Jamaica Magazine

Book Review: You Did It Unto Me: The Story of Alpha and the Sisters of Mercy in Jamaica


For Jamaica, W.I., the nineteenth Century had lurched slowly…painfully…to its last quarter of the Century. It was a time of trial and tribulation never before seen…sugar in decline…squalour in the yards…rampant disease…and yes…the darkness of life bereft of hope. Jessie Ripoll saw the suffering of her people…their cries pierced her soul…what could she do at this point in her life’s journey? She dreamed of freedom for the oppressed…and true equality of opportunity and social justice. And at the appointed time…a vision so clear and luminous came to her. She came to know the great work God had chosen for her. So it was that on May 1, 1880, holding a little orphan girl by the hand, she made her pilgrimage through the gate of Alpha to the cottage that sat on forty-three acres of virgin land…waiting for the sound of her footsteps. There began the socio-educational experiment that would receive the respect and admiration of Jamaica. Within a decade, word of her success and an invitation reached the Sisters of Mercy in Bermondsey….It spoke to their hearts in a language that only those who have received the Call can understand…like Abraham, they heard…Leave your country…for a land which I shall show you. They arrived on Dec.12, 1890 to join Jessie. How could the four little girls who enrolled as the first students of Alpha Academy in 1894 have imagined that, a century later, fourteen hundred girls would be retracing their footsteps through the gates of Alpha? In his Proclamation of April 20, 2005, declaring the week of April 25 to May 1, 2005 as Alpha Week, the Governor General Sir Howard Cooke paid tribute to the Institution of learning that “produced a parade of graduates, men and women of excellence…who have made significant contributions to the development of our nation.” The Citation granting Alpha the freedom of the City of Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation and the Keys to the historic City speaks of the ‘tremendous contribution of the Boys’ School to the musical treasures of Jamaica’ and lauds ‘the students of Alpha who have served in every sphere of National and International life.’ Such is the power of that tiny, mustard seed of faith and hope, planted in the fertile soul of Jessie Ripoll over a century ago.



Excellent and concise of the history of the Sisters of Mercy in Jamaica. I recommend it to all interested in the foundations of the community in Jamaica. – Sister Susan Frazer

In reading this Book I am in awe of the work of the Sisters of Mercy in Jamaiaca, And as a forner student I am re living the ALPHA experience: mentallly, spritually; and now have a new found respect and admiration for thier work in the Vineyard of the Lord!- H. Alexander Lewis


The Author of the Alpha Story has spent most of her life in the ‘Shelter’ of the Sisters of Mercy. At the tender age of ten, she became a student of the Convent of Mercy Academy, Alpha, a Catholic High School for girls sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy which is now ‘home’ to 1400 girls. After a very promising High School career, she received her undergraduate Degree from London University, England and a Master’s Degree in Education from the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. Inspired by the high ideals, the moral and spiritual values of the Sisters of Mercy, Sister Bernadette was convinced that her future growth and happiness lay in a life of Service…. of self-sacrifice….. in Religious life. She became a young Principal in 1960 and, for over three decades, Alpha Academy prospered under her visionary leadership and was recognized as one of the finest institutions of learning in Jamaica. She has served her Community in positions of Leadership and, for many years, was an active member of the Jamaica Council of Churches. Her life of public service….. her selfless commitment to nurturing generations of young women, was recognized by a grateful Nation which conferred upon her the National Honour of Commander of the Order of Distinction and, by Rome, which honoured her with the prestigious Papal Award Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice. For her, writing this story is a sacred duty …. a labour of love …. the fulfillment of an obligation to record for posterity the epic struggle of those Sisters of Mercy who, for over a Century, joyfully sacrificed their lives so that, today, our children may have life …… and have it abundantly. 


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Staff Writer