For Catholic children around the world, their First Holy Communion is one of the most important religious events of their young lives. The average age for children taking their First Communion is seven.
However, it was once a lot older than that, before a young Irish girl managed to change the tradition around the world.
Nellie Organ, from Co Waterford was born in 1903. She was placed into care at the Good Shepherd in Cork with her sister after her mother died and her father was unable to look after the children.
Her two brothers were also put into care at the Brothers of Charity at Upton.
Soon after arriving at the Good Shepherd, Nellie and her sister were diagnosed with whooping cough. They were in hospital for their first three months in Cork.
Nellie was also diagnosed with TB, the disease which had caused her mother’s death.
Despite her illnesses, the nuns at the Good Shepherd sensed a ‘mystical aura’ around Nellie and believed she had a very spiritual nature.
She often spoke to the nuns about God and kept a statue of the Infant of Prague next her bed.
As Nellie became more and more ill, the nuns decided to contact the Bishop. They wanted to get permission for Nellie receive her First Holy Communion even though she was just four years old at the time.
The Bishop agreed, and Nellie received her communion on December 6th, 1907.
Tragically, she was found to be suffering from another disease – Caries – which attacks the jaw. She died on February 2nd, 1908.
She wept with joy in the hours before she died as she knew she would soon be meeting God.
Nellie was buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Cork. However, the nuns believed she should be laid to rest at the Good Shepherd where she had spent most of her life.
The nuns finally got permission to move Nellie’s body after a year and a half of campaigning.
It was then that they noticed something extraordinary. Nellie’s body was in perfect condition and the pendant she was buried with was still shining like new. Her hair even seemed to have grown.
The nuns saw this as a miracle and got in touch with Pope Pius X. The Pope was so moved by Nellie’s story that he wanted to do something to commemorate her life.
He decided to change the age for First Holy Communion from 12 to seven years old in honour of Nellie.
Nellie would become known as Little Nellie of God.
Take a look at the video below which sees author Leo Madigan speaks about Nellie.