As if it happened last week, I remember once, when I was about five or six, waiting with my mother on a neighborhood street corner when, by chance, we encountered an acquaintance of hers--a woman, her age, that I had never seen before, who arrived (unfortunately) before the bus did.
Talking to my mother as if I weren’t there (maybe that was the start of my often feeling invisible), the acquaintance said, “How’s your Nervous Nellie daughter?”
An only child, I knew there was no other daughter the woman could have been referring to—not unless my mother had another child she had kept secret. Although I never heard of “Nervous Nellie,” I knew what nervous meant. I knew that description fit me—and now I had a name to describe myself: Nervous Nellie.
Yes. I was a very anxious child—and I admit, well into adulthood, I still fight the temptation to be a very anxious adult. (Or maybe to give sway to that very nervous child.)
Apart from that street corner encounter, I don’t ever remember seeing that acquaintance of my mother’s again. No matter, I didn’t need to. Decades later, I still saw her face. I still heard her voice. “How’s your Nervous Nellie daughter?” Since that chance encounter, I have owned that name; integrated it into my self-identity: Nervous Nellie. …Until a few weeks ago…
Not surprisingly, I was thinking about that neighbor and that name on a particular Friday, as I often did when I was feeling anxious. Then, quite unexpectedly (as only the Lord Himself can do), fewer than forty-eight hours later—on Sunday--after all the intervening years of reinforcement, the Lord opened my eyes to an alternative spin on that name. One more fitting my age and my discipleship. A change born out of a “coincidence.”
Switching television channels while preparing breakfast, I came upon a religious talk show on EWTN. The show, which had originated from Ireland, was more than halfway completed when I happened to tune in. When the credits rolled, I could tell that the episode originally had aired years before. No matter. What I had seen presented held immediate relevance.
Two Irish priest-hosts were sharing information about a little girl who had died--more than one hundred years earlier--when she was not yet five years old. In the way that the priests illuminated the girl’s spiritual life, their respect for the little girl’s spirituality was palpable. As they explained, the child has had a great influence on the faith of children and grownups, not only in Ireland, but elsewhere around the world. Not surprisingly, the priests expressed their hope that someday the little girl’s cause might be opened.
In particular, the priests explained that so great was the little girl’s faith in the Blessed Sacrament that the dying child was given special permission to receive "Holy God,” as she called the Holy Eucharist, despite her young age, at a time when children needed to be more than twice her age to receive Holy Communion.
Apart from the great joy receiving the Blessed Sacrament had for the child, according to the priests, the child’s intentional disposition regarding reception of the Eucharist had far-reaching repercussions. When Pope Pius X considered lowering the age at which children could receive their First Holy Communion, he asked God for a sign that He Willed such a change. The confirming sign that the Pope believed he had received was learning about the Irish child’s demonstrated spiritual readiness to receive Communion most reverently, with great faith and love, even at her young age.
When I heard the priests say the well-known nickname of the little girl, whose given name was Ellen Organ, and when I saw that name flash on the television screen within the title of her biography, I was taken aback. “Little Nellie”--that is the name by which the child is known around the world. In fact, the priests explained, her full nickname was "Little Nellie of Holy God."
Fewer than forty-eight hours earlier, hadn’t I been feeling sorry for myself over an emotional scar-name wound that I had kept reopening, preventing it from healing--even after so many decades?
Me: Nervous Nellie. She: Little Nellie of Holy God.
When I saw her name, I began to wonder and to realize… Maybe the Lord was offering me a healthy alternative. Maybe I needed to follow the lead of this little child. Maybe I needed to stop thinking of myself as "Nervous Nellie." Maybe it was time to drop, to reject the “Nervous” part of the appellation and start thinking of myself, too, as "Little Nellie of Holy God."
Maybe it was more than time to stop being daughter born of the stranger/friend of my mother’s and start being daughter of Holy God, of His Holy Mother, and His Holy Church--His Communion of Saints.
In wanting to learn more about this little child who I suspected and prayed could very well be the Lord’s instrument in changing my self-identity—my life, I had the Grace to read Leo Madigan’s beautifully written and well-researched account of her life. Thoroughly edified by the child's faith, I was not disappointed in learning more about this child of God.
If you would like to be uplifted in your Faith, particularly in your appreciation and devotion to the Eucharist, I wholeheartedly recommend ordering Exquisite Miniature: Nellie Organ, 1903-1908 from Mr. Madigan’s Fatima Book collection. I assure you the story of this child’s life—a sister of ours in faith—will be a very fruitful spiritual investment. …In the meantime, you can begin becoming better acquainted with Little Nellie by reading an article posted on the comprehensive Mystics of the Church website, maintained by Mr. Glenn Dallaire, who graciously offered Nellie’s mage that appears on his website to grace this article.
And although I do not think that Nellie is the secret name which the Lord alone knows and by which He will call me (If I know it now, it won’t be secret at the end of my life, will it?), I do think as He prepares me for meeting Him, He is removing from me self-identities that do not align with the true identity of being His child—no matter what my age, but especially, as I continually near the day I will be meeting Him.
So, please, if you ever hear me refer to myself again as Nervous Nellie, please stop me. Please remind me to stop feeling sorry for myself and to start feeling edified by a little sister in the Communion of Saints who put her faith, hope, and love in our Holy God.
Isn't the Communion of Saints wonderful? Priest-commentators, lay Marian author and lay Mystics-website author, members of the Church Militant, and little child, hopefully one day one of the declared saints in the Church Triumphant, interconnecting as instruments of God's Grace to help me overcome a self-imposed hurtful self-identity, in opposition to the Lord's command not to be anxious or worried.
Little Nellie of Holy God, intercede for us. Teach us to reverence our Holy God in the Holy Eucharist, as you, our dear little sister in faith, did so beautifully, as you suffered without complaint, living and dying in a religious orphanage in Ireland. Praise God for our Catholic Faith and our union with you in the Communion of Saints.