Mary Virginia Merrick was born on November 2, 1866 in Washington, DC. Her father, Richard, was a prominent attorney and a founder of Georgetown University Law Center. Her mother, Nannie, was a member of the family that founded the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Mary was raised in a devout Catholic family and educated by French tutors who would teach her and her siblings the traditions of Catholicism. Her love for and desire to serve the poor was nurtured in visits with her mother to assist poor families in the neighborhoods of the nation’s capital.
At the age of fourteen, Mary fell from a playhouse. This injury began a long and arduous life of suffering that slowly led to paralysis so that she eventually became confined to her bed or her reclining chair. It was while reclining in her chair that Mary started sewing garments for poor infants in honor of the Christ Child, and soon gathered around her a bevy of friends to help in the effort.
While still a teenager, the son of one of her family’s employees, whose name was Paul, shared with Mary that he would likely receive the red wagon he wanted for Christmas because his family couldn’t afford any gifts. Mary encouraged the boy to ask the Christ Child, and he did. Mary then provided the red wagon on Christmas morning with a note, “From the Christ Child.” Soon, other children began to write to the Christ Child for Christmas gifts, and Mary and her friends fulfilled their requests.
Mary’s parents died unexpectedly when she was only eighteen. In spite of her disability, she took responsibility for her family. It was shortly after her parent’s death that Mary conceived the idea of the Christ Child Society. The Christ Child Society, which began with only Mary and her circle of friends, was organized to assist poor families and their children with clothing and layettes throughout the year, as well as assuring that each child had a wonderful Christmas. The Society soon grew and continues to exist today, with 43 chapters that provide so much more than clothing and Christmas gifts. The Christ Child Societies provide educational and literacy services, shelters for children, school supplies, after-school programs, as well as thousands of Christmas and Easter gifts every year. Mary’s motto was, “Nothing is ever too much to do for a child.”
Mary continued to serve as president of the Washington, DC chapter of the Christ Child Society until her death on January 10, 1955. During her lifetime she was honored with the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame, an honorary degree from Georgetown University, and the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal, given by the Vatican to those whose work for the Church is exemplary.
In 2002 Rome was petitioned to consider Mary Virginia Merrick’s merits. In 2003, Rome approved, which meant there were no obstacles found to initiating her cause for canonization, and she was given the title “Servant of God.” In 2011, Donald Cardinal Weurl, Archbishop of Washington, began the archdiocesan phase of Mary’s cause, which continues today.
PRAYER FOR THE INTERCESSION OF MARY VIRGINIA MERRICK Lord God, in your special love for children, you chose to raise up Mary Virginia Merrick to be the servant of the poor children. In laboring to serve the young and those without hope because of the crushing weight of poverty, she proclaimed the love of your Son. She made her life’s work a demonstration that “nothing is ever too much to do for a child.” Grant that her example of selfless charity and courageous virtue in the face of her suffering will inspire us to be as generous in the service of others. We humbly ask that your servant Mary Virginia Merrick be numbered among the Church’s canonized saints for edification of your holy people, in accord with your most holy will. Through her intercession, please hear and answer my request (name your intention). Through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Amen.
Published with ecclesiastical approval by the Archdiocese of Washington http://www.maryvirginiamerrick.org
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.