Mercy sisters and peace

Michael BURKE

Thursday, May 01, 2014    

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The first day of May is an excellent time to write about the Religious Sisters of Mercy and their work in Jamaica. One reason is that the month of May is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church, and Mary is known as the Queen of Peace. Another reason is that May is observed as Child Month in Jamaica.

Unfortunately, in many instances Child month is the time when the tired and worn-out speeches are given. The written contents taken out of some filing cabinet or other and rehashed by many to give the impression that the person making the speech really cares.

But, after that, many things are back to normal, save and except for the dedicated social workers many of who are found in the various Christian denominations.

Too many in our society pay "lip service" to good family life and values. We have a vicious circle from the days of slavery. As a result, in Jamaica sexual intercourse has more to do with the opportunity to practice the act and less to do with the means by which children come into the world and the care that they should be given to them.

The Religious Sisters of Mercy have been in the news lately because of the intended closure of the residential facilities at Alpha. The Mercy Sisters worldwide are dedicated to the seven corporal works of mercy and the seven spiritual works of mercy, according to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

The corporal works of mercy are: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; visit the imprisoned; visit the sick; and bury the dead (Matthew 25:31-46).

The spiritual works of mercy are: admonish the sinner; instruct the ignorant; counsel the doubtful; comfort the sorrowful; bear wrongs patiently; forgive all injuries; and pray for the living and the dead (various New Testament references and the teachings of the church).

This article on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, on the one hand, and the Religious Sisters of Mercy, on the other, comes a mere four days after Divine Mercy Sunday in the Roman Catholic Church. And this year's observance has coincided with the canonisation of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II.

Many words have been written and said about the Mercy Sisters and their contribution at Alpha. I recall the 1970s, when I worked with the Community Enterprise Organisation — a public sector company dedicated to the establishment of co-operatives in communities — there was an agricultural and fishing project at Pagee Beach at Port Maria in St Mary, which was being run by a reformed 'bad man', now deceased. True, Alpha could not reform everyone who went there, but sometimes there was a ray of light, even among those that seemed hopeless.

One day the reformed 'bad man' told me that he liked it when the late Father Roy Campbell conducted devotions at Alpha, and they sang "Mother at thy feet is kneeling, one who loves you 'tis your child". This story was quite a surprise to me.

The Mercy Sisters have played a pivotal role in education. This they have done in places like St Martin De Porres Trade School in Gordon Town, St Catherine High School, Mount Saint Joseph in Mandeville, and the St Theresa High School in Black River (now closed). They also administer the John Bosco Home at Hatfield in Manchester.

A Religious Sister of Mercy, Sister Mary Benedict Chung, organised the first gang truce in the inner city of Kingston in 1974. In a tribute to Sister Benedict Chung, in 1973 then Prime Minister Michael Manley mentioned this most important fact.

Sister Benedict, now administrator of the Laws Street Trade Training Centre, was the principal of the Holy Family All-Age School on Laws Street in central Kingston. As rival gangs attached to the political parties wreaked havoc in the area, the children were afraid to come to school, on top of which both gang leaders had their children at the school.

But all of this did not happen until after a 10-year-old boy was shot seven times in crossfire when he was sent by his grandmother to buy food items at a grocery shop. The boy was carried to Kingston Public Hospital and pronounced dead on arrival. The white cloth was thrown over him as they wheeled him to the morgue. Someone saw his body moving under the cloth and he was rushed into the operation room and he survived.

At the time, the now defunct Daily News broke the story. The youngster was featured in the story complete with photographs. After the shooting incident, the youngster was placed in a boys' home but was later adopted by some "society" people. He attended Kingston Technical High School.

I mention this because that 'youngster' is now approaching his 51st birthday and is a gasoline tanker driver today. Many more would have been shot and killed had it not been for the gang truce organised by Sister Benedict.

Earlier this year, Sister Bernadette Little passed on. She was principal at the Alpha Academy for many years. Her influence on the girls at the Convent of Mercy Academy can be summed up in this true story the week after she died.

In a restaurant with a rum bar attached I purchased a meal. I am the sort of person who in such circumstances might simply endure the vulgarities coming from the bar and 'teck weh miself' as soon as I can.

As will sometimes happen in restaurants that are not 'top of the line', they had run out of fruit juice. So I went over to the bar to purchase a bottle of juice and noticed that the female bartender was more clothed than many others. I commended her on being covered and not looking like the others.

The bartender replied that she had attended Covent of Mercy Academy and Sister Benedict trained all of her students to be ladies. I suggested to her that she might try to pass on such values to other bartenders. But that summed up the influence of Sister Bernadette Little who also wrote a book on the story of Alpha entitled, You did it unto me: the story of Alpha.





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