Ireland, 1903 - 1908
LITTLE NELLIE OF HOLY GOD
William Organ, Nellie's father, says of his family, "The branch to which I belonged had been settled for generations in and around Dungarvan. I may say they were very humble Catholic folks, whose sole inheritance was that sterling faith, which has survived for centuries of Ireland's bitter sorrow. Mary Aherne, Nellie's mother, a native of Portlaw, Co. Waterford, like me, her husband, came of a humble Catholic family poor in world's wealth, but rich in those gifts of heaven, for the lack of which no boon on earth can compensate."
William Organ was married to Mary Aherne on 4th July, 1896, in the village of Portlaw, Co. Waterford. The Sisters of Mercy say of Mary when she was at school there, "She was a light-hearted, innocent girl, full of fun and frolic, but generous, straightforward and devout." Her husband said to his sister, a Sister of Mercy, "It was Mary's piety that won me."
Their marriage was blessed with four children: Thomas, David, Mary, and lastly Nellie, who was born on 24th August, 1903, at the Royal Artillery Barracks, as her father had joined up in October, 1897. She was baptised a few days later in Holy Trinity Church.
"When only two," her father writes, "she would clasp my hand and toddle off to Mass, prattling all the way about Holy God." 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 sentinal duty. Nellie said: "I will be sentinal 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 she 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.
In 1905, Nellie's father was sent to Spike Island in Cork Harbour, but the change brought no improvement to the health of Nellie's mother, who was suffering from consumption. Mrs. Organ, always pious, turned in her last months entirely to God, and her Rosary was never out of her hands. She clung to Nellie with such transports of affection towards the end that the child had to be torn, almost rudely, from her dying embrace. She died in January 1907. It was always as "dead mother" that Nellie spoke of her afterwards. Poor little Nellie, a few days more and she followed the coffin to the grave, only a few hundred yards distant from the barracks where they lived.
Now Mr. Organ was left with four motherless little ones. The priest came to the rescue and had them provided for - Thomas, the eldest, barely nine, to the Christian brothers; David to the Sisters of Mercy, and Mary and Nellie to the Good Shepherd Sisters at Sunday's Well, Cork. On arrival they both looked ill. Nellie was crying bitterly and both coughed alarmingly. Miss Hall, a trained nurse and recent convert, resided in the Children's section. She was called and declared they were suffering from whooping cough, and the doctors advised their being sent at once to the Sister's of Mercy's Hospital.
While awaiting the ambulance, Nurse offered Nellie some soothing lozenges. The little one smiled through her tears, and taking one offered them again to Nurse Hall, saying, "Now you take some too." Upon another occasion her nurse offered her a very fine strawberry; at once the little one said: "You take one bite, and I'll take another."
In about two months, on 20th July, the sick children returned from the hospital. The 22nd was the feast of St. Mary Magdalen, a patron saint of the convent. During the Mass, Nellie insisted on facing the organ loft instead of the altar. The music thrilled her; her cheeks flushed as she stared towards the gallery. One of the elder girls whispered to her that she must face the other way, but she stamped her foot and declared: "I want to see the music nun."
After Mass the children went into the dining room for breakfast. The tiny tots had warm bread and milk sweetened with sugar. This was a much loved dish, called "goody", but whilst the others ate heartily, Nellie could scarcely be persuaded to swallow a spoonfull. It was then that the Sisters saw how frail she was. As the days passed, they noticed that the child walked and tottered unsteadily, with her arms held out before her as though she feared to fall.
They knew nothing of the injured back, caused by being dropped as a baby. But they saw that the regulation shoes were too heavy so they got a fine pair of slipper shoes. Next day, dresssed in white with rose pink socks and her new shoes, Nellie looked a picture. Nellie's appearance was very striking because her colouring was quite unusual; her fair hair, framed a face set, not with blue eyes as one might expect, but with great, luminous, solemn, dark eyes. "She looked a little love," said a companion on this particular morning. "She looks like a little angel," said another.
Nellie was not all angel though. A few days after, at breakfast, the milk was burnt. Nellie slid from her perch armed with mug and spoon,, marched to the Sister presiding, put her spoon in her milk and said, "Mother, taste that!"
Another day in the playground the bell rang and the children went in to supper, but Nellie remained. Some of the children hid behind the trees to see what she would do. She went on quietly walking on a ladder that was on the ground. The Sister told Nellie the next day that she must not be naughty and keep the children late for supper. "They could go if they wanted," Nellie said. "They did go and leave me alone."
"Are you sorry?" asked the Sister.
"Yes, I am sorry," answered Nellie.
"Then tell God you are." Instantly Nellie went on her knees. "Holy God I am very sorry for keeping the girls late for supper. Please forgive me and make me a good child and bless me and my mother."
