By Ibar Quirke
In July 2021, I, Ibar Quirke, and my parents, Philip and Margaret, were able to take a citybreak to Cork. Amongst the many enjoyable activities which we savoured there, we took a daytrip by boat to Spike Island, the former island-fortress perhaps best-known as the location of the August 1985 Spike Island Riot involving disaffected youths sent there from Dublin, Cork, and Limerick. However, Spike Island has a better claim to fame, the distinction of being the former residence of a little Waterford girl named Ellen Organ, whose visions of Holy God would inspire greater devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and even influence the teachings of a Pope, Pope St Pius X!
Ellen Organ was born on 24 August 1903 in Portlaw, Co Waterford, Ireland, as the youngest of four children born to William Organ and Mary Ahern. Having joined the army in 1897, he was transferred to the military barracks on Spike Island in 1905 with his wife, their daughter, and her three siblings: Mary, David, and Thomas, the eldest child in the family. As Mary became increasingly incapacitated with tuberculosis and following her death in January 1907, William found it impossible to raise four children all under the age of nine and maintain his job on the island, and, in May of that year, he made the difficult choice to put each of his four children into care, with Mary and Nellie sent to the Sisters of Mercy in Cork, initially, before being transferred to St Finbarr’s Industrial School, Sunday’s Well, under the administration of the Good Shepherd Sisters. It would be here that Nellie, confined to the infirmary with diagnoses of Whooping Cough and Tuberculosis and with her jawbone crumbling, would claim to have alleged mystical experiences.
Cheif among her precocious spiritual insights was a profound awareness of the Blessed Sacrament. She loved to visit the chapel – the House of Holy God – and was fascinated by the statues and images on display there, particularly the Stations of the Cross. It was alleged that she would burst into tears upon hearing of the torment of the Crucifixion, and she would spend a long time in prayer before the tabernacle – the Lock-Up of Holy God – into which she felt that the Eucharist had been imprisoned. She frequently asked her carers who attended Mass to kiss her afterwards so that she could share in the Eucharist which they had received, and, with childlike intuition, she reprimanded those who claimed that they had attended Mass and received the Eucharist – You did not get Holy God today. Never complaining about the pain of illness, which she offered-up for Pope Pius X, she claimed to receive visions of the Christchild and of the Blessed Virgin Mary and alleged that the Infant of Prague danced for her. The nuns at the orphanage attached to the convent successfully petitioned Br Thomas Alphonsus O’Callaghan OP to make an exception in favour of this girl approaching death – confirmed on 8 October 1907. Nellie fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition to make her First Holy Communion on 6 December of that year and died less than two months later. She would receive Holy Communion thirty-two times throughout her life, speaking with Holy God and encouraging others to do likewise.
Upon hearing of her precocious sanctity, many people – religious and lay – visited Nellie at the orphanage to ask for prayers. Amongst a famous visitor to Nellie was the Capuchin priest Fr Fedele, who asked Nellie for her blessing – It is not I that should bless you, it is you who should bless me – and received it – May God bless you, Father. In the case of a mentally-tormented woman who called to the convent, Nellie also blessed her with the Sign of the Cross on her forehead, this time using a different formula as if by Divine Inspiration – May God Bless You and Comfort You. In addition to these and similar visits made to Nellie during her lifetime, people began to make pilgrimages to her grave at St Joseph’s Cemetery very soon after her death. It is also worth noting that at four years, five months, and eight days old, Nellie chose to die and be buried wearing her Communion dress to honour Our Lord on His Own day. A year later, her body was found to be totally incorrupt, and, to accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims to honour her memory, she was reinterred in the Good Shepherd Sisters’ Convent Cemetery, which has since become shamefully neglected, overgrown, and devoid of any decent memorial to honour her memory and increase devotion to her in Cork and further afield – a far cry indeed from the days when Pope St Pius X, having learned of Little Nellie of Holy God from his secretary, Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, undertook to reduce the age at which children could receive First Holy Communion to seven years across the entire Catholic Church [Quam Singulari (1910)]. 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. If Little Nellie of Holy God is ever Canonised, she will be the youngest saint of the Catholic Church since Sts Jacinta (aged 9) and Francisco Marto (aged 10).