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Mary Virginia Merrick, founder of the Christ Child Society, as a young woman. She died in 1955 at age 88. Photo provided

By the time she was 10, Mary Virginia Merrick of Washington, D.C., a devout Catholic, thought she would become a nun. But a fall from her playhouse severely injured her back and a couple of years later she was diagnosed with a musculoskeletal form of tuberculosis, meaning she was confined to bed or a recumbent wheelchair for the rest of her life.


Merrick, ever joyful, considered ways she could still serve her lord and savior Jesus Christ. Enamored with the Christ Child story, she decided to focus her attention on newborns and their mothers. She gathered her girlfriends together and told them they would be sewing and knitting clothes and blankets for a poor mother who hadn’t the time or money to make her own.


Her friends joined her with enthusiasm. Who could refuse a woman in a wheelchair who wanted to help someone else?


After the first gift of layettes, the get-togethers continued and Merrick’s legend, like her influence, grew. They say Mary Virginia struck up a conversation with a boy who delivered fresh vegetables from his family’s farm to the Merrick household most days. She asked him about his Christmas wishes. He told her his family was too poor for presents so he didn’t have any, but with a little prodding he told her what he’d most like was a red wagon to haul his vegetables.


Mary Virginia suggested that the boy write a letter to the Christ Child and leave it with her. She told him to encourage his friends to do the same. When the letters came, Mary’s friends found ways to fulfill the wishes, including a red wagon for one special boy.


Mary Virginia’s small acts of charity continue to grow, and the Christ Child Society was officially founded in 1887. She is under consideration by the Catholic Church for canonization, a slow and arduous process.


Today there are 45 Christ Child chapters in 22 states with more than 5,500 volunteers. Florida has five chapters: Boca Raton, Palm Beach, Sarasota, Naples and Stuart.
For more information, visit www.nationalchristchild.org.

— Janis Fontaine

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