In class even babies have to sit still occasionally. Sitting still was always the cause of bitter tears to Nellie on account of her weak spine. One day she was particularly fractious. She wailed, cried and stamped her foot when they tried to soothe her. At last Sister Mary Immaculata said to her reprovingly, "Come, come, Nellie. If you are not a good little girl I will take off those pretty shoes and give you back your old ones." But Nellie redoubled her wailings. The Sister sent a pupil to take off the dainty shoes. Meanwhile Nellie's behaviour puzzled her. The child made no resistance to the girl's efforts; on the contrary she assisted in removing the much-loved shoes and stockings and even managed a friendly little smile, though the tears still trembled in her big mournful eyes. Presently Nellie stole up to the Sister's knee, and clutching the folds of her habit whispered softly, "Mother, I am sorry." This was too much for Sister Immaculata. She caught the little one up in her arms and restored the socks and shoes. Nellie was a puzzle - these heroic efforts, in such a baby, to suppress tears and wailings which threatened to break out in spite of herself.
Then the older girl who slept next to Nellie said that she cried half the night and seemed to be suffering. She was examined by the nurse and found to have a curved spine and crooked back. Consequently, Nellie was moved to the Infirmary, where she shared her meals with a little black kitten, of which she grew very fond and which fully reciprocated the child's affection. But, alas! Nellie loved it so much that she nearly hugged the life out of it. They gave her the bonniest of little bunny rabbits instead and Nellie loved it in time, but never quite so much as the live kitten.
Class lessons had now ceased for the delicate child, but she sometimes joined the kindergarten in their games in the playground. One day she was given a box of beads to string. Baby-like she put some in her mouth and, when something startled her slightly, she swallowed them. The teacher snapped her up and went running to find the nurse. The nurse hurried down with a Sister and together they rushed her into the informary nearby. They extracted five beads. Nellie did not cry during the operation, but some time after she seemed to collapse they sent for the doctor; his verdict was that Nellie was already very consumptive. He held no hopes for her recovery.
Sister Mary Immaculata´s heart was pierced with regret for what she called her "harshness" to the suffering child. Nellie seemed to be instinctively aware of what was passing in the Sister's mind.One evening, soon after the doctor's visit, she expressed a wish to see Sister Mary Immaculata and also the Mother Superior. Both hastened immediately to the cottage. We are told by Dr. Scannell: "Two very busy nuns both obeyed her summons and arrived together. But Nellie, after a gracious smile to the Superior, turned and threw her arms around the Sister's neck, drawing her down and holding her closely, her little cheek laid caressingly against that of the nun. For quite a considerable time she held her mistress in that close embrace but spoke no word whatever. The Mother Superior was puzzled, but Sister knew in her heart that the little scene was intended by this "old fahioned" baby as an asurance of her full foregiveness and forgetfulness of the past.
Nellie was told about Our lord's life, and afterwards she always asked constantly for "the story of Holy God as a child". Passing a statue of the Sacred Heart she said, "It is God". One day in the cloister she stopped before a statue of Our Lady and the Divine Child with the world in his hand. "If you give me your ball," said Nellie, "I will give you my shoes."
Nurse said, "Nellie, you can't get that."
"He can give them if he likes, answered Nellie confidently.
There was a statue of the infant of Prague in the Infirmary, and Nellie at first took it for a doll. When she was told it was Holy God as a child she became interested. Nurse Hall made a novena for her and when at the end she felt better and was able to get up, Nellie was greatly impressed. One day when Nurse Hall was ill, Nellie called a girl, "Quick, quick, bring Holy God, put him on the chair near me, it is he that will cure Mama, you will see." Then she embraced the statue and put it on the ground and said, "Now, little Jesus, dance for me."
"What nonsense," said the girl. "You know he can't dance." And she went on with her work.
Nellie took her little trumpet, began blowing, and called out enraptured, "Look, look, see how he dances." Another girl came but they saw nothing except Nellie, sparkling eyes and cheeks aglow. When she was not able to blow anymore she called on them to "blow more music". In a few moments she called out, "He has stopped!" and her face regained its usual calm. One of the Sisters, hearing of this incident, said, "Dear Lord, if you really did dance for Nellie, give us money for a bakehouse which we badly need." A few days later £300 came from a lady marked: For A Bakehouse.
Miss Hall carried Nellie round the Stations of the Cross and she learned for the first time the story of Christ's Passion. It bewildered her and at the XIth Station, the Nailing to the Cross, Nellie said, "Why is he letting them do that? He could stop them if he liked."
Nurse Hall tried to explain as best she could the fall of man and the redemption. Nellie's tears fell, and between sobs she exclaimed, "Poor Holy God! Poor Holy God!" Every time she kissed the crucifix that sigh broke from her lips - "Poor Holy God! Poor Holy God!"
One other puzzle remained for Little Nellie. Miss Hall says she gave the child a confused explanation of the Sacramental Species... "but Nellie, with generations of Catholic ancestors behind her, drinks it all in with ease, and expresses her relief by saying how glad she is to find that 'Holy God is not squeezed in that little house.'"
Nellie loved picking daisies for Holy God, and would say, "Holy God is good to give me such lovely flowers." Once she noticed some dead flowers by the Sacred Heart statue outside the Infirmary. "Look at those dirty flowers, they must be taken away from Holy God." Long afterwards she asked Mother Superior whether "those dirty flowers had been taken away from Holy God."
