Love for Baby Jesus inspires members of Christ Child Society

Anne Kelley, president of the National Christ Child Society, admires a detail on a sleep sack with Judy Hayes, chapter president of the Christ Child Society of Central Illinois.

For love of the Christ Child, Mary Virginia Merrick made a layette to be presented to an infant in need, born on Christmas Day. That simple act of love and faith is repeated each day by the Christ Child Society, which she founded in 1887.

Two chapters of the Christ Child Society cover the Diocese of Peoria, providing layettes to hundreds of at-risk newborns and their families each year. Both recently received a visit from Anne Kelley, president of the National Christ Child
Society, who offered words of thanks and encouragement to the members.

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She also came bearing gifts. The Follett Higher Education Group, which has college bookstores around the country, is donating 6,000 copies of “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown to the organization, with the Christ Child Society of Central Illinois and the Christ Child Society of the Quad Cities each receiving 300 books. That’s enough to put one in every layette in the coming year.

In all, 27 chapters will benefit from the gift, which is the first of its kind.
“If you read what pediatricians say, one of the most important things you can do is to encourage early childhood reading,” Kelley told the members of the Central Illinois chapter during lunch at the Family Resources Center in Peoria on Dec. 7.

She met with board members of the Quad Cities chapter the next day for a planning session at the Rock Island home of Deacon Joe Dockery-Jackson, chapter president.

“The great thing about ‘Goodnight Moon’ — besides being a great book and story — is that it doesn’t have a lot of words. It comes in English and Spanish and it doesn’t matter if you’re terribly literate,” she said. “You can still convey the concepts behind the book and bond with the infant.”

Kelley called the donation a dividend of being part of the “Christ Child nation,” since it grew out of a partnership between the bookstore at the University of Notre Dame and the society’s South Bend chapter. The real beneficiaries, she said, are the babies and their mothers and fathers.

Kelley also brought a new way for members to think about themselves and what the Christ Child Society hopes to accomplish as it seeks to grow. With the help of a survey, the national office has developed a list of five values that define the Christ Child Society: empowering, dignifying, serving, loving and engaging.

“Dignifying — this is very unique to Christ Child, that idea, that charism of seeing the Christ Child in every child,” she said. “That human dignity is who we are and what we’re about, that value of life at a time when life is not always valued in the same way in society.”

Loving goes beyond love for Christ to love of children, love of service and love of each other, Kelley said.

Part of her visit included a tour of the workshop of the Christ Child Society of Central Illinois, which is housed in the basement of the Family Resources Center. Looking at the layette items, including the sleep sacks that unique to this chapter, Kelley praised members for their work to make everything “extremely beautiful but utilitarian. It think that’s really sensitive, thoughtful, helpful. It creates a greater longevity for the layette items. I think you’re very wise.”

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