Called by God. Powerful words to read and even more powerful to experience. Julie Marceaux Romero was called to create plush, pillow-sized Jesus and Mary dolls to fill the arms of children and anyone alone, and in need. In what could have been the darkest moment of this young woman’s life, she realized that what she needed was also what many other people are looking for in times of turmoil.
Could a hug from a doll made to resemble Jesus Christ fill more than empty arms? Julie says it took a miracle for a mother of four to start offering dolls that bear witness to the power of love.
Asking For A Miracle
Julie’s story begins with her parents Carol and Gerard Marceaux Jr., and her brother Chad Marceaux, her only sibling. Since the age of 7, Chad was a diabetic, and he had medical problems throughout his life. “I was the healthy child growing up, so I felt somewhat guilty for always being on the good side of the fence, so to speak. God would often tell me that it had to happen this way for a reason, which made me feel better,” says Julie.
Chad and Julie both attended Maltrait Memorial Catholic School in Kaplan and Vermilion Catholic in Abbeville. As a senior in high school in 1996, Julie asked herself, “What do I want to do with my life?” The answer she got was unexpected. “One day God spoke to me and said, ‘It’s not what you want to do, it’s what I want you to do for me.’”
Julie says the only additional help she was given at that time was to remember something she had learned at elementary school, ‘Spread the Good News.’
Two years later, in 1998, Julie and her family received the news that Chad was finally going to get a double transplant of a kidney and pancreas, which he desperately needed. Following the surgery, Chad had many complications that baffled the doctors at Mercy Hospital in New Orleans.
“We really didn’t expect him to make it,” says Julie. One night, alone, in a waiting room at the hospital, 20-year-old Julie was crying and praying when she realized that everything was in the hands of God. “My eyes were shut tight and I told God, “If you need Chad you can have him, but if you don’t, we will happily and gratefully keep him,” she says. “That was a huge moment in my life where I literally had to ‘Let go and let God.’”
During this event Julie kept praying. “I told God I just wished I had Jesus here with me to hug me, and to cover up the hole I had in my heart that ached so much. I didn’t want my parents or anyone else, just Jesus.”
Julie had the vision of the Jesus doll then, 13 years before actually making one. “You really never know when you will have that light bulb that goes off in your head.” Julie says a statue of Jesus is not soft enough for a hug, but she did not know if a Jesus doll existed. “I sat on that idea from November 1998 until February 2011, one month after my brother passed away. I then started the creation of the Jesus and Mary dolls.”
Julie is thankful her brother lived for 13 more years. He died on Julie’s birthday, Jan. 6, which is known as the Epiphany. She feels she was given an affirmation to create the dolls and finally, her answer for why she was healthy when her brother was not. “I need to make my dolls, is how I felt,” says Julie.
The Vision Becomes Reality
Julie is married to William Romero and they have four children under the age of six. William owns a construction company and Julie is a stay-at-home mom. She sewed the original dolls herself, creating a company called “Hugs From Heaven.” Her idea was to create two different size dolls, a 19-inch doll and a 23-inch doll. Julie wanted them to be very soft, so they are made from a fabric called “coral fleece.” She knew she could not sew every doll herself, and began to look for a manufacturer. She shared her story with a friend, Kelly Ortemond, who encouraged her to make the dolls.
“She lit a fire under me to go for it,” says Julie.
“I could relate to wanting a Jesus doll to hug, and I told her it was a good idea,” says Kelly. The two women searched for a manufacturer in the U.S., but were overwhelmed with the decisions needed to start such a venture.
Julie decided to pray for guidance. “I just prayed and prayed, and on Divine Mercy Sunday, I asked God to hand it to me on a platter,” says Julie. “I literally asked the Lord to hand this to me on a platter, and when I asked for His help, it was like He was waiting for me to ask.”
Through Kelly, Julie was able to get in contact with Ryan Busbice, owner of Synergy Outdoors.
While Julie thought Ryan would give her advice, he instead offered to find her a manufacturer.
Says Kelly, “Ryan built a company that manufactures deer hunting accessories for hunters, and these products are available at any large store. Since he was about to leave for an overseas trip, he took her prototype to China. I got to participate a little bit, bringing the prototypes to Ryan in a little duffle bag. It has been an amazing journey.”
Ryan says helping Julie was not a sacrifice for him. “It was really coincidence, because I was about to go overseas, and one of our suppliers makes toys, and it was just too easy. It would have been a shame for me not to help her, so it was a no-brainer.”
According to Kelly, Julie’s faith is inspiring. “She has a child-like faith. She believes that God will provide and he always does. She had blind faith to order those dolls knowing very little about what they would be like.”
Kelly has given the dolls to children for birthday presents, sometimes not knowing how they will be received by the family. “It opens up conversations about Jesus with children. With my children it is almost a microphone to heaven. They have to pass the Jesus doll, so He will hear their prayers. Whoever is going through the worst day gets to hold Jesus.”
The company that makes the Jesus and Mary dolls also makes Mattel toys and Thomas the Train. They are a certified safe company, an extra blessing.
Comfort Those In Need
After ordering the dolls in 2011, Julie received them in July 2012. They are available at the Rosary House and For The Little Ones in New Iberia, Crossroads Catholic Bookstore in Lafayette, Kaplan Flower Market and Susan’s On Court in Ville Platte.
Christina Istre, buyer for the Rosary House, says the Mary and Jesus dolls are a first for her. “I have just never seen one before and I thought it was homemade. There is a heart on each doll, under their clothing. The dolls’ tags have prayers; the Jesus prayer may be more non-denominational and the Mary prayer may be more Catholic,” says Christina. Plush Jesus and Plush Mary are 19-inch dolls and each sells for $25.
Crossroads Catholic sells both the 19-inch and the 23-inch dolls, says Manager Diane Kincel. The dolls are a welcome addition to the stuffed toys the store offers, which are often bears or lambs. “The kids are picking them up and hugging them. I think the little children recognize who they are. They are simple designs and definitely unique for this area.
“We go to market, and we see what is out there, so Julie has brought something unique to the Christian marketplace,” says Diane.
Julie has received calls and emails from people who say the dolls have added comfort to their lives, especially for those in nursing homes. Says Julie, “It is endless, the way they have touched people’s lives.”
What do you think of these plush dolls for children and families? Would you feel comforted by hugging a Jesus or Mary doll?
By Barbara Gautreaux