by Anne Marie Jacques
Ellen Organ, or Nellie, as her family called her, was born on August 24, 1903, the youngest of four children. At the time of her birth, her father, William Organ, was a military man in the British Army occuying Ireland. The family lived in the "married quarters" of a garrison in the maritime town of Waterford. Her mother, Mary (Aherne) Organ was a devout woman, light-hearted and generous. She taught her children to love God and prayed the Rosary daily with them, teaching them to kiss the Crucifix and the large "Our Father" beads reverently, a practice which Nellie never forgot.
When Nellie was only three years old, her mother died of tuberculosis. At the time of her death, the family was living on Spike Island in Cork Harbour, where her father had been transferred with his garrison. Poor Mr. Organ was left with four motherless orphans and no one to care for them. The parish priest offered to find places where they would be provided for and sent Thomas, barely nine years old, to the Christian Brothers and young David to the Sisters of Mercy. Mary and Nellie went to stay with the Good Shepherd Sisters at Sunday's Well, Cork.
The Good Shepherd Sisters soon realized that Nellie was not well. Nellie and Mary were both treated for whooping cough at the Hospital of the Sisters of Mercy. When they returned after two months, Nellie still seemed very frail and walked unsteadily, even holding out her arms as though she were afraid to fall. The little girl who slept beside Nellie reported to the sisters that Nellie seemed in pain and that she always cried for nearly half the night. The sisters examined her and found that she was suffering from a curved spine and crooked back from having been dropped when only an infant. Consequently, she was moved to the infirmary where it was also discovered that she was victim to the dreaded disease, tuberculosis, which had proved fatal to her mother.
Miss Hall, a trained nurse and recent convert to the Catholic Faith, was Nellie's caregiver. Three-year-old Nellie loved her dearly and one day told her, "God took my good mother from me, but he has given you to me as my new mother." Nurse Hall lovingly cared for little Nellie, often spending the whole night sitting by her side. When this would happen, Nellie would slip her tiny hand between the rails of her cot and affectionately hold her "mother's" hand until she fell into a fitful sleep. Nurse Hall would also talk to Nellie about God, Jesus, His Mother and the saints. She would even carry Nellie in her arms to the chapel where they would go from station to station, while she explained to her the Passion. This always caused tears to well up in Nellie's eyes and she would exclaim, Poor Holy God! Poor Holy God!"
There was an altar in Nellie's room, with a statue of the Infant of Prague. One day she asked her nurse about the statue and Miss Hall told her the story of the birth of Jesus, about his childhood and how He loved everyone. Nellie listened with enthusiasm; she was ecstatic that the Holy God had once been a little child like herself. After that she would often carry on little conversations with Him and, prompted by the nuns, began a novena asking Him to make her well. To everyone's great surprise she did become well enough to be able to take walks in the garden while holding someone's hand. Though this lasted for only a very short time, it gave her a great confidence in the Child Jesus and her conversations with Him became more familiar.
One day when Nurse Hall was ill, Nellie asked to have the Infant of Prague placed on a chair beside her bed. She then went on to explain to the Little Jesus that her Nurse was not well and told Him, "Please make her better." She was not surprised at all when Miss Hall did make a quick recovery, it was what she had asked for and she never doubted that her Little Child, Holy God would do this for her.
Nellie's understanding of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist was very unusual for a child of her age. She listened intently to the simple explanations given by Miss Hall on the Holy Sacrament in the tabernacle of the altar, and in a very relieved tone whispered happily to her nurse, "Oh, I am so glad that Holy God is not squeezed in that little house!" It seems that this had been her one concern! And when, for the first time, Miss Hall carried Nellie to the chapel for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Nellie pointed to the monstrance and smiled saying, "Mother, there He is, there is Holy God now." From that day on, by some interior warning, she somehow always knew when there was Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel.
Nellie loved Jesus, her Holy God, very much and wished to receive Him in Holy Communion in the same way the sisters and nurses did. Being much too young, she was always told that this was not yet possible. Nellie was a very determined little girl and she decided instead to ask any one, who would be willing, "to return to her quickly after Holy Mass and give her a kiss." She felt that, in this way, she could at least "give a kiss" to the Eucharistic Jesus still present in each one of them. There was one young nurse who found early morning Mass too tiring and, oftentimes, she would just not go. Nellie always seemed to know on which days this nurse had not been to Mass and she would scold her for not going to receive Holy God in Holy Communion, for her own desire to receive Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist was increasing with every new day.
By this time little Nellie, only four years old, was wasting away from the dreaded tuberculosis. She also suffered from a bone disease known as caries, which was causing her jawbone to crumble away, leaving a foul odor that was at times unbearable to anyone who came near to her. Her mouth had to be syringed frequently with disinfectants and, though this hurt a great deal, little Nellie never once resisted the treatments. She would just lie motionless on her little cot holding onto her crucifix. Her devotion to the Passion of Our Lord was so great and she understood so well the idea of uniting her suffering to that of Our Lord that when the pain would become too excruciating, she would look at her crucifix and whisper, "Poor Holy God, Oh, poor Holy God!" And every day her sufferings, her prayers and especially her rosaries, which edified all those who witnessed her praying them, were offered for all those dear to her: the sisters and nurses, her little companions, the Pope, the Bishop and the Church.
The day finally came when Fr. Bury, who had come to preach a retreat for the sisters before Christmas, became aware of Nellie's great desire to receive Holy Communion. "What is the Blessed Eucharist?" he asked her, "It is Holy God," she replied without hesitation. Fr. Bury sent a message to the bishop requesting that a special permission be granted for this little one, whose longing to receive Jesus was even greater than her suffering. The bishop gave his consent and on December 6, 1907, at the age of four, Nellie made her First Holy Communion. The sisters dressed her all in white and carried her down to the chapel and placed in a chair before the Sanctuary. Nellie was silent and remained motionless with her head bowed in prayer. When it came time for Fr. Bury to bring her Holy Communion her eyes lit up. He later wrote of her, "The child literally hungered for her God, and received Him in a transport of love." At that same moment the horrific odor that had exhaled from her diseased jaw up until then, left her and was never experienced again!
In spite of Nellie's indescribable joy after her First Holy Communion, her tuberculosis continued to progress and her sufferings increased to where her tiny frame was exhausted. She no longer retained any food; she was not able to swallow even a spoonful of broth. But through all this she remained calm and resigned. Her only nourishment now seemed to be the Holy Eucharist. On the morning of February 2, it was clear that Nellie was coming to the end of her life's journey. Many of the sisters came and knelt around her bed. Nellie was calm and her eyes seemed to be gazing on something that she was seeing at the foot of her bed. She tried to raise herself so as to draw nearer to what she saw. Her lips moved in prayer and her eyes filled with tears. Then raising her eyes she smiled as with perfect satisfaction. Nellie's soul flew home to her Holy God whom she had loved so faithfully.
In 1908, upon hearing about the life of Little Nellie Organ, Pope St. Pius X declared, "There! That is the sign for which I was waiting." A few months later, in 1910, he issued the decree Quam Singulari which significantly lowered the age for receiving Holy Communion for children from the age of 12 to around age 7. 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 (the promoter of her cause for beatification) and all who recommend frequent Communion to young boys and girls, proposing Nellie as their model."