ALPHA – IN THE BEGINNING…
‘The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown it becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.’
This passage from St. Matthew expresses eloquently the modest beginning of Alpha and its growth and expansion over the past 122 years.
In the History of the Catholic Church Fr. Francis Osborne, S.J. relates the early days of the Alpha Community in these words:
One of Jamaica’s problems facing Porter (he was the Ecclesiastic Administrator on the island) had been anticipated by Jessie Ripoll, Josephine Ximines, and Loise Dugiol when the love of the poor instilled into their hearts by Hathaway (this priest was their spiritual guide) grew into an enthusiastic desire to open an orphanage for the many underprivileged children they met in their daily contact with the outcasts of Kingston… He took interest in their schemes and advised them to embark upon their enterprise as soon as they found it convenient. Further, he promised to ask sisters to come from Europe to complement their work and receive these ladies to their religious congregation.
Father Porter then introduced the property “Alpha” which he said contained a small cottage with forty-three acres of brush land:
Porter gave permission to purchase. From their own pockets, from offerings of friends added to what the Vicar Apostolic subscribed, the three young ladies purchased Alpha for 800 pounds.
On May 1, 1880, Jessie Ripoll, holding by the hand one lone orphan whom she had named Mary, walked up the path to Alpha Cottage. Thus simply and unostentatiously was begun the great work which would bring wide acclaim from the Jamaican government, from the civic community, and from the poor, who knew their children would find a home should parents die and leave them orphans. Four months later, on September 29, Josephine Ximines joined her friends, while Louise Dugiol was the last of the three to take up residence at Alpha.
When, at the invitation of Bishop Charles Gordon in 1890, the Sister of Mercy came to Jamaica, the three ladies were accepted into the community.
In 1894, Alpha cottage, which served as a home for the sisters and the orphans, was transformed into a High School for girls and became known as the Convent of Mercy Academy ‘Alpha’. Mother Mary Aquinas Kearns was officially named the first Principal and the building was formally blessed and declared open on May 1, 1894. The first students were Ethline and Ivy Hodge, Leah and Ella Johnson; by 1918 enrollment had reached 100. It served as a secondary institution for upper and middle class children of Kingston and St. Andrew. The High School has borne various names, among them ‘The Little Flower Academy, ‘Alpha Academy’ and finally, ‘Convent of Mercy Academy, ‘Alpha’. Increasing enrollment and academic achievement brought recognition and approval to this institution which qualified for assistance from the government in 1939. The present enrollment is approximately 1400 students.
Alpha Academy embraces the Mercy Tradition in its recognition of the legacy of Catherine McAuley. It is a legacy that embodies the Mercy Values of compassion and service, educational excellence, concern for women and women’s issues, world vision and responsibility, spiritual growth and development and the spirit of voluntarism. The Sisters of Mercy, founded in 1831, have for over 160 years committed themselves and their works to serving those in need. The Constitution of the Sisters of Mercy states; “AS SISTERS OF MERCY WE SPONSOR INSTITUTIONS TO ADDRESS OUR ENDURING CONCERNS AND TO WITNESS CHRIST’S MISSION. WITHIN THESE INSTITUTIONS WE, TOGETHER WITH CO-WORKERS AND THOSE WE SERVE, ENDEAVOUR TO MODEL MERCY AND JUSTICE AND TO PORMOTE SYSTEMATIC CHANGE ACCORDING TO THESE IDEALS”. It is against this rich historical background that the Convent of Mercy Academy ‘Alpha’ consistently undertakes its primary goal of providing quality education to its young ladies and transforming them into women of worth.
Established originally as a small, private high school in response to the need for educational and spiritual development of young women in Jamaica, the School has made significant strides in curriculum development, in co-curricular activities and service clubs, in Sports, Elocution and Drama, and in Fine Arts. Although the enrollment today numbers upwards of 1300 students, all the young women at the Academy are comfortably accommodated. This is due, in part, to the building expansion programme that has taken place over the many years that the school has been in existence. But over and above and through all that is accomplished at the High School, it is the personal and spiritual development of the young women, who are encouraged to grow in knowledge and appreciation of their innate dignity, beauty and worth, of their power to influence others for good, and of their Ministry to share with others, that is the significant focus. It is by embracing these qualities that they embody the motto of their school: “Ad Verum et Bonum”.
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