It fits to start 2015 commemorating Mary Virginia Merrick’s death on January 10, 1955–60 years ago last Saturday. I am a confessed new year’s junkie, having grown up in Pasadena, CA, home of the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl. My family celebrates New Year’s Eve by gathering together and having everyone at the table speak about the year that went and anticipate the year to come. This year, as I embark upon my first year out of both corporate America and Seattle, I even marked the transition with a special “glassybaby” votive called “Day One”.
Mary Virginia Merrick started our society focused on Day 1, the beginning of an infant’s life, and making sure new mothers with little had homemade and useful baby for a warm and dignified beginning. Then as the society grew, Miss Mary’s ways of helping children matured with them, recognizing that a child is sacred and at risk well beyond its infancy. The Christ Child Society very early provided fresh air programs and immigrant settlement houses, education programs and medical interventions throughout the District of Columbia and Maryland: foundational social work in the U.S.
Last Saturday night, on the 60-year anniversary, at Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes in Arlington, Virginia, Fr. Paul Berghout gave an interesting sermon on the Baptism of the Lord. He noted that Canon Law provides for adult baptism starting at age 7. Before 7, parents and Godparents of a baptized child are charged with nurturing the child’s body and spirit until he or she is in a solid and healthy position to make the important life choice of loving God. 128 years ago as today, poverty, neglect, disillusionment and despair can strike at any age–and take that choice away. This is perhaps especially so beyond the age of 7. That is why one of the things the Washington, D.C. chapter is doing TODAY is so noteworthy.
NCCS Executive Director Carolyn Pumphrey and I were privileged to tour the Mary Virginia Merrick Center in Washington D.C. on December 3, escorted by Washington Chapter President Kathy Warren (a former social worker and professor of social work), Executive Director Kathleen Curtin and Merrick Center Coordinator Ange Anglade. Ange and her team focus on 35-65 middle school and junior high girls, depending on the time of year, through after-school and summer recreational programs (“Girls on the Rise”). The Washington Chapter provides an amazing professional staff committed to effectively act as the girls’ after-school parents/Godparents–every day. Christ Child gives them multiple opportunities for fun and learning, from art projects to journaling, homework help to healthy cooking, running and exercise programs–and much more. D.C. ED Kathleen Curtin–among many other things–helps to coordinate the 400+ D.C. chapter members, through their Guilds, to support these events and programs as volunteers. Critically, since the program extends through middle school and junior high, the girls can be part of the program for multiple years.
Two of the 20 or so girls Carolyn and I met mentioned they had brought friends into the program because they liked it so much–organically expanding the program’s impact. I saw Ange and her team be firm and frank as parents would be with girls who were late, difficult or disrespectful and, much more frequently, be patient, gentle and compassionate. I pray that Ange and her team’s amazing work–which clearly embodies the mantra “Nothing is ever too much to do for a child”– can open each girl’s heart to all she might feel, achieve, and give.
And God bless the D.C. chapter for daring to provide this extensive and holistic respite and support. Mary Virginia Merrick would be proud . . . . At her eulogy 60 years ago, Bishop John O’Boyle said: ” She took her cross and out of it fashioned a bridge that she and others could walk on their way to God.” This includes every volunteer, every staff member and, most importantly, every child, every year. As this year begins, let’s remember that every baby born and every child we meet–whether age 7 or 17– gives us a new year’s resolution. Let’s start our work this year with a “Day One” attitude and push through with the perseverance modeled by our foundress, whom her contemporaries mourned 60 years ago this past week and whose canonization we pray for today. Happy 2015!