Mary Virginia Merrick was the second of eight children born to a prominent Washington, DC family on November 2, 1866. At an early age, Mary Virginia hoped to become a Sister of Charity and “take care of all the little children who had no one to take care of them,” but an accident in her teens changed her plan. She fell from the window seat of her playhouse, damaging her spine and sentencing her to a life of pain, permanently restricted to bed or a reclining chair.
This severe disability did not stop her from the second part of her plan: taking care of the ‘little ones.’
In 1884, learning of a mother who had no clothing for her expected child, Mary gathered her sisters and a group of friends to sew a layette for the infant, due at Christmastime. This baby girl, named Mary, was the recipient of Mary Virginia’s first organized of act of love, and thus the beginning of a program that spread nationwide. That same Christmas, hearing a yearning for a red wagon by her young errand boy, Mary Virginia suggested little Paul write to the Christ Child, asking for the wagon. Again Mary Virginia gathered her family and friends to fill the request for Paul, and his siblings, and tagged all the gifts “From the Christ Child.” Beginning from these first acts, and her dedication to enhance the lives of needy children, The Christ Child Society was formally organized in 1887.
Undaunted by her physical disabilities, Miss Merrick was a trendsetter in the Nation’s Capital. When she founded The Christ Child Society, the only other Catholic charitable organization in the city was a small St. Vincent de Paul Society. Her motto was “to see a need and fill it” and this she did with courage and persistence. Other programs were established as needs became apparent: The shoe program; “Fresh Air” opportunities for children to enjoy a respite from city heat; The Merrick Boys Club, established in the Capitol Hill area, with prominent businessmen as directors; A onvalescent home for sick children; and residential care facilities for emotionally disturbed youngsters, all became part of the Society’s work.
The Christ Child Society was chartered in 1903 and began its national expansion. Miss Merrick continued as president of the Society until 1948 when increasingly poor health forced her to retire. She remained head of the Washington Chapter until her death. By that time she had moved from the city to Chevy Chase, Maryland and lived with her youngest sister, Mildred, at 2 East Melrose Street. She regularly attended Mass at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, being wheeled along Brookville Road on Sunday mornings. Mary Virginia Merrick died on January 10, 1955 and is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery
While the programs have changed and evolved over the years to meet contemporary demands, the drive to provide help and services to children remains the same. Today there are 40 chapters spread across the country with more in formation. Each Chapter has a layette program in honor of the founder, and also provides a variety of other services according to local needs.