleaning, came in. Josephine at once said, ‘What is the matter with Nellie?’
Nellie, her face flushed, her eyes sparkling, cried out just flinging one glance toward us, then instantly back again to the statue- ‘Jo! play music! Him dance for me; now me dance for Him,’ and Nellie begins stepping about, her arms extended. After a few more moments she stopped suddenly, and sadly in a disappointed little voice she said “He stopped now”. And thus she became quiet once again.’
As the months passed, Nellie soon became ill once again. Often the good Sisters brought flowers to Nellie to brighten her up during her dreary days of illness. “Isn’t Holy God good,” she would say, “to have made such lovely flowers for me?” Because of this fact she disliked artificial flowers. “They are too ‘tiff (stiff),” she used to say; “bring me some of Holy God’s own flowers.”
One day Mary Long, on reaching the door of the infirmary, was surprised to find Nellie scrambling back into bed, in her hand a flower which she had evidently taken from a vase that stood on a table nearby. Perceiving Mary, Nellie slipped the flower under the bed clothes, believing her action to be unobserved. But Mary had seen it and began questioning the child: “Who stole that lovely daisy from the vase?”
“No one, Longie.”
“Then where is it? Perhaps it is under the bed?” -and Mary pretended to be searching about for it. With a shriek of laughter, Nellie suddenly produced it from its hiding place, smiling all the while.
“Oh, you naughty child,” said the girl, pretending to be angry, “I’ll tell Mother when she comes back that you stole the flower.”
Nellie did not answer for a moment but hugged the flower to her breast, then quietly remarked that the altar was hers (and thus in her little mind the flower was hers also). Later, when she was alone with Mary, Nellie said to her: “Mudder, I’m sorry I took the flower; but I was only talking to Holy God, and Him gave me the flower…Him did, Mudder.”
Once Nellie noticed some dead flowers by the Sacred Heart statue outside the infirmary. She spoke up: “Look at them dirty flowers, them should be taken away.” Long afterwards, when she was so weak that she could not leave her bed, she asked Reverend Mother whether “them dirty flowers” had been taken away from the statue of Holy God.
Nellie’s devotion to the “Hidden Jesus” in the Eucharist
With her various household tasks, Mary Long did not always feel able to rise for the community Mass each morning. On one such occasion, Mary began doing her morning work quietly in the kitchen until she heard the children pass into their refectory after Mass. Then she opened the door to Nellie’s room and said, “Well, Nellie, how are you today?”
To her surprise, Nellie answered reproachfully, “You did not get Holy God this morning.”
Mary thought that perhaps Nellie had heard her moving about in the kitchen, and so an idea occurred to her to test Nellie next time. She went to the door of the building, opened the latch, and closed the door again, thus giving the impression, as she thought, that she had really gone to Mass. She then removed her boots, and during Mass time she moved about as little as possible in the kitchen. When she returned to Nellie’s room, she looked quite unconcerned. The child, however, fixed her pensive eyes on Mary’s countenance, and then the same reproving words were spoken sadly:
“You did not get Holy God today.”
“How do you know, lovey?” said Mary. “Didn’t you hear me close the door?”
“No matter,” said the child, “I know you didn’t get Holy God.”
Nurse Hall gave the following account of Nellie’s extraordinary behavior on the occasion of her first visit to the chapel during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
On that morning, Nurse Hall carried Nellie down to the chapel. Nellie had never before actually seen the Sacred Host exposed in the monstrance. What then was Miss Hall’s surprise to hear the little one say to her in an awed whisper: “Mudder, there He is, there is Holy God! And with her little hand she pointed to the monstrance, after which she never once took her eyes off the Host, while an expression of ecstasy transfigured her face.
In another account of this same first visit, Reverend Mother writes: “It was the First Friday of the month (October), I was passing along the corridor, when the chapel door opened and Nellie, holding the Nurse’s hand, toddled out softly and recollectedly. Remembering how ill the child had been, I stooped down, one knee on the floor, and said: ‘Well, how is Baby today?’ For answer the little one laid her face on my shoulder and wept silently; but her tears were not sad, they were all sweetness; it was a holy emotion, the happiness of which overflowed in wordless weeping. In that moment,” continues the Mother solemnly, “it was made known to me interiorly that God had some special designs on the child, and that I, then Superior, was expected to co-operate with Him in accomplishing them.”
From that day onward, by some interior warning, without a single exterior sign to guide her, Nellie always knew when there was Exposition at the convent.