The little invalid remained for two months in the Sacred Heart Infirmary. Nurse Hall frequently considered it advisable to pass the night with her, and while the bed was being made Nellie would, with her tiny hands, smooth the sheets saying, "I do not want any wrinkles in Mother's bed." As we have seen, Nellie was very affectionate and loved her nurse. She would say, "God took my mother, but he has given you to be my mother." At night she would slip her tiny hand between the rails of her cot to take that of her 'mother' which she would clasp affectionately until she fell into a fitful sleep.
The little altar of the Holy Infant which stood beside her cot received her greatest care. She frequently asked for fresh flowers and for oil for the lamp that burned before the statue. One day the girl who attended Nellie while nurse was visiting other patients left the child to see something in the other room. Hearing someone move she returned suddenly, not expecting for a moment that Nellie could have left her cot. What was her amazement to see the child holding a flower in her hand, vainly endeavouring to clammer back into bed! "Oh, you naughty child," said the girl. "I'll tell mother when she comes back that you stole a flower."
Nellie did not answer for a moment but hugged the flower to her breast, then quietly remarked that the altar was hers. Later when she was alone with Nurse, she said to her, "Mother, I'm sorry I took the flower but I was only talking to Holy God and he gave me the flower. He did, Mother."
Katie was the name of the girl who attended Nellie. One morning, instead of going to Mass as usual, she remained in the kitchen but was careful to see that Nellie did not know this. What was her surprise on entering the Infirmary and approaching Nellie to be reproached with "not having Holy God"?
Next day Katie determined to deceive Nellie. She arose at the usual hour, went down the passage and opened the outer door of the cottage, closing it again with a bang, but herself remaining within. Then she removed her shoes and crept soundlessly back to the kitchen, staying there in the most cautious silence till the regular Mass time had elapsed. Then, entering unconcernedly into Nellie's room, she smiled at the Little One. "You did not get Holy God this morning". The tone was sorrowful.
"How do you know, lovey? Did you not hear me close the cottage door?"
"That makes no difference," replied Nellie decidedly. "I know you did not get Holy God today."
Nellie was very considerate and at night, although the poor little one suffered from thirst, if the girl did not hear the first time she called, she would not call again but would wait till morning.
Of Nellie's first visit to the chapel during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Nurse Hall gave this account of the child's extraordinary behaviour on that occasion. Nurse carried Nellie down to the chapel. She had never before actually seen the Sacred Host exposed. What then was Miss Hall's surprise to hear the little one say to her in an awed whisper, "Mother, there He is, there is Holy God now," and with her little hand she pointed to the monstrance, after which she never once took her eyes off the Host, while an expressionm of ecstasy transfigured her face. From that day onward, by some interior warning and without a single exterior sign to guide her, she always knew when there was exposition at the Convent.
Nellie was born in a barracks where the prison is called a "lock-up". So she regarded Jesus as a prisoner "in the lock-up". On exposition days she would say, "Take me down to the chapel. I know that Holy God is not in the lock-up today."
In another account of this same first visit, Mother Superior 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."
During the last days of September Nellie had grown so weak and ill that they feared she would die, so she was carried to then school Infirmary which was brighter and more cheerful than the cottage.
The Most Reverend Dr. O'Callaghan O.P., Bishop of Cork, had said that if any children were in danger of death he would come and confirm them. In reply to a letter Mother Superior mentioned the Organs, stating that Nellie, the younger, aged four, was very fragile, but not suggesting the possibility of immediate danger and making no mention of Confirmation. The Bishop, on receiving the letter, took no notice of the reference to Nellie, but next morning, as he himself affirmed, he felt inspired during Holy Mass to go and confirm the tiny child. Immediately, after breakfast, he rang up the Superioress and told her he proposed coming at twelve o'clock that very day to administer the sacrament of Confirmation to Nellie Organ.
Oh! Then there was a hurrying to and fro in the Convent of Sunday's Well! Such preparations! White frock, wreath and veil etc.
While Sister Mary Immaculata was busied with these temporal thing, another Sister was thinking of the spiritual. She hurried upsairs to give the child some instructions on the Sacrament she was about to receive. The event far surpassed her expectations. Nellie knew already what she intended teaching her! "And", the Sister adds, "as the hour approached, the little one's limbs trembled from excess of her joyful anticipation."
And so, on 8th October, 1907, Nellie received the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Afterwards she was brought to the parlour to be introduced to the good Bishop. It was then that the Bishop, as he afterwards declared, was so much impressed by the graces which he now perceived had been granted to this motherless child. Nellie declared to all who came to see her on her Confirmation day, "I am now a soldier of Holy God".
It was soon seen that she had clearly grasped that Fortitude was the grace of graces to be looked for in Confirmation. So vigourously did she apply her forcible character to practise patience in suffering that, the Mother Superior assured me, she never saw the child betray impatience after the day of her Confirmation, though her sufferings were very great indeed. When the pain was sharpest she would take a crucifix and, kissing it, would sigh with tears, "Poor Holy God! Oh, Poor Holy God!" If they sympathised with her she would smile and remark, "What is it compared with what He suffered on the Cross for me?"
