Monday, February 4, 2013

Sister Bernadette's moving 'Story of Alpha'

Sister Mary Bernadette Little RSM CD at last week's launch of her brilliant Alpha history with (from left) Father Louis Grenier, Education Minister Rev Ronnie Thwaites and Archbishop Emeritus Donald Reece

Kudos for Sister Bernadette
Scores of ‘Alpha girls’ returned to our Alma Mater last Tuesday for the launch of Sister Mary Bernadette Little’s book, ‘The Story of Alpha – You Did It Unto Me’.  Education Minister Deacon Ronnie Thwaites, husband and father of Alpha graduates hailed the legendary Jamaican nun and the work of the Sisters of Mercy for over 150 years in Jamaica, reminding us that access to education was the true liberation of our oppressed ancestors. 

“The Roman Catholic Church established itself in the instigation of popular education,” he said, describing this “recognition of our baptismal mandate as sharing in co-creation – the liberation of God’s finest creation, the human mind.”

We marvelled that this brilliant Jamaican lady, Sister Bernadette embraced this mandate so energetically, challenging us to demand only the best of ourselves.  Alpha Academy Principal Mackran Singh lauded the ‘expansive wordscape of Sister Bernadette’s history, covering almost 300 years, two world wars, the Morant Bay Rebellion, Independence and the democratization of education.”

There was a hush over McAuley Hall as Sister Bernadette stood at the microphone, sending us back to our high school days when that regal presence would call us to rapt attention.  She told us that she began a journey from rural Jamaica over seventy years before “that ended with my life being inextricably bound with that of the Sisters of Mercy.” 

She pointed out that 10 years before the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy to Jamaica from Bermondsey, England in 1890, “mercy was here” in the missionary work of three Jamaican creole women, Jessie Ripoll (related to the husband of the recently departed educator Dahlia Repole), Josephine Ximines and Louise Dugiol.  In three months, the three Jamaicans were admitted into the order. 

“It is fascinating, intriguing and edifying – a story that had to be told,” said Sister Bernadette.  She thanked the various benefactors, led by the family of Sister Marie Chin, whose amazing generosity made it possible to publish a book, which has already been a lead seller on Amazon.  It has global appeal as no doubt, the Irish will be proud of her moving account of the visionary Catherine McAuley who founded the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland in 1831.

Jamaica’s musicians will enjoy her description of the legendary Sister Ignatius Davies who ‘mothered’ so many of them at Alpha Boy’s School. The hundreds who benefitted from the teaching and skills training of Sister Mary Benedict Chung will identify with the chapter dedicated to her. 

It is a story stirringly told by a historian of shining mind and spirit. Grace Baston, former Mercy sister and Alpha Principal, now Campion College Principal, says of the iconic Sister Bernadette: “Rarely have I come across someone in religious life who is so undeniably focused on the eternal values of the Kingdom to come, and at the same time so passionately engaged in this business of living this earthly life to the full.”

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