Each year, chapters are requested to hold a special event to honor our founder, Mary Virginia Merrick, and to recognize the history and mission of Christ Child Society. Traditionally, chapter members gather to hold a Mass or service on or around, March 25th. Mary Virginia Merrick established this date to honor not herself, but the Annunciation of our Lord - the coming of the Christ Child - whom she recognized as the true founder of the Christ Child Society. This Founders Day tradition has gotten me thinking about the Feast of the Annunciation in conjunction with a touching story about a very young Mary that is relayed in “In Service of the Christ Child, An Illustrated Biography of Mary Virginia Merrick.”
The familiar story we call The Annunciation is relayed to us in Luke 1:26-38. In her exchange with the Angel Gabriel, Mary asks him a curious question, “How can this be?” According to certain church fathers such as St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Augustine, Mary had previously taken a vow of lifelong virginity. Her question was not one of ignorance of how children are conceived or of questioning God’s ability to give her a son. Just how would such a plan unfold if she and Joseph, who were already betrothed, had taken a vow of chastity? The angel explains in a way that is so beautifully illustrated in the artwork above. And Mary said yes. Fast forward to the Crucifixion when in some of his very last words, Christ gives his mother to the disciple John (John 19:26-27) and she becomes the spiritual mother of all disciples of Jesus through time immemorial.
The booklet on Mary Virginia Merrick’s life states that at age of 8 Mary stood up on a chair and proudly announced to her father her intention to join the Sisters of Charity. “Mary was quite taken with the notion of religious life and a commitment to virginity. One afternoon she went to her mother on the horns of a dilemma…She puzzled to her mother if only married people could have children and not virgins. When her mother answered in the affirmative, Mary went to her room and put away all her dolls in the linen closet to affirm her commitment. She wanted only to belong to the Lord and in a child-like way understood that this sacrifice expressed love.” Little did she know what crosses she would bear, that she would indeed be called to lead a childless yet undeniably fruitful life dedicated to service of poor children in the name of the Christ Child.
Mary Virginia Merrick had a great devotion to the Virgin Mary that she expressed outwardly wearing of only blue and white clothing. Inwardly she spent time in prayer, regular mass attendance and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Like the Virgin Mary, Mary Virginia Merrick points us away from herself and toward Jesus in declaring the Feast of the Annunciation as the day to celebrate the founding of the Christ Child Society. We pray at the start of every meeting for God to remember “all children everywhere, throughout the world.” We can’t begin to count how many children could call Mary Virginia Merrick their spiritual mother. A fruitful life indeed. May the inspiration of her life of sacrificial love and heroic virtue give us the strength and determination we need to continue to strive to fulfill her mission to serve children in need as if they are the very Christ Child Himself.
Mary Virginia Merrick, pray for us and the children we serve.
Yours in the Christ Child,