Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.
So said St. Francis of Assisi
True to this guiding principle, three Franciscan Sisters endured a long trans-Atlantic voyage from Glasgow, Scotland to serve in Jamaica. This was in 1857, barely 20 years after the emancipation and abolition of slavery. With only two shillings and six pence in their possession, the Franciscan nuns were not daunted by the challenges that lay ahead. For them, true to the teachings of their patron Saint Francis, with faith in God, they would start by doing what was necessary. There was a need, a dire need to educate, to build communities, to proclaim the Gospel in word and in deed.
By January 1858, the Sisters opened the Immaculate Conception Academy, now Immaculate Conception High School and Immaculate Preparatory School. Alvernia in Cross Roads was later acquired where the Franciscan Sisters established the St. Francis All-Age School, St. Joseph’s Teacher’s College and Alvernia Preparatory School.
Twenty years later, in 1879, when the Franciscan Motherhouse in Scotland was no longer able to send any more Sisters to Jamaica, the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, New York, a young, fledgling Community, graciously responded to an appeal from the Vicar Apostolic of Jamaica. In January 1879, three Sisters bravely set sail from New York Harbour to become the first American Sisters to undertake foreign missionary work.
In later years, the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany would establish other schools – St. Aloysius Primary, Marymount and Mount Alvernia High Schools, to name a few. In the over 160 years in Jamaica, the Franciscan Sisters have extended their ministry to the vital areas of healthcare, feeding assistance programmes and community development projects in rural areas and in inner cities.
In a day and age when the success of educational institutions is measured by examination scores of the graduating cohorts, it is very easy to praise the performance of students without acknowledging the contribution of those who have laid the foundation and traditions in these institutions.
Beyond the academic excellence of ICHS, of which we are extremely proud, we the Class of 1978 fully understand that none of this matters without strength of character, where discipline, integrity and service to God and community are at the core.
We are the beneficiaries of the Franciscan Sisters’ mission to live the Gospel, to witness God’s Love in the Franciscan tradition of living in community and in harmony with all creation while joyfully serving others, especially those who are poor and marginalized.
Today, we salute the Franciscan Sisters for the role they have played in creating here at ICHS, an environment where goodness and honesty are exemplified and promoted, where excellence is encouraged and the potential of each individual is patiently nurtured, ensuring an enriching educational experience which in turn generates competent, virtuous and happy citizens.
While attending ICHS, we were provided with opportunities to reach out to those less fortunate. We were inspired and encouraged to be good stewards of God’s creation, evidenced by the beauty of our school campus. We were motivated to excel academically with the purpose of developing our unique talents to benefit the world. We were taught Christian values and principles, essential to building our character and directing our ethical and moral choices.
We are eternally grateful for the Franciscan foundation and traditions here at ICHS. In lasting tribute to the work and witness of the Franciscan Sisters, the Class of 1978 presents this painting of St. Francis of Assisi against the backdrop of our beloved school, and set in the natural beauty of our campus.
This tribute was read at a special event to honor the Franciscan Sisters during the 40th anniversary reunion of the Class of 1978, on Friday 29 June 2018 at the Immaculate Conception High School, Kingston, Jamaica.
Christ in me, the hope of glory!