Nellie had been born in the army barracks, where the prison was called the “lock-up.” So concerning the Eucharist in the Tabernacle she regarded Jesus as the “Prisoner” in the “lockup”.
Thus on Exposition days she would say: “Take me down to the chapel. I know that Holy God is not in the lockup today.” Oftentimes she would call the Eucharist “the hidden Jesus”.
Mother Francis Xavier had instructed Nellie concerning the significance of the crucifix. Here is Mary Long’s reminiscence: “The prioress, Mother Francis Xavier Hickey, used to come over to see Nellie every evening. Then Mother would kneel by Nellie, take out her crucifix, and explain Our Lord’s life …. ”
All this time, tuberculosis was wasting away the baby frame. Not only were Nellie’s lungs affected, but her jawbone had begun to crumble away from the disease known as “caries.” In the end it came away in pieces, and the odor from it was extremely unpleasant and at times unbearable. The devoted nurse syringed it frequently with disinfectants. This, although it hurt considerably, was nevertheless not once resisted by the child. When the nurse took out her syringe, Nellie took out her crucifix. Giving her intelligent consent to this pain, which clearly God had laid upon her, she thought of the Great Atonement. When the pain was greatest she used to lie motionless in bed, her arms crossed on her breast, her little fingers folded around her crucifix.
A vision of Jesus
As we can see, little Nellie’s devotion to whom she called “Holy God” was extraordinary and heroic, while at the same time being very simple and childlike, given that she was only 4 years old.
One morning, Sister Immaculata and Nurse Hall went together to visit the little patient, who had spent a very restless night, owing to her many sufferings. It was then that the following extraordinary conversation took place:
“How are you today, darling?” asked nurse Hall.
“I thought that you would have been with Holy God by this time.”
“Oh, no!” answered Nellie, “Holy God says I am not good enough to go to him yet.”
“What do you know about Holy God?” asked the nurse.
“Him did come and stand there,” replied the child, pointing to the side of her bed, “and Him did
Nurse and the Sister looked at each other in amazement.
“Where was He, Nellie?” asked the Sister.
“Dere,” she repeated confidently, pointing to the same spot.
“And what was He like?” asked the Sister again.
“Like that,” answered Nellie, putting her hand on her breast in a tucked position.
Sister Immaculata and Nurse Hall were naturally astounded at this revelation. Was it a childish fancy or had God really favored this little child as He had favored other chosen souls? After some discussion, they both agreed that it would be more prudent not to mention the matter to anyone, unless Nellie herself should speak of it again. And one day little Nellie, when on the threshold of eternity, solemnly repeated the story of this visit of “Holy God”.
And for a child of four years, Nellie was making incredible strides in faith and holiness. She had learned by heart the morning and evening prayers, the acts of faith, hope and charity, the principal mysteries of religion, and much of the story of the life of Jesus. She had a remarkable devotion to the Passion of Our Divine Lord, and when they exhorted her to unite her sufferings with those of Jesus, she seemed to grasp the idea immediately and was quite prepared to make the heroic sacrifice and to endure the most atrocious suffering without a murmur of complaint. She kept a crucifix beside her on her bed, and when her sufferings became almost unbearable, she would take it in her little hand, stare at it fixedly, and whisper, “Poor Holy God! Oh, poor Holy God!” If others sympathized with her, she would smile and remark, “What is it compared with what He suffered on the Cross for me?”
She prayed often during the day, and her recollection during prayer was very edifying. She prayed for all who were dear to her- the Sisters, the Bishop, the Nurses, her little companions, the welfare of the Church of Christ and the Pope.
Nellie’s recital of the Rosary was particularly edifying. She kissed each of the large beads and the crucifix and recited each prayer slowly, distinctly, and with a spirit of recollection most remarkable in one so young.
“One evening,” writes Reverend Mother, “while I was sitting beside her bed, I said to her: ‘Shall I talk to you, Baby, or shall we say the Rosary?’
“‘Say the Rosary, Mudder,’ she answered. I had only said a few Hail Marys when I heard her whisper, ‘Kneel down, Mudder.’ I paid no attention and continued to the end of the first decade, when she repeated in quite a determined tone, ‘Kneel down, Mudder,’ and I had to finish the Rosary on my knees.”
