Did you have your communion at age 7? If so did you know that a little Irish girl is the reason you did, and that same Irish child may well be Ireland's next saint?
Ellen Organ was born in Waterford in 1903 but moved to Spike Island with her soldier father and family when he was stationed on Spike. She displayed a precocious spiritual awareness as soon as she could speak, constantly displaying her religious knowledge and spiritual passion. She adored the walk along Spike Islands shoreline to the village church that she made often with her mother.
When her mother tragically died of TB, Ellen was taken into the care of the Sisters of the Good Shepard in Sunday's Well, Cork. Here the sisters immediately spotted her immense religious understanding and were devastated when soon after the pious child arrived she was also diagnosed with TB. Despite her affliction her devotion grew and Ellen would begin to describe visions and conversations with God and Jesus. She displayed knowledge of the Trinity beyond her years and she could tell without fail if a person had been to mass and received Communion or not. In spite of her illness she was always said to be in good spirits, and her positivity both inspired and upset the sisters.
She began to express her adamant wish that she receive her first Holy Communion. At the time Children received their Communion at age 12 and before this age was unheard of, let alone at age 4. The sisters were well aware of this but so moved they contacted the Bishop, who despite there being no precedent was utterly convinced that she was ready to enter the Catholic faith, and at age 5 she received her wish.
She died soon after in 1908 and was buried in her communion dress at St Josephs cemetery in Cork, but at the sisters wishes she was to be moved to the Good Shepard's cemetery where she had spent her last days. On exhuming her body one year after her burial the priest and 2 men present reported she was found to be completely un-corrupt, unchanged in appearance, as if she had been buried the day before.
The story of this Irish child would reach Pope Pius X in Rome soon after her death, and the Pope had in private contemplation been considering lowering the age of Communion for children from 12. On hearing the story of 'Little Nellie' he exclaimed 'this is the sign I have been waiting for', and at what he saw as direction from God he duly lowered the age of Communion for all Catholics from 12 to 7.
How many hundreds of millions of Catholics worldwide since her time have been affected by this little girls devotion?
The story of Little Nellie is now back before the council of Rome, who are considering her for Sainthood over 110 years after Pope Pius X asked for it, but his passing meant it did not happen at the time. Since then other miracles have been attributed to Little Nellie, as she is known, as people praying to and visiting the grave of this influential child have reported.
We here at Spike Island are planning a permanent exhibition to Little Nellie in 2017, as we refurbish the outside of her house for starters and every tour will hear the story of this amazing little girl. We are also planning special tours that relay her story in depth. We hope to create a visitor attraction including her relics that does justice to her important place in both Irish and global religious history.
Keep an eye out for special tours for your chance to learn more about this incredible Irish child!