The afternoon of the Confirmation day was very pleasant for the little one. Miss Hall had made for her a soft down bed in her own apartment. There Nellie held quite a reception - all the Community of Sisters, all the children came in groups to visit her, and sweets and 'goodies' were passed round. When late evening fell, the Sister in charge sent a grown girl to carry Nellie back to the school Infirmary, but Nellie pleaded so hard to be left with her second mother that the kind Superioress could not refuse. So it was in Miss Hall's room, therefore, that the child spent all the rest of her mortal days. In this room, she gave back her snow-white soul to her Creator. And this little room is still preserved in the Convent of Sunday's Well exactly as on the day she left it. All her toys are there - the bunny rabbit and the tin bugle, all her little pictures and objects of piety, the statue of the Divine Infant of Prague - everything that she had loved and handled.
One morning, immediately following one of her worst attacks, the Nurse asked her, "Well, how are you today, Darling? I thought you would have been with Holy God by this time."
"Oh no," answered Nellie. "Holy God says I'm not good enough to go yet."
"What do you know about Holy God?" asked the Nurse.
"He did come and stand there," said the child. "And he said that."
The Nurse, and the Sister with her looked at one another in astonishment. "Where was He, Nellie?" asked the Sister.
"There," she repeated confidently, pointing to the same spot.
"And what was He like?" asked the Sister.
"Like that," she said, putting both hands together.
Soon after her Confirmation, the child's appetite, always small, seemed to fail completely. She would hold her little bowl of broth ot milk, turning and turning the spoon about in it, but refusing to eat. When pressed to swallow some she would shake her head and say that her throat was sore. The doctor was called to examine the throat but could find nothing wrong. Nellie heard his opinion calmly. She did not cry over it, nor over her pain, but she continued to asert that she had a sore throat. Finally Nurse Hall herself examined the little mouth thoroughly and discovered a new tooth that had just cut its way through at the root of her tongue. It must have caused considerable suffering.
And while it was being extraced Nellie didn't cry either.
In all this it is Nellie's bearing that interests us. She had actually borne in silence the accusations of being "pettish" and "willful" after the doctor had failed to discover anything wrong. Now, however, that what had appeared to be petulance or willfulness was vindicated, she let Mother Superior know about it with charming sweetness. She looked forward to Mother Superior's evening visit and then, holding her by the sleeve and smiling truimphantly she said, "Now Mother, hadn't I a sore throat, hadn't I, Mother, hadn't I?" until Mother Superior kissed her and agreed.
All this time consumption was wasting away the baby frame. Not only were her lungs affected but also her jaw bone had begun to crumble away from the disease known as "caries". (Tooth Decay - prevalent at the time and the reason why municipal authorities took to adding sodium flouride to their water supplies.) In the end it came away in pieces, and the odour from it was extremely unpleasant - at times unbearable. The devoted nurse syringed it sometimes with disinfectants. This, although it hurt considerably, was nevertheless not once resisted by the child after her Confirmation. When the nurse took out the 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 round her crucifix.
The Sisters, who had been amazed to behold Nellie's desire to be carried down to the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, were now more surprised still to hear her sighs of longing for the then unheard of privilege in childhood, of receiving Holy Communion. At this time she was often 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."
One night, when Mother Mary Francis, the Superior, went to wish Nellie good night, the child lifted her little face and said, "Mother, tomorrow morning, when you get Holy God, will you bring Him up to me?" She answered vaguely that she would ask Holy God to love her very much and she would come and see her straight after Mass, which the eager child took for 'yes'. That evening Nellie called the nurse and said, "Mother Francis is going to bring me Holy God in the morning." And before daybreak Nellie was awake.
"Mother, mother, please get up and clean the house because Holy God is coming up to me today." Nurse tried to calm her and told her that Josephine would be over soon. But Nellie was not satisfied. "Jo is late this morning and the place will never be ready." Nurse had to get up and if she stopped work for a moment Nellie would chide her, "Mother, what are you doing, the room will never be ready." As Mass time came Nellie watched the door eagerly, and when Reverend Mother came without Holy God Nellie's disappointment was keen. She wept bitterly, and hardly spoke a word that day and at night she said, "Mother, I did think I would have had Holy God today."
For several days she remained preoccupied. When asked if she wanted anything she would answer, "No, mother, I was only thinking of Holy God." Her lovely eyes looked sad, but resigned, nor did she again ask for Holy Communion, only her recollection increased. "Mother," 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 nurse, it was for the Blessed Sacrament. It was given indiscriminately to anyone, nun or child or grown up whom she could coax to come to her immediately after receiving Holy Communion. In profound reverence 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 nurse would hesitate to leave her, but Nellie would always insist, "Mother, go down to Mass," she would say, "and get Holy God and come back to kiss me."
Nellie's recital of the Rosary was particularly edifying. She kissed each bead and said each prayer slowly, distinctly and with a spirit of recollection most remarkable in one so young. On one of her visits Mother Superior asked, "Baby, shall we talk or say the Rosary?"
"Say the Rosary," replied Nellie.
Mother had said only a few Hail Marys when she heard a whisper, "Kneel down, Mother." "I took no notice," relates the Mother Superior, "but went on with the decade, when Nellie in a determined voice repeated, 'Mother, kneel down,' and I had to finish the Rosary on my knees."