Her incredible desire to receive Jesus in Holy Communion
Not long after Nellie was completely bedridden, she expressed a strong desire to be carried down for Mass to adore Jesus in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and what’s more she soon expressed sighs of longing for the then unheard-of privilege in childhood of receiving Holy Communion. During this time, the normal age for first Holy Communion was at least age 12. Often now she was heard repeating to herself: “Oh, I am longing for Holy God! I wonder when He will come! I am longing to have Him in my heart.”
All the while, Reverend Mother continued visiting Nellie every evening. On one occasion, when about to bid the child “Good night,” she was startled by the following request. “Mudder,” asked Nellie, “tomorrow morning, when you get Holy God, will you bring Him up to me?” Mother knew not what to answer. She considered for a moment and then replied, “Tomorrow morning I shall ask Holy God to be very fond of you, and I shall come up to see you after Mass.” This reply seemed to satisfy the child. Later in the evening she called Nurse Hall and said to her, “Mudder Prancis is going to bring Holy God to me in the morning”.
What was her disappointment after Mass when Mother Francis came to see her, but without actually bringing her Holy Communion! In fact when she saw Mother Francis enter without “Holy God,” her disappointment was so keen that she wept bitterly.
During the rest of that day Nellie scarcely spoke a word and for some days after that sorrowful experience, Nellie lay sad, not caring to talk or play. Sometimes she would sigh wistfully, and when they asked if she needed anything, she would answer:
“No, I am just thinking about Holy God.”
Soon, however, the clever little brain had evolved a plan which might solace -though it could not satisfy her longing for Holy Communion.
“Mudder,” she whispered to the nurse one morning, “when you get Holy God in the chapel, will you come back and kiss me? Then you can go back to the chapel again.”
This kiss was not for the nurse, it was for the Blessed Sacrament. It was given indiscriminately to anyone, nun or child or grown-up, whom Nellie could coax to come to her immediately after their receiving Holy Communion. In profound reverence the baby lips would touch the lips of the communicant, then in strictest silence she would wave her tiny hand as a signal to the other to return and finish her thanksgiving. Sometimes her nurse would hesitate to leave Nellie to attend Mass, but Nellie would always insist. “Mudder, go down to Mass,” she would say, “and get Holy God and come back to kiss me. Then you can go back to the chapel again.”
The whole month of November 1907 passed thus in holy desire, in suffering patiently borne, and in loving thoughts of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
Her First Holy Communion
As December came, the Sisters had begun a ten-day retreat which was to end on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Fr. Bury, S.J., was the director. Naturally, the Sisters mentioned to him the longing for Holy Communion of the “extraordinary child” upstairs. Nellie was only 4 years old, and at this time children generally were not admitted to Holy Communion until ten or twelve years of age.
Father Bury, far from dismissing the Sisters’ account, gave his sympathetic attention. “St. Alphonsus,” he said, “gave Holy Communion to a tiny child who longed for it. If the Bishop permitted me, I would do the same by Little Nellie.”
So that day Fr. Bury went up and had a talk with Nellie. “What is the Blessed Eucharist?” he asked. Nellie’s reply was all her own: there was not a touch of coaching or catechism about it. “It is Holy God,” she lisped; “it is Him that makes the nuns and everybody else holy.” On another occasion she would say, “Jesus comes on my tongue and goes down into my heart.” The words were indeed the words of an infant, but the doctrine was profound.
Impressed by the reasoning of Nellie, Father Bury wrote a letter to the Bishop requesting special permission to give her Holy Communion. According to Father Bury, “With regard to the reception of this Sacrament, Nellie had arrived at the use of reason.” He told the Bishop that Nellie was endowed in no ordinary degree with ardent love of God and the desire to be united to Him in Holy Communion.
The answer came while Father Bury was dining in the convent parlor. No sooner had he read the permission than he started up from his unfinished meal, flung his napkin halfway across the table and rushed upstairs two steps at a time to take the joyful news to the anxious little one.
When Nellie heard the glad tidings, her joy was indescribable. “I will have Holy God in my heart!!! I will have Holy God in my heart!” she kept repeating with indescribable joy!
The night before her First Communion day brought Nellie little rest; she could not sleep for joy. She kept Nurse awake all night long, asking if it were not yet time to rise. “The stars are gone, Mudder!” she would cry, “‘ is it time to get up now?”
The eventful morning dawned at last, the morning of December 6, 1907. After such a sleepless night it was feared the excitement would be too much for the delicate child and that she would be unable to receive the Blessed Sacrament. But Nellie tried to calm herself; she lay quietly in her bed, and though her limbs trembled slightly, the illness passed.
