Little Nellie – Child of the Eucharist


The extraordinary story of how a little girl from County Cork was able to influence a Papal Encyclical that brought about a change in liturgical practice is something almost completely unknown outside of Ireland.

Nellie Organ was born in l903 and died at the age of just under four and a half years, having received her first Holy Communion a few months previously. Less than three years later the Holy Father Pope Pius X issued the Encyclical Quam Singulari which authorised the administration of Holy Communion to children from the age of seven. This document shows what detailed consideration is given by the Holy Father centering on deciding at what point the age of reason is reached.

Behind this reasoning is the question of the ability to commit sin. If sin is committed, the Church has to provide the means to have sin forgiven. This is of the utmost importance for the salvation of souls and is not merely an academic issue. If a child can distinguish right from wrong, that child is able to commit sin. For this reason the sacrament of Penance has to be available. The Church has always believed the Eucharist to be a means of fortifying the soul against sin. While the absolution received in the sacrament of Penance effects the cleansing of the soul from sin, and the Eucharist provides a further strengthening. If children are excluded from this process, they would be more open to temptation. The Holy Father, contemplating this matter was considering lowering the age of first Communion.

Although in the early Church children and even infants had been permitted to receive Holy Communion, by the early twentieth century the age had become fixed at ten years or twelve, and in places fourteen years or even more were required; until that time young people were prohibited from Eucharistic Communion.

The story of little Nellie Organ is a story of one child’s extraordinary devotion to the Eucharist. Accounts of this are based mostly on the memories of the nuns of the Good Shepherd Convent in CountyCork, where Nellie was cared for following the death of her mother.

What was this little girl really like? In Princesses of the Kingdom Leo Madigan compares Nellie Organ with the now Blessed Jacinta Marto. In anecdotes of those who knew Little Nellie, the picture emerges of an engaging though strong-willed child who at times showed she had a temper. One is reminded of the child Thérèse of Lisieux who refused to kiss the floor for a penny but who like Little Nellie later repented. But Nellie showed she knew the difference between right and wrong and tried heroically to become a good little girl. After her confirmation Nellie told the Bishop “I am now the little soldier of Holy God.”

Nellie suffered greatly in her young life, having a spinal defect which meant she was mostly bed-ridden from the age of three until her death one year later. There were other afflictions too for she had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and also had a painful disease of the jaw-bones. She became very patient in her sufferings and was observed holding the crucifix tightly in her hands.

What was most characteristic of Little Nellie was her love for “Holy God.” No-one seemed to know where she had learned this expression but it was the one she continuously used. The words liturgy or even Eucharist would very likely be unknown to her but she was never in any doubt about the reality of the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Perhaps because her father was a soldier and she was familiar with military terms, she referred to the tabernacle in the church as “the lock-up.”

Nellie’s desire to receive Holy Communion was exceptional and grew out of her intense love for “Holy God.” She would ask if the sisters when they had been to Mass and received Holy Communion would kiss her afterwards so she could be close to “Holy God.”

Nellie was not yet four years old when she began to long for Holy Communion. She wanted to receive Jesus. She used to lie quietly in her bed, whispering over and over to herself, Oh, I am longing for Holy God!  I wonder when He will come. I would like to have Him in my heart.” She would often cry out, “I want Holy God!” One day the Blessed Sacrament was exposed on the Altar. The Nurse carried Nellie down to the chapel. It was the first time the little girl had ever seen the Monstrance. With her eyes gazing at the Monstrance, little Nellie whispered, There He is! There is HolyGodnow!”From then on, she always knew when the Blessed Sacrament was taken out of the Tabernacle for Exposition.  Knowing this, she would say to the Sisters, Holy God is not in the lock-up today. Take me down to Him.”

The sisters asked the Jesuit Fr. Bury, who had given a retreat in the convent to talk with Nellie to see if she really understood what Holy Communion meant. After having received Nellie’s replies, the priest reported the matter to the Bishop of Cork. He had been edified by the child whom he was convinced had reached the age of reason and knew the nature of Holy Communion. The Bishop then gave his permission for the child to receive Holy Communion.

Nellie made her First Holy Communion on December 6th, 1907, when she was only four years old. Mother Francis of the Good Shepherd Convent described how the child appeared to be in a transport of love. “Nellie’s features shone as if the presence of the great light in her heart reflected itself in her face.”After having received, Nellie remained several hours absorbed in prayer, and when the nurse asked her what she was doing, she replied that she was speaking with Holy God.

The Holy Father heard of little Nellie from Bishop O’Callaghan of Cork who had written to the Vatican official Don Ugo Descuffi. The Bishop had taken the decision to allow Nellie receive Holy Communion at the age of four. This decision was exceptional and was based on the evidence provided to the bishop by Fr. Bury.

Little Nellie died on Candlemas, February 2nd, 1908.  Following her death, the children of St. Finbar’s School where Nellie had been a pupil made a special Novena that Little Nellie would obtain for them and all little children around the world, the great favour of receiving Holy Communion as near as possible to the age at which she received it. Two years and nine months after the death of Little Nellie Quam Singulari was issued giving permission for boys and girls to receive Holy Communion at the age of seven years.

When Pope St. Pius X was told about Little Nellie, and how she longed for Jesus in Holy Communion, and how lovingly she received Him, he is reported to have exclaimed:There! That is the sign for which I have been waiting.” He also requested that the Bishop of Cork obtain for him a relic of Little Nellie.

By Mary Kearns from

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