Another day they were saying the Rosary and when the fifth mystery was reached the child interrupted, "Mother, let us say this one for the Pope, for my Holy Father," which was done. Then the Litany followed, and when the Sign of the Cross had been made, Nellie took her crucifix and kissed it solemnly. "This kiss is for my Pope, my own Holy Father," she explained.
The Ver. Fr. Bury, S.J., during a retreat at the Convent, often went to visit Nellie. He asked her, "Now tell me, what is Holy Communion?" Nellie answered, "It is Holy God. It is he who makes the nuns and everyone else holy." At another time she said. "Jesus rests on my tongue and then goes down into my heart." One day after a visit, as he was going away, he lifted his hand to give his blessing as usual, when Nellie stopped him and said, "Oh Father, won't you take off your cap?"
Father Bury heard Nellie's confession and gave her unconditional absolution, showing he fully believed she had come to the use of reason. He wrote to that effect to the Bishop, saying Nellie had come to the use of reason and 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 parlour. No sooner had he read the permission than he started up from his unfinished meal, flung his seviette 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 of the Bishop's consent she kept repeating, "Oh, I will have Holy God in my heart, I will have Holy God in my heart." Night brought little rest. She kept Nurse Hall awake all night long asking, "Is it not time to rise yet? The stars are gone, Mother, surely it is time to get up now."
The eventful morning dawned at last, the morning of 6th December, 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 cot 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 an 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. Domine non sum dignus! Who can be worthy? No one. But He can make us worthy by His gifts and graces. Nellie knew this well for He Himself had taught her. She saw the priest approaching, she lifted her eager face. "The child," writes father Bury, "literally hungered for her God, and received Him from my hands in a transport of love." So all her yearnings were satisfied. Holy God had come into her heart at last.
The joyous strains of the First Communion hymn echoed:
Oh Mary, dearest Mother, In God's sweet scented bowers, Will you gather for a little child A wreath of fragrant flowers.
I wish my heart to be A cradle fair and gay, Where my Blessed jesus may repose On my First Communion Day.
It is now dedicated to Pius X, and called Nellie's First Communion hymn.
Still Nellie sat there motionless, insensible to things of earth, in silent, loving conference with the Saviour, her radiant countenance reflecting the Eternal Light that dwelt within her.
After her First Communion Nellie was brought back to her cot in the nurse's room. All day long the child maintained that profound calm which is rarely met with except in souls of more than ordinary sanctity. Many of the sisters and her companions visited her bringing her gifts of medals, scapulars and pictures. She thanked them quietly and bade nurse hang them around her cot. The moment the visitors had gone she joined her hands in prayer, and her lips were seen to move, whispering her love and gratitude to Holy God.
In Mother Superior's reply to questions as to the radiance on Nellie's face, she says, "At the moment of her First Communion, which she received 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. Yes, those who saw Nellie then are well convinced that the child's appearance was not at all ordinary. This phenomenon was seen more particularly at her other Communions because, after the first, she was taken almost immediately out of the chapel and there were only a chosen few who had the happiness to witness the scene which really took place. Then Nellie had not only a countenance more recollected, an attitude more pious than she customarily had, but an extraordinary radiance."
Another wonder, the little one's jaw was diseased, and the odour from it was very disagreeable. The jaw had become so much worse that it was crumbling away, in fact it was coming away in pieces. Yet after Nellie's First Communion the odour ceased.
The following Sunday, being 8th December, Nellie, after once again receiving Holy Communion, was made a Child of Mary. How lovingly she bent her fair head as Father Bury invested her with the precious silver medal on its broad, blue, silken band. She loved blue ever afterwards, for it spoke of Our Lady.
The next day, 9th December, she was annointed. Death seemed to be momentarily at hand, and the grace of Extreme Unction was now added to the graces she had already received. As the sisters said, "Our Little Nellie has received all the Sacraments except Holy Orders and Matrimony.
Yet Nellie did not die. She continued to live on, so weak as to be often unfit for the slight fatigue of being carried down to the chapel for Holy Communion, which she now received very frequently. On these occasions Holy Communion was brought to her room where an altar was prepared. When the priest had gone and the last final tinkling of the silver bell had died away, she sank back upon her bed and became absorbed in prayer. The thanksgiving frequently lasted till 5 0'clock in the afternoon. Not a morsel of food passed the child's lips during these hours of thanksgiving, yet the fever of consumption was wasting her away.
Nellie's longing for the Bread of Angels was insatiable. One night she, who as a rule was so patient, kept nurse awake continually calling out, "I want Holy God! I want Holy God! Mother, will it soon be morning."
"Try to sleep," answered the nurse. "Father wont be here for a long time yet."
"Go and call him," begged Nellie. "Tell him I want Holy God. Does he live in the garden, Mother."
Nurse answered, "He lives a long way off in the city."
At last morning came and Nellie's desire was satisfied.
This was the time when her thanksgiving lasted till evening. When Mother Superior visited her at quarter to five she was lying quite still, turned towards the window. Having heard of her strange condition all day, Mother bent over her. Nellie turned suddenly round. "Oh Mother, I am so happy. I have been talking to Holy God." Her voice trembled with delight. Her face, previously dusky with disease, were now white as milk and her cheeks glowed. Her large eyes shone with such brilliance that one could not help thinking: Those eyes have seen God. Her smile cannot be described because it was of Heaven.
