At age 18, before the Christmas of 1884, Mary persuaded her sisters and some friends to make a layette for a Christmas baby in need, in honor of the Christ Child. Through her dear friend, Miss Leonide Delarue, Mary learned of a family in extreme poverty with a baby due to be born at Christmas. There were five small children in the family and the father was ill and unemployed. The layette was delivered to the deeply grateful mother. The baby, a girl, was named in honor of Mary and later grew up to enter a religious order.
The late 1880s were not easy years for Mary personally. She endured surgical treatments and hospitalization. When she was 19, her parents died within a short time of each other. Mary took over many of the responsibilities of running the household and caring for the six younger children. Nevertheless, her circle of friends continued to grow throughout this period, and the Society of the Christ Child, later to be known as the “Christ Child Society,” was established in 1887.
In 1891, forty-one children were boarded in nearby farmhouses to have the benefit of the fresh air. The “country” of those far away years was Northeast Washington. One of the many donors who made this possible was Mrs. Benjamin Harrison, wife of the President, whose check had been delivered by White House messenger on horseback.
By 1908 Christ Child Society Chapters began to form outside of the Washington, D.C. area and by 1912, twenty-four Chapters had been formed. The first National Convention of the Society was held at Linwood (the Merrick summer home in Ellicott City, MD) in 1927. When the Society celebrated its Golden Jubilee Year in 1937, Mary received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal, which had been founded by Pope Leo XIII in 1888, in recognition of outstanding work for the church and the Pontiff. Though she could not journey to receive them, many other honors came to Miss Mary, among them, the Laetare Medal, given by the University of Notre Dame to the outstanding lay Catholic of the year: the Siena Medal, awarded annually to a Catholic lay woman who has made a distinctive contribution to Catholic life in the United States. Other recipients of the medal include Saint M. Katherine Drexel founder of the order of the Blessed Sacrament. Mary also received the Cosmopolitan Medal from the Cosmopolitan Club as recognition for unselfish service to the District of Columbia. While she esteemed the honors that were bestowed on her to the end of her life Miss Mary practiced the admonition she gave to others: “Do all things for God and do not look for appreciation.”
Until 1948, Miss Mary served as President of the National Christ Child Society. She continued in her role as President of the Christ Child Society of Washington, D.C., until her death, at age 88, on January 10, 1955. Of the many tributes paid to Miss Mary at the time of her death, one of the most memorable and moving is that of the late Cardinal Patrick A. O’Boyle, of Washington, D.C. to whom she was known through her words and through her works:
“Miss Mary Merrick’s long life was an inspiring expression of the power and beauty of Christian charity. She saw the image of the Infant Savior in every poor child and it was the Christ Child who conferred upon her a long life of amazingly successful activity that defied an almost lifelong infirmity. It was inevitable that she establish the Christ Child Society. Both in spirit and accomplishment, no society has better deserved the sublime name. Miss Merrick from her bed of pain, perpetually dynamic and devoted, has a lesson for everyone who professes to be a follower of Christ.” Cardinal Patrick A. O’Boyle
This humble, sincere woman is the model of The Christ Child Society. She reminds us that love of a poor child is love of the Christ Child.
“She took her cross and out of it fashioned a bridge over which she and others could walk on their way to God.” Bishop John McNamara