Gloria Brissett understood Divine Mercy


Thursday, April 12, 2018

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Gloria Brissett died on March 21, a few months shy of her 95th birthday. She taught for many years at St Anne's School in western Kingston before becoming principal of Sts Peter and Paul Preparatory School — the post from which she retired from some years ago. She reminded me of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The first recorded miracle of Jesus Christ was performed at the wedding feast at Cana (John 2: 1-12). The Blessed Virgin Mary pointed out to Jesus that they had run out of wine. Being a woman, and being sensitive to small but embarrassing situations, Mary was quite typical. More important, Mary was kind enough to ask her son to help the host in a very difficult situation.

On April 25 1991, the late Roman Catholic Archbishop Samuel Carter celebrated 25 years of consecration as a bishop. The Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity was jam-packed and former prime minister, the late Hugh Shearer, stood at the entrance of the cathedral among several others who could not find seats. Out of what I could only call 'Mary-like' concern, Gloria Brissett mentioned to me that Shearer was standing and that I should offer him a seat. I went to him and suggested he come up front, but with a smile he declined. He preferred to stand where he was in the crowd.

Brissett taught at St Anne's long before she became vice-principal. As a young teacher she lined the roadway for the funeral procession of Father Leslie Russell (1909-57) — a Jamaican priest now being considered for canonisation. She touched the lives of thousands and the turnout of past students at her funeral demonstrated that. There were many prominent Jamaicans at her funeral whom she had taught at St Anne's 'way back when'.

In her earlier teaching days at St Anne's, the students went to school barefoot. Many lived in wattle and daub huts as that was the order of the day at 'Back-o-wall' before the housing development called Tivoli came into being. Brissett loved them just the same and was revered as a mother in west Kingston and Trench Town. In those days she attended St Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Church on Ransford Avenue in Cross Roads before switching to Our Lady of the Angels on Molynes Road.

Earl Dawkins approached me and asked if I would write an article on Gloria Brissett. He was the defeated People's National Party candidate in West Kingston in 2007. But Dawkins was not the only one. And it is because of the requests that I got that I do this, although her past students knew more about her than I ever did.

I knew her as an active lay person in the church. As a result of her role in church, four Roman Catholic bishops, several priests and deacons were in attendance at her funeral.

When I studied theology in the 1970s, Brissett was part of a group that spoke about the practical application of pastoral ministry. Were it not for women like her our terrible crime problems in Jamaica would have been far worse. Yet, ironically, Brissett lost one of her sons to violence in the early 1990s. After the tragedy she resumed her church work in the many ways that she was involved and with the same energy and passion as before. And she never lost her compassionate touch.

Were it not for women like Gloria Brissett, who understood why some children give problems at school due to serious family issues, crime and violence as bad as it is might have been much worse. Yet the very first time I encountered her, which was in 1974, she was speaking in a small gathering about her husband, who had died. But the dean of discipline at the school her sons attended was not very sympathetic to that situation when they called her about a disciplinary problem involving one of her sons.

More importantly, there are many who will state that were it not for Gloria Brissett they would not be where they are today. According to them, she gave them the confidence to succeed when others were 'beating them down' by saying that they could not do it. In other words, Gloria Brissett saw the good in everyone.

I attended the Jamaica College (JC) events sponsored by the JC Old Boys' Association that were held last month. One was a gathering of old boys at a venue near New Kingston. In one discussion, one past student said that a certain former international politician had done nothing good at all. Colin Greenland was shocked that anyone could not recognise that there is good in all of us. Greenland, an expert at his field of fraud detection, demonstrated that he can also detect the good traits in everyone.

Although Ken Hill, as part of the famous Four Hs, had been expelled from the People's National Party (PNP) in 1952 and, although he formed another party and later joined the Jamaica Labour Party, he reapplied for membership of the PNP in the 1960s. In one anecdotal story, one prominent member of the PNP was livid when the matter came to the PNP executive. He spoke about all the things Ken Hill had said and done against the PNP. Norman Manley then asked him one question: “When is forgiveness ever wrong?” There was no answer.

The Second Sunday of Easter (this past Sunday), known as Divine Mercy Sunday in the Roman Catholic Church, was promulgated by Saint John Paul II in the year 2000. But, in Jamaica, it coincides with the so-called carnival — a misnomer because the word 'carnival' means 'goodbye to meat' and is observed by other countries the day before Ash Wednesday.

We need to find a way to emphasise Divine Mercy and the day of the revelling provides a wonderful opportunity to address it. Divine Mercy has to do with forgiveness, compassion and focusing on the good in people, qualities for which Gloria Brissett was well known as a teacher, a social worker, and a concerned Christian.

Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or

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