On Christmas Eve Nellie prepared her little crib for baby Jesus and declared that she must have some straw for the bed of Holy God. Josephine said there was none but Nellie was not to be put off. "There is plenty down in the farm yard," she said. Finally some was brought, and Nellie prepared the bed for Holy God, smoothing every straw. Then the little Infant was taken and placed in it. Nellie was to receive the Infant Jesus at Midnight Mass. She had tried to rest early in the evening but long before the hour for Holy Communion had arrived Nellie was making her preparation. "Do not speak to me before Mass," she said. "I want to keep thinking of Holy God.
At midnight she was carried to the church. The first Mass had already been said, and now the second had begun. It was a scene of prayer, love and adoration. There, in her accustomed place before the Sanctuary, was Nellie. Her pallid, wasted face foretold that this was to be her last Christmas on earth, yet it was radiant with holiness and love, for was she not to receive her Holy God on this, the night He first came down to dwell among his children? Now her head was bowed in prayer, now she raised her eyes and followed each movement and each gesture of God's minister.
Finally the Sanctuary gates are opened wide, and Jesus of Bethlehem comes to Little Nellie to give her his Christmas gift, His Eucharist, His own dear Self.
Nellie's face, before so pale and haggard, was glowing now; her eyes were bright with some strange brilliance, staring fixedly at the Tabernacle as if they penetrated the secrets of His hidden life. "If anyone was in ecstasy," declared Sister Mary of St. Pius, who knelt next to the child, "Nellie certainly was then."
Back in her cot she could not rest and called nurse. "Today is Holy God's birthday, the day he came on earth to save us from sin, so light the candles, Mother, please." When the crib was lighted up, Nellie's joy found vent in tears. When calmed she sang several hymns.
The New Year 1908 dawned, but it brought no 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 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, Mother?" she asked. "You should be glad I am going to Holy God." If Nurse Hall complained of a headache or other pain Nellie would say, "What is that suffering to what Holy God suffered for us?"
One day Reverend Mother showed Nellie something but she, with a gesture of impatience, bade her go away. Sister reproved her for it. Soon Nellie begged for Reverend Mother and would not be comforted until she came at which time the little one threw her arms around the nuns neck and, between sobs, pleaded, "Mother forgive me. I won't do it again."
Nellie was very affectionate. Another day, when her nurse went to Cobh, Nellie was very sad and kept asking Josephine when nurse would be home. At the noise of every tram she would send Josephine to the window to see if the nurse was coming. Dinner arrived but she could not take it. "I will eat when my Mamma comes back," she said, which was not until seven o'clock. Nellie's joy was great, and she made everu effort to eat the sweets Mamma had brought her.
One day Mother Mary Magdalen was holding Nellie in her arms. Thinking she had fallen asleep she said, "How happy this child is, she will go straight to heaven for she has commited no sin." Nellie started, raised her head and said sadly and humbly, "Oh yes, Mother, I did. I told a lie once. Her love of purity showed itself by her insisting that all must be white when Holy God came to her. He garments, the counterpane and even the flowers. Once she was given a coloured frock. "No!" she said. "I can't get Holy God in that dress. I want the white one." Her wish triumphed. Nellie joyfully exclaimed, "Now I am able to get Holy God."
From her window she admired the clouds, the 'friends and angels of Holy God' as she called them. When she heard the children laughing in the playground, she, too, was glad that God's children were happy. But when they made some artificial flowers she would have none of them. "They are too stiff. I want Holy God's own flowers."
"You'll soon be one of God's own flowers yourself, Nellie," said the nurse. "You will soon bloom in Holy God's garden up in heaven."
In Holy God Nellie lived, moved and had her being - this was the world of Holy God and nothing happened that was not His Will. "Baby" said Mother Francis de Sales one day, "when you go to Holy God tell Him Mther Francis wants some money to pay her debts."
Nellie answered, "Holy God knows it and that's enough."
On another occasion one of the nuns went to Nellie and begged her earnestly to pray for her sister, a lady in the world, who was greviously ill. "Has she children, Mother?"
"She has many children," replied the nun.
"Then," said Nellie, "I will pray to Holy God and He will see that she will be cured." The lady recovered.
Sister Mary Immaculata once stayed up till 4am illuminating an address for the Countess of Aberdeen and overslept for Mass. She came up, hoping to get Holy Communion with Nellie, but Nellie was too ill that morning. Nellie heard Sister say, "I have lost my Communion". Much as she loved her Nellie wouldn't speak to her for two days, saying, "She did not get up to receive Holy God. If Mother had been ill...but only sleepy!" Two days later, putting her arms around her neck she said, "Mother, I forgive you."
To the same Sister when she was ill Nellie said, "Holy God will cure you and make you strong, for you have a good deal of work to do for Him," and the Sister, who had been frail, became strong. And to the same Sister she said, "When I shall be with Holy God, you take this," and she showed her a scapular of the sacred Heart and a Rosary of the Immaculate Conception. "These will make you better and strong." Sister carried them always.