It was the First Friday. Dressed all in white, she was carried down and placed in a little easy chair before the Sanctuary. The community Mass had just ended. Nellie remained silent and motionless with her head bowed down in prayer and adoration. Every eye was on this baby of predilection; all her companions looked on in wonder. A baby to receive Holy Communion!
Then came Father Bury in stole and surplice. Soon she saw the priest approaching, she lifted her eager face. “The child,” wrote Father Bury, “literally hungered for her God, and received Him from my hands in a transport of love.”
So all of Nellie’s yearnings were satisfied. Holy God had come into her heart at last.
A priest wrote in October, 1911, describing Nellie’s thanksgiving after her First Communion. “The happy moment will long be remembered by those who had the privilege of being present. Nellie seemed in an ecstasy, and all remarked the heavenly light that lighted up the child’s countenance.”
And then a strange thing was noticed: the disagreeable (some called it “the unbearable”) odor that previously had exhaled from her diseased mouth and jaw was never experienced again after that First Communion morning. But amidst such indescribable joy, Nellie’s tuberculosis progressed, and her health continued to grow worse
Pope St. Pius X lowers the age of first Communion after hearing about NellieSoon after her holy death when Pope St Pius X heard of the extraordinary life of Nellie and her remarkable desire for Holy Communion, he exclaimed aloud “There! That is the sign for which I was waiting.” and a few months later in 1910 he issued “Quam Singulari” which significantly lowered the age of Holy Communion for children from the age of 12 to around age 7. And the Pope also asked the local Bishop of Cork, his excellency T.A. O’Callagan, O.P. for a relic of Nellie and on June 4, 1912 Pope St. Pius X wrote to the Bishop:
“May God enrich with every blessing Father Prevost and all who recommend frequent Communion to young boys and girls, proposing Nellie as their model”
-Pope Pius XJune 4, 1912
On the threashold of heaven
The New Year 1908 dawned, but it brought no earthly hope to those who loved little Nellie. It was a wonder to all how she continued to exist: the tiny frame was quite exhausted. She could now retain nothing, not even a spoonful of broth. She seemed to live on the Blessed Sacrament alone. Her sufferings were so great that one day they drew tears from a Sister who witnessed them. But Nellie was quite resigned. “Why are you crying, Mudder?” she asked. ”You should be glad that I am going to Holy God.” If her nurse complained of a headache or other pain, Nellie would say, “What is that compared to what Holy God suffered for us.”
On another occasion one of the nuns went to Nellie and begged her to pray for a sister of hers, a lady in the world, who was very ill.
“Has she children, Mudder?” asked this astounding infant.
“She has many children,” replied the Good Shepherd Sister, quite gravely.
“Then,” said Nellie confidently, “I will pray to Holy God, and He will see that she’ll be cured.” And, in fact, the lady recovered.
Nellie loved holy cards and medals, and would have them placed all about her room and her sick bed. One day Mother Superior showed Nellie a new holy card of Jesus. She responded “that is not the way that I see Him”.
“How do you see Him?” asked Mother.
“This way,” answered Nellie, holding her hands on her breast in the same manner as on the occasion when she had spoken of her vision to Sister Immaculata and Nurse Hall. Mother was astonished; she had not heard ofthis “visit of Holy God” before. She spoke to the Sister and the Nurse, and they gave thanks to God. Their lips were opened now, and they disclosed their treasured secret.
Nellies silent communings with God became daily longer and more frequent. She often asked others to leave her room, as she wished to speak to Holy God. Sometimes they asked her if she were not lonely or afraid during their absence, but the answer was always the same: “Oh, no! I was talking to Holy God.” If they questioned her further, she would answer: ”Holy God says I must not speak of these things.”
Nellie had been asked to pray for the recovery of a well-known Jesuit Father who was unable to come to Cork because of a serious illness. “Holy God is very fond of Father” she said a few days later. “He will get better, but he will never see me.” Her words proved true.
During the month of January the little patient lingered on, enduring her sufferings with heroic fortitude. Fr. Scannell says that “days of torture glided into weeks of agony, until sympathetic hearts would pray that God might take her.”
Her holy death
Nellie said that she would go to Holy God on His own day (Sunday); that she would wear her First Communion dress, that she would go in Nurse’s arms, and that they should make a new dress for Nurse.
