Will Little Nellie of Holy God be made a saint?

Will Little Nellie of Holy God be made a saint? Plaque on Little Nellie's grave. Photo: Chai Brady
Little Nellie – Special Feature

Despite an extensive investigation carried out by canon lawyers, clergy and lay people, Bishop-Emeritus of Cork and Ross John Buckley was not convinced that the evidence collated on Little Nellie warranted sending to Rome.

He acknowledged that there was a huge interest in Little Nellie among the faithful in his diocese, saying: “There is great devotion for her in Cork, teachers in school often mention her name.

“We did establish a committee to look into the whole situation, canon lawyers and some lay people and so on, and their recommendation is that there had been reports of miracles – but nothing that you could send to Rome. I suppose the thing is to promote devotion to her, there are some prayer cards and they’re being distributed.”

Sources who were involved in the report have said there could be no other conclusion than it stating categorically Little Nellie must be a candidate for sainthood, suggesting that her cause should be sent and opened by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican.


The Irish Catholic understands several people have claimed they had experienced miracles due to devotion and prayer to Little Nellie, and were mentioned in the report.

However, Bishop Buckley said it “didn’t quite go as far as” suggesting her cause be opened, but that it certainly recommended that people promote devotion to Little Nellie.

Speaking to the Irish Independent in 2017, Fr Patrick McCarthy, parish priest of the Church of Ss Peter & Paul in Cork said: “A few years back, lots of people were ringing into the Bishop’s office about Little Nellie, so the bishop asked me to set up a study group.”

He added: “Our mandate was not promotion, but to gauge levels of devotion. And there is growing devotion to Little Nellie, from Cork to Canada. What’s remarkable is that the child died aged just four-and-a-half in obscurity, but 109 years later she is widely venerated.”

Pope Pius X, whose devotion to the Eucharist earned him the title of ‘Pope of the Blessed Sacrament’ (Pope Pius XII referred to him ‘Pope of the Eucharist’), lowered the age of Communion to seven.

Many people devoted to Little Nellie, who received Communion when she was only four, cite her as playing a pivotal role in the then Pope’s decision.

Pope Pius X took a personal interest in Little Nellie, so much so that he requested one of her relics which the bishop of Cork at the time, Alphonsus O’Callaghan, provided.

In the momentous encyclical, Quam Singulari released in 1910 Pope Pius X stated: “The age of discretion, both for Confession and for Holy Communion, is the time when a child begins to reason, that is about the seventh year, more or less. From that time on begins the obligation of fulfilling the precept of both Confession and Communion.”

At the time the idea of a child aged four becoming a saint was seen as improbable, if not impossible, as only children who died as martyrs had become saints at that stage.

However, this changed when Francisco and Jacinta Marto – who died aged nine and 10 – were made saints in May 2017 by Pope Francis. They witnessed an apparition of the Virgin Mary at Cova da Iria in Fatima, 1917.

Looking to the future, and the possibility of Little Nellie being made a saint, Dr Buckley said: “Maybe in the years ahead when devotion increases…the bottom line of course is before you can approach Rome there must be some semblance of a miracle you can prove, and that’s the difficulty.”

Many people devoted to Little Nellie, who received Communion when she was only four, cite her as playing a pivotal role in the then Pope’s decision”

“That’s the danger, I know there has been reports. I’d say they’d certainly find it difficult in Rome to accept it. I would be quite happy [if there was a substantial miracle], I think Cork people would be quite happy too.  There’s a hope that maybe as a result of this prayer movement and so on, this devotion to her, that this may be the result.”

The report is in the bishop’s office. It’s now up to Fintan Gavin the new bishop of the Diocese of Cork and Ross, whose episcopal ordination took place on June 30, to decide whether the report should be sent to Rome.

A spokesperson for the bishop told this paper that he will be looking at the report in the coming months, and wasn’t yet in a position to comment.

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