Bishop wants Little Nellie exhumed

The Bishop of Cork and Ross has called for the exhumation of the remains of Little Nellie — the “unofficial patron saint” of Cork — from a cemetery on lands controlled by receivers to allow people to pray at her grave.

John Buckley also suggested that in the interim, approaches be made to the bank which appointed the receivers to manage the now derelict Good Shepherd Convent on Sunday’s Well with a view to facilitating public access to her grave.

“As devotion grows to Little Nellie, we should ensure that maybe her remains are exhumed again, and placed in a more public place, where people could come and pray to her.”

He makes his comments in a new three-part radio documentary, produced and presented by John Greene, as part of his Where the Road Takes Me series on C103.

Ellen Organ was born in Waterford in 1903 and moved to Cork in 1905 when her father, a member of the Royal Artillery, was transferred to Spike Island. When her mother died, Nellie and her sister were placed into the care of the Good Shepherd Sisters at their industrial school in Sunday’s Well.

Despite her young age and debilitating health conditions, including TB, Nellie astounded people with her strong faith, knowledge of Catholic doctrine, and holiness. The then bishop of Cork, Bishop O’Callaghan, was so impressed with her use of reason and devotion to the Eucharist that he granted her special permission to receive Holy Communion aged just four-and-a half.

She died in the convent in 1908 and was buried in St Joseph’s Cemetery but when her body was exhumed for reburial in the convent grounds a year later, it was found to be intact.

As word of her remarkable life spread, people began praying to her and claimed her intercession led to the granting of favours and cures. Her life story influenced Pope Pius X in his decision to lower the age for receiving Communion from 12 to seven.

Over the years, her grave became a place of pilgrimage. The convent chapel was dedicated to her memory and her room was preserved for almost a century until the derelict convent was razed by fire in July 2003.

Planning permission was granted in 2006 for the complete redevelopment of the convent and former Magdalene laundry as a massive student complex, but the work never started.

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