Born November 2, 1866 in Washington, DC to parents who valued faith, education and service, Mary Virginia Merrick as early as age 12 wanted to devote herself to serving children in need, inspired by her love of the Christ Child. Even when paralyzed and unable to sit without support as a result of a fall in her teens, Mary never faltered in her determination to serve the poor. She started her mission of service at just 16, with a gift of handmade clothing to an infant expected to a needy family at Christmas 1884.
When Mary was 19, her parents died within a short time of each other, leaving her with the responsibility of caring for her six siblings. Despite her responsibilities, her pain, and her physical limitations, Mary was fueled by her vision of seeing the Christ Child in every child—and treating each child accordingly. She gathered her friends to help meet the significant needs of children in the Washington area, formally establishing the Christ Child Society in 1887. She dedicated the next 68 years—until her death on January 10, 1955 at the age of 88—to the leadership and expansion of the Society.