A brief history of Mary Virginia Merrick, Founder of the Society
Over one hundred and twenty five years ago, a young woman's act of love for an unborn child started what is today the Christ Child Society, Mary Virginia Merrick's act of kindness came from a heart made all the more empathetic by her paralysis from a childhood accident. Mary's sincere and simple love of God inspired her to answer the desperate social needs she recognized in Washington, D. C.
The needs of children in the Washington, D.C. area were many. Mary overcame the challenge of sparse resources by forming alliances. Her leadership and collaborative efforts served as an inspiration to those around her. Over the years, the work of the Society broadened and evolved. Many organizations, institutions and individuals played a role in helping the Society serve children. The Society was a charter member of the Catholic Charities and the Community Chest, later known as the United Way.
Over the decades Mary and those who joined her were to touch the lives of countless children and their families. As the world around them changed, their work changed to meet the needs of the times. In Washington they were to found camps, a convalescent home for children, later to become an institute for emotionally disturbed children, many neighborhood centers, some leading to the later establishment of parishes in the District. Layettes, toys, shoes, clothes, but most of all love, caring and respect brought the personal element to the mission of the Society.
Today's Christ Child Society Chapters, with over 6,000 members throughout the United States, come from a rich heritage of women and men striving to meet the needs of children in each generation. As the Society faces the challenges of the years ahead, its members can look back to this unassuming woman for insight and inspiration. Born on November 2, 1866, the second of eight children of Richard and Nannie Merrick, Mary could have followed the usual path of a female child of a well-to-do Washington family, Mary's father was a prominent attorney descended from the Calverts of Maryland and other prominent Maryland families.
Mary Virginia Merrick at Children's Convelescent Home
But life was not to be so simple for this child of privilege. A fall during her teens led to lifelong paralysis. Unable to sit without support, Mary spent the rest of her life in a reclining position or in a wheel chair.
Mary wrote in her Autobiography: "I was always in bed or on the sofa, but I learned to sew and write in this recumbent position ...I suffered constantly ... I made a resolution never to speak of my health ... (then) the blow fell—I learned that I would never run with my sisters—and there stretched before me long years of helplessness that had always been harder to bear than suffering ... I never doubted the love of the Father, but my spirit rebelled at the thought that I would be useless in His vineyard ... I strove to serve as best I could... I resolved to do something every day for the Christ Child."