Today marks 137 years since the brave Jamaican Jessie Ripoll took in the first orphan at Alpha Cottage on South Camp Road on May 1, 1880. This morning, students of my alma mater, Convent of Mercy "Alpha" Academy will walk on "Jessie's path" throughout the Alpha property, learning more about this remarkable and prayerful woman and her two friends who pooled their funds to answer God's call to serve his suffering people.
In 1890, the Sisters of Mercy arrived in Jamaica to assist Ripoll, who subsequently joined the religious order and became Mother Claver. This shows her awareness of her church's history, as it was Father Peter Claver who ministered to the suffering slaves when the ships made their stop in Cartagena, Colombia. The year 1880 was a mere four decades since Emancipation and there was dreadful suffering among the ex-slaves, who died leaving many orphans.
It was in uncovering the talent of these orphans that in 1890, the Alpha Boys' Band was formed — a cradle for the extraordinary musicians who emerged to participate in the creation of ska, rocksteady and reggae. Alpha Boys' 'graduates' have been the mainstay of major bands, including the Jamaica Military Band. Lennie Hibbert, Tommy McCook, Sparrow Martin, "Dizzy" Moore, Don Drummond, Yellow Man, Leroy Smart, and Dwight Richards are all greats who had beginnings in Alpha.
The institution's impact has spread islandwide and includes the largest high school in the Caribbean, St Catherine High, alma mater of our prime minister and Roman Catholic archbishop of Kingston. It also includes the St John Bosco Boys' Home, which promotes self-reliance and teaches farming, food processing and the culinary arts. I am proud that the chefs at my daughter's café are both graduates of St John Bosco — they constantly refer to the values taught them by the indomitable Sister Susan Frazer.
Thank you, Jessie Ripoll, for your life-saving vision. Happy founder's day, fellow Alpharians.
- Excerpt from Jean Lowrie-Chin's column published in the Jamaica Observer May 1, 2017- Photos from Kali McMorris, Principal, Convent of Mercy 'Alpha' Academy of students and awardees.