Her strength was failing day by day; the end was close at hand. On Thursday, the 30th of January, Mother Francis came to see her. Knowing that the child’s life was nearly spent, she spoke of what was dearest to her heart. “Nellie,” she said, “when you go to Holy God, will you ask Him to take me to Him? I am longing for Heaven.” The child looked searchingly at Mother, and her wonderful eyes seemed to glow with some preternatural light. Then she answered solemnly: “Holy God can’t take you, Mudder, till you are better and do what He wants you to do.”
(Mother Francis lived to be 99 years old. She died in 1960 at the Good Shepherd Home in St. Paul, Minnesota.)
Rosary tickets for the month of February (1908) were distributed by lot among the children, and Nellie in her turn drew hers. It proved to be that ofthe Feast ofthe Purification, February 2, which was to fall on the upcoming Sunday. Would that be the day? On Friday Nellie was so weak that it was thought she had already passed away, but again she rallied slightly. She passed an agonizing night. On Saturday the little sufferer hung between life and death.
All day on February 2, poor little Nellie’s agony was heartrending to behold. Several Sisters came in turn to kneel in prayer around the little bed; three remained, becoming witnesses of Nellie’s saintly death.
Toward three o’clock Nellie became quite calm, and she remained motionless for about an hour. Her eyes were fixed on something which she seemed to see at the foot of her bed. “There was an extraordinary look in those lovely eyes,” a Sister related; “it was not the sightless, glazed expression of the dying.” Then Nellie moved. Her eyes now filled with tears-with tears of joy, it seemed. She tried to rise and draw near to that “something” on which she was gazing so longingly, and then she smiled. From the movement of her lips it seemed she was speaking with someone, and raising her eyes, she followed with a look of supernatural love that “something,” which seemed now to hover above her head. Presently, with an ecstatic smile, little Nellie “flew” to Holy God. It was four o’clock on Sunday, February 2, 1908, the Feast of the Purification of Mary and of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Candlemas Day). Nellie was then four years, five months and eight days old.
Nellie’s body is exhumed and found incorrupt
Nellies body was laid out on the bed which had been her cross, clothed. in her First Communion dress and wearmg the wreath and veil and her dainty little shoes. Around the bed were placed the pictures, medals and other objects of piety which she had loved so much in life; all these became precious relics.
In the morning, the little coffin was carried to the chapel and laid in the children’s choir. Then, after the Requiem Mass, the Sisters and the pupils came to bid a last farewell. They touched the little hand with rosaries and medals and reverently kissed the body that had housed a soul so dear to God. She was buried in the evening in St. Joseph’s cemetery. The mourners were few: Nellie’s sister Mary, who was still a pupil at St. Finbarr’s School; Nurse Hall; Sister Teresa and some of the pupils.
However as time went on the story of the remarkable life of that holy child spread among the public, the little grave in St. Joseph’s Cemetery gradually became a shrine. The graces obtained through her intercession were by degrees divulged, and the resting place of this little child became celebrated throughout the country.
It was now sought to have the remains transferred to the Convent Cemetery at Sunday’s Well. Exactly a year and a week after little Nellie’s death, the grave was opened to see if such transference could with safety be accomplished.
The Reverend Dr. Scannell will now tell us what took place at tne exhumation:
“There were present a priest (this was Fr. Scannell himself), the Nurse, and two other reliable witnesses. To the great astonishment of all, for it must be borne in mind that the child had died of phthisis (a wasting or consumption of the tissue; usually, pulmonary tuberculosis) the body was found. intact, except for a small cavity in the right jaw which corresponded to the bone that had been destroyed by caries whilst the little one was still alive. The fingers were quite flexible and the hair had grown a little. The dress, the wreath and veil of First Communion, with which she had been buried as she desired, were still intact. The silver medal of the saintly child of Mary was bright as if it had been recently polished; everything, in fact, was found to be exactly as on the day of Nellie’s death.”
The permission of the authorities, civil and ecclesiastical, having been obtained, the body was transferred from the public cemetery to that of the Good Shepherd Convent, where it was piously laid on the 8th of September, 1909.
Father Scannell finishes his report “The new grave is visited by groups of pious persons who ask that little Nellie may plead for them before the throne of the All-powerful God. The blind, the deaf, the lame, those in suffering or in sorrow, seek health and comfort at this peaceful holy shrine.”
And those seeking the intercession of “Little Nellie” have not sought her help in vain as countless
Little Nellie of Holy God, pray for us!
Primary source for this article is firstly the excellent book entitled “The Life of Little Nellie of Holy God” Tan Books, 2007