Nellie liked medals and holy pictures and had them arranged around her bed. She would call attention to them - "Look at this,and that," naming her heavenly friends. Sister Teresa, had a nice medal on her Rosary. Nellie noticed it and said, "Have you one for me?"
Mostly Nellie liked to be left alone and if asked, "Are you lonely?" she would reply, "Oh no! I am talking to Holy God." Sometimes she would speak as one inspired as when, asked to pray for the recovery of Father Cullen S.J., she said, "Holy God is very fond of Father." A few days later she said, "He will get better but he will never see me again." Her words came true, as they did when she was asked to pray for two sick Sisters. One, she said, would get better because she had a lot of work to do for God. The other would get better, but Holy God would not cure her entirely.
After Christmas Nellie was enrolled in the Apostleship of Prayer. She seemed to understand it, and indeed her prayers were universal - the Holy Church, all God's children, the Pope "My Holy Father" as she styled him, The Bishop "My Bishop", sinners, those who pain Holy God, the Souls in Purgatory, and her own 'dead mother'. On the occasion of her enrolment in the Apostleship, Reverend Mother showed her a picture of the Sacred Heart. Nellie examined it closely. "That is not the way I saw Holy God ," she said. "This way!" And she crossed her hands on her breast.
A Holy Capuchin, Pere Fidele, impressed Nellie very much, and she begged him to bless her, and Mother also. The humble priest said, "I think you ought to bless me," and, Franciscan like, he knelt while Nellie dipped her finger in the holy water and made the Sign of the Cross on his forehead saying, "God bless you, Father." Ever after, with child-like simplicity, she blessed all who asked her, once changing the words when a lady who was in great trouble was taken to see her. It was the day before Nellie's death. Though no word was spoken Nellie said to her, "May God bless you and comfort you." At the same time a new peace entered the lady's soul. In gratitude she sent some violets, which were laid in Nellie's dead hands.
Being told that the more patient she was the nearer she would be to Holy God, Nellie declared, "I will fly to Him, I will go to Him on His own day." Which she did, dying on a Sunday. "I will wear my First Communion dress and I will go in Nurse's arms and they should make a new dress for Nurse."
One day a Sister said, "Nellie, when you go to Holy God, will you ask Him to take me to Him? I am longing for heaven."
She answered solemnly, "Holy God can't take you till you are better and do what he wants you to do." The same day she sang several little hymns and then called Nurse Hall. "Tell me, Mother, do you feel well today?"
"Very well," answered the nurse. "Do you feel you are nearing God?"
A couple of days before her death Mother Superior said, "Nellie, what will you ask Holy God for me when you see Him?"
She answered at once. "That He may love you very much and that you may do much good."
On the 2nd of February poor little Nellie's agony was heart-rending. Towards three o´clock she bcame quite calm and remained motionless for an hour. Her gaze was fixed on something she seemd to see at the foot of the bed. There was an extraordinary look in those lovely eyes, now filled with tears, but they were tears of joy. She tried to rise and draw near to that which she saw, her lips moved and, raising her eyes with a smile of perfect satisfaction, Nellie flew to Holy God whom she had loved so faithfully. It was 4 o'clock on Sunday, 2nd February, 1908. She was four years, five months and eight days old.
A couple of days later Nellie's remains were confided to consecrated ground in St. Joseph's cemetery.
It was not, however, before Nellie's sanctity made itself perceived. Her admirable and precocious virtues, her extraordinary life and her angelic death began to be talked about.
The graces obtained through her intercession were by degrees divulged. The resting place of this little child became celebrated throughout the country. Many were the demands for the removal of the body to the Convent cemetery at Sunday's Well. Permission for this was sought and obtaied from the necessary authorities.
When the grave was opened, on 9th September 1909, it was seen that such a transference could with safety be accomplished. There were present a well known priest, also the nurse and two other reliable witnesses. To the great astonishment of all (for it must be remembered that this child died of phthisis - a wasting away of the body) her little corpse was found to be intact. The hands were quite flexible and the hair had grown a few inches. The dress, wreath and veil of First Holy Communion, in which she had been buried as she had desired, were still intact and, the silver medal of the Children of Mary was as bright as if it had just been polished, and the blue ribbon was unfaded.
Many persons visit the grave, not only from Ireland but also from abroad. Some come to satisfy their devotion and others - by far the greater number - to ask for cures of various kinds. Nor do they petition in vain. A photograph taken in 1924 of the hallowed spot shows numerous ex-votos, such as crutches, surgical boots, etc. For reasons of prudence this evidence of the child's seeming intercessory power was removed in 1929.
If during her lifetime Bishop O'Callaghan showed himself a devoted friend to Nellie, after her death he was no less so. When Pope Pius X, impressed by the facts related to him of Nellie's life, asked for a relic, Bishop O'Callaghan was extremely pleased. His sister relates the circumstances connected with its presentation.
"My brother showed great satisfation at the Pope's request for a relic, and cast about to find something that might serve as a case in which to send it he bethought himself of a valuable gold locket of large size, a family heirloom in my possession. Would I give it? he asked. I willingly assented. The locket was altered to suit its present requirements. My brother had a delicately chased monstrance with a host engraved upon it. The relic was then placed within the locket and forwarded to Rome where it was received by His Holiness with great devotion.
