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Discipline & Suffering in the Life of Little Nellie

Carmel Francis
life of Little Nellie

Little Nellie is well-known & loved throughout the world

Little Nellie of Holy God has, I believe, quite a large number of devotees in the United States. I think she is better known there than in Ireland, where she was born. The Good Shepherd Sisters told me a few years ago, that they receive details of favors granted through Nellie and, of course, the Virgin Mary Mediatrix of all Graces. Thank God for His great Mercy.

Nellie had a very pious mother who took her to Holy Mass and talked to her about Holy God in her very infancy. Sadly, her mother died from tuberculosis and it was thought essential to have the four children placed into the care of Holy Mother Church. The father was a soldier and would not have been able to rear the children.

Nellie and her older sister were placed with the Good Shepherd Sisters, and the two boys with the Brothers of Charity. Nellie’s older sister eventually went to England after her time with the Sisters, and there she lost the Faith. Nothing is known of the fate of the two brothers.

Nellie was dropped by a child minder as a baby and, because of this, she had an injury to her spine. She kept this quiet however and did not seem to be affected by it. The medical examination she had on entering the Good Shepherd Convent did not reveal the malady.

Discipline for tardiness

Although Nellie was undoubtedly a pious little girl who had a deep love of Holy God, she was, like many little girls, easily tempted to be bad by the evil one. This manifested itself in Nellie being slow to respond to the bell.

In the yard when the bell rang, the rule was that each girl should immediately stop talking and walk quickly to her place in line. However, Nellie ignored the bell and caused her companions to be late also. Disobedience never went unpunished and in the classroom Nellie and her companions each received one strap on each palm. A few days later the same offence was committed and this time Nellie received two or more straps on each palm.


A strict discipline for all was implemented
by the sisters who cared for Little Nellie

When children were slapped, they would fold their arms across their chest putting each palm under their arm pit to try and ease the pain. However Little Nellie instead sat bolt upright, with her two palms folded behind her back. Sister told me it was as if she wanted to suffer the full pain of the chastisement.

Later Sister Mary Immaculate had to punish Nellie again for stamping her feet; but a few days after, she noticed Nellie seemed to be very much in pain when she walked and sat. It was then that the Sisters realised the little girl was suffering.

Nellie was transferred to a little cot in the infirmary, and there her love of and desire for the Holy Eucharist grew. Nellie died in February 1908, just four and a half years old, and was buried initially in Saint Joseph’s cemetery which was not attached to the Industrial School. However, one year later when her body was transferred to the convent cemetery, she was found to be incorrupt.

Nellie accepted her sufferings with great joy and fortitude, knowing them to be quite insignificant compared to the sufferings of Our Lord Jesus during His Passion. She had an extraordinary understanding of the Holy Eucharist for a girl her age, even if she naturally expressed this in a manner befitting her tender years.

The good influence of Little Nellie

After her holy death, the fame of Little Nellie spread far and wide throughout the institutions of the Good Shepherd. The Sisters promoted her story in order to increase the zeal of their beloved little ones.

pius x

Little Nellie influenced Pope Pius X to lower the age of Holy Communion for children

In the Annals of the House of Saint Domitille in Quebec in Canada, covering the period 1895 to 1915, we read of an increase in zeal of love for Holy God among the little girls.

The love of sacrifice spread also. “I told a lie, please put me in penance for the whole day” said a little six-year-old to her Good Shepherd “Mother.” Another said ”I have been lazy. I will go without biscuits for a month.”

They had been taught that Holy God sees all their faults even if their “mothers” had not punished them and they wanted to be punished for the love of Little Nellie’s Holy God.

Little Nellie truly inspired this zeal and of course, even influenced the great Pontiff Pope Saint Pius X in his deliberations about the age a child might receive the Holy Eucharist.

The value of suffering for little children

These days we try to protect children from suffering, but this is mistaken. Nellie is a wonderful example to all little girls preparing for their First Holy Communion, an example of piety and patient suffering. Suffering is good for us all and especially beneficial if we are exposed to it as young children. This was the great benefit of chastisement for the formation of children.

Little Nellie death

Little Nellie after her death

In Catholic homes, schools and institutions, the corporal sufferings of children were offered up in reparation through that beautiful prayer “The Morning Offering.”

This is the one recited in Ireland in many of our schools: “O my God, I offer Thee through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, all my thoughts, words, actions, and sufferings of this day, to please Thee, to honor Thee, and to make up for my sins. Sweet Mother Mary, keep me in thy care.”

God alone knows the graces we received from these beautiful offerings each day.

Suffering in general, and corporal punishment in particular, strengthen the character of little children and helps them to resist temptation. We tend to think of small children, and especially little girls, as being innocent and pure. This is not so.

Girls can and do commit sins from an early age and parents need to be very aware of this and watchful. Every child comes in to this world with the burden of sin, removed by the Sacrament of Baptism, but from that time on the Devil is constantly putting temptation in their way. Every day the child is challenged to “take the narrow road” and be good, or to “take the wide road” and be bad. Discipline from the cradle is the best option for parents.

temper tantrum

Undisciplined children are unhappy & self-willed

Do not be dissuaded from taking this approach by liberal ideas which, quite frankly, do not work and have led to the situation we are in today, where children are increasingly disobedient and disrespectful. Time spent now patiently and consistently disciplining your child will lead to far less problems in the pre-adolescent and adolescent period.

Make your rules simple to understand. Explain them clearly to the young child. Describe the consequences of naughtiness, and then act consistently. Never give a warning such as “If you do that again,“ etc. Punish immediately after a rule is broken and punish firmly until the child submits.

Wait a time before any comfort is given, but find some way your little one might help you with a task or give her responsibility for a chore. In this way your relationship is mended.

Parents, do not be dissuaded by liberals who call corporal punishment “physical violence.” This is quite ridiculous and a deliberate ploy to make spanking seem to be a form of abuse. The political Left is very clever in its use of language.

You have a God given duty and right to discipline your children. The traditional Church has always supported this right and approved of corporal punishment. Pope Pius XI in his Encyclical On Christian Education stated the rod was necessary to drive foolishness from the heart of the child. Follow this excellent principle and do not be fooled by the deceits of Modernism.

first communion

Little Nellie, serious & composed at her First Communion

Posted May 1, 2023


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