Margaret Theresa Merlini was no stranger to large families, as the youngest daughter among six siblings growing up in the Lawndale section of Philadelphia. The love she had for family only grew stronger as she had 15 children of her own, as well as 55 grandchildren, and 49 great-grandchildren.
She wasn't just part of the baby boom, she was a baby boom, with births spanning more than two decades.
Mrs. Merlini, 92, died Tuesday, Dec. 12, at Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health after she was admitted a week earlier in failing health.
Throughout her life, Mrs. Merlini, known as "Marge," was an avid reader, with a penchant for cherry red lipstick and an eye for fashion. She enjoyed celebrating significant events with cards or attending parties, and in later years travelling with her family.
"Mom loved a good time, especially dancing at birthdays and weddings," said son Louis.
Mrs. Merlini, a graduate of St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls, and her husband, Louis, met at a dance while he was attending Villanova University. They courted and exchanged letters after Louis joined the Navy. They married in August 1945, as World War II ended. They raised their family in Jenkintown before moving to the Meadowbrook section of Abington as their youngest son grew older.
When her children were younger, Mrs. Merlini would put eight to 10 of them in the car and drive them to the pool at the JC Melrose Country Club in Cheltenham. Later, they went to the seashore, their son said, with a large spread on the beach and friends joining in the fun.
In 2003, Louis Merlini died of cancer.
"Dad was a patriarch, and she was the guiding light," their son said, describing how his mother kept the family together in the last decade, the younger generation competing to sit beside her at family events, or have time alone. "She was a true matriarch."
Mrs. Merlini had a strong faith and supported anti-abortion efforts, including walking in "pro-life" picket lines on weekends, her son said. She was kind, soft-spoken, and humble, he said. And although she could be stern, Mrs. Merlini did not raise her voice. Instead, her son said, she resolved family squabbles with her calm demeanor.
In addition to her son and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Mrs. Merlini is survived by sons, Kevin, Mark, Meredith, John, Christopher, Cornelius, and Peter; daughters Sheila McDevitt, Maris Moriarty, Patricia Sholly, Gerriann Greene, Christine Hungerford, Nora Head, and Margaret.
There will be a viewing Sunday, Dec. 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Immaculate Conception Church, 602 West Ave., Jenkintown. A Funeral Mass will be said at the church at 1 p.m. Monday, Dec. 18. Interment will be in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham.
Donations may be made to Our Lady's House, Box 201, Jenkintown, Pa. 19046.