Madame Merry del Val, mother of His Emminence Cardinal Merry del Val, likewise begged Bishop O'Callaghan for a relic, which was later presented by the Countess to the Queen of Spain.
The Bishop lost no time in opening a court of enquiry concerning the virtues of the holy little child, this being the first step towards possible canonisation. He was not destined, however, to see his hopes realised. Pius X died in August 1914, and he himself in 1916.
God's time had evidently not yet come. May Nellie herself from her fair heavenly home hasten this.
It has been seen during the preceding pages how Nellie's young companions at St. Finbarr's School were filled with a holy envy on the day of her First Communion. They ardently desired that the traditional age of ten or twelve for admitting children to the Holy Table should be abolished, and that those of a younger age might receive their Eucharistic Lord.
Soon after Nellie's death thee children bgan to pray for this intention. Novena succeeded novena unceasingly.
When the decree of Pope Pius X Quam singulari was published in August, 1910, the girls at St, Finbarr's were confident that their prayers had brought it into being. They wrote thanking His Holiness, and at the same time begged the Pope to canonise their little classmate and make her the patroness of early First Communicants. The Holy Father's reply to this letter was published in Father Scannell's Life of little Nellie, which came out about this time.
Beside the above short life there is a more detailed one written by Margaret Gibbons (Sands & Co.). The C.T.S. of Australia has published a short life, and likewise a similar Society in America, But France has worked the most indefatigably in her regard.
In Pere des Ronces' life of 200 pages is found the approbation of no less than eight cardinals, forty four Archbishops and Bishops, including our own Cardinal Bourne, Cardinal Vannutelli and Cardinal Mercier.
The presentation of Pere des Ronces' life to the Pope by Abbe Prevost is worth recording. Scarcely had Pius X heard the child's name pronounced than his features, ordinarily so sad, lighted up with a kindly smile. "Oh!" he exclaimed. "So they want me to canonise her...but that is unheard of in the Church, a child of four! We have, it is true, a little saint, of two and a half years, but that is a martyr, St. Simon of Trente. In the case of martyrs it is easier."
"Nevertheless, Holy Father," replied the Abbe, "it is certain that Little Nellie practised virtue in an heroic degree, and Your Holiness would be convinced of it if you would deign to read what is set forth in these pages."
"Yes," said Pius X. "She was a little angel. Her patience was admirable, her resignation in suffering perfect. Moreover, she showed a superior intelligence in supernatural matters. As for her innocence, it is beyond a doubt...she was an angel, living with angels."
Abbe Prevost then mentioned the many favours from all quarters of the globe attributed to Nellie's intercession. "That is well," observed His Holiness. "She must obtain miracles." Then, taking up the richly bound volume of her life, he added playfully. "From a little life you have made a big book."
Turning over the leaves, the Pope came across Nellie's photograph. "Ah! There she is!" he exclaimed, gazing at it benevolently.
At the close of the audience the following was presented:
Most Holy Father,
Humbly prostrate at the feet of Your Holiness, I venture to beg your acceptance of this Life of Little Nellie, the Little Violet of the Blessed Sacrament.
This angelic child of but four years is an attractive model of virtue to all little children, especially by her love for the Holy Eucharist, and her ardent desire to receive it.
Her clients have been pleased, with reason, to call her the angelic forerunner of the decree Quam singulari. It appears to us one of the most practical and efficacious means of a faithful correspondence to the saving Decree would be the spreading abroad of this life. Priests and educators of youth find therein a powerful aid to their ministry, as numerous witnesses bear testimony.
Deign, Your Holiness, to bless our efforts, and those of the priests and 'leagurers' who second us by their devoted help.
Pope Pius X took up his pen and wrote:
May God enrich with every blessing Abbe Prevost and all those who recommend frequent Communion to little boys and girls, proposing Nellie as their model.
Pope Pius X. June 4th, 1912.
On 8th December, 1984, a plaque to honour the saintly child, the "Little Violet of the Holy Eucharist", was erected on the exterior wall of the Parish Church in Portlaw. Crowds of parishioners and people from neighbouring counties were present at the ceremony after the celebration of Holy Mass by His Lordship, Bishop Russell.
After the 1914-1918 war Mr. William Organ returned to his native Waterford and was employed as sacristan in one of the local churches. He was highly respected and the people of Waterford turned out in their thousands to pay their respects to the man who endeared himself to the people.
Little Nellie's two brothers, Thomas and David, and her sister Mary went to England after completing their education. One boy joined the Merchant Navy, the other the Army. David is still alive but Thomas has joined Nellie's Holy God.
Mary became a seamstress and did the sewing for the boys in the Jesuit College in England until she married. Her husband Mr. Evans is dead but she has three children - two girls and a boy. Mary is now 85 and failing in health.
A pageant for primary classes written by Anthony Blinco - also known as an award winning playwrite in the Irish Times Children's play writing competition - based on the life and death of a four year old saintly child named Nellie Organ, known widely as Little Nellie of Holy God, whose circumstances influenced Pope Pius X to permit young children to receive Holy Communion at an early age. This pageant can be obtained on application to Sr. Imelda, Good Shepherd Convent, Sunday's Well, Cork.