Discovering Their Potential: Helping Ensure a Bright Future for Young Men and Boys in Jamaica

November 2, 2017

By Karel Lucander

Sister Susan shows these two young apprentices how to properly wrap meat in the butcher shop of St. John Bosco Career Advancement Institute.

Born and raised on the snowy banks of Copper Island in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Sister Susan Frazer now ministers in the balmy breezes of Jamaica. Jamaica’s laid-back rhythm allows her to juggle three ministries simultaneously with her positive attitude and robust sense of humor.

For 42 years, Sister Susan has directed the Alpha Institute in Kingston and the St. John Bosco Career Advancement Institute (formerly Home for Boys), about 60 miles away in Mandeville. Both ministries serve boys and young men.

“The day-to-day operations are not mine. A good leader has to step away and let [people] do their jobs, not micromanage,” Sister Susan said. “Those sisters who were in charge of me in my earlier years allowed me to see a dream and go toward it. You can only bring people to their potential by giving them their head and allowing them to do things their way, not your way.”

A Closer Look at Alpha Institute

The Sisters of Mercy founded the Alpha Institute 137 years ago as a residential school for boys, but three years ago it transitioned into a day school for 15- to 19-year-olds. Here some 110 inner-city kids turn applied skills into paying jobs, including woodworking, printing, landscaping and barbering. The boys also supplement their education in math and reading.

But the star here is Alpha’s music program. What began as a fife and drum corps moved to brass and percussion and eventually became a famed training ground for renowned trombonists and trumpeters who are now successfully working as professional musicians in Europe. Alpha’s broadcasting program, with a fully equipped radio studio, allows students to prepare for careers as on-air talent or sound system and production engineers at  

“Sister Ignatius Davies loved music and moved it forward here,” Sister Susan says. “After her death, Sister Martha Milner put the music curriculum together, teaching students how to read music and do scales. They were playing more by ear before, but now when someone puts music in front of them, they can play it.”

St. John Bosco: Working Farm and Career Center

Sister Susan has a heart-to-heart chat with a young student at St. John Bosco Career Advancement Institute.

Most of the week Sister Susan is stationed at St. John Bosco Career Advancement Institute in rural Mandeville. Part residential (because of the distance from some students’ homes) and part day school, this reform institution has transformed into an agri-career center. Nearly 80 young men, ages 13 to 21, study animal husbandry and farming here.

With 4,000 chickens and 500 pigs to tend, students learn about meat cutting, cooking, serving and good business practices, leading to jobs as butchers and caterers at supermarkets, restaurants and on cruise ships. An on-site butcher shop and processing plant help provide income for the school. Greenhouse-grown vegetables, fruits and herbs are also harvested for food and income. St. John Bosco recently added barbering and landscaping to its curriculum, allowing students more opportunities to prepare for earning a good living. And music education is part of this institute’s program as well.

“Giving Strength to One Another”

In addition to heading up these two life-changing ministries, Sister Susan—who celebrated her 50-year jubilee in 2016—serves as local administrator of the 15-sister community, residing with seven of them.

“Our founders had a good thought about giving strength to one another, and that’s what it’s all about,” she says.

Although she relishes Jamaica’s slower pace, Sister Susan starts most days about 5 a.m. “The centering point for me is early morning prayer,” she says. “The focus is on being quiet, and that’s the most important part of my day.”

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  1. Sr. Ellen Fink

    Congratulations Sue! You certainly are a light shining in Jamaica. Many prayers for our ministry in Jamaica.

  2. Doris Gottemoeller, RSM

    Thanks for all you do, Susan. (Did you ever believe you’d be responsible for 4000 chickens and 500 pigs? 🙂 )

  3. Wanda Smith, RSM

    Good job, Sue! Keep up the good work with all those wonderful boys. It has been a long time since I held that piglet at Bosco. The work you and all our sisters in Jamaica have done and continue to do is awesome.

  4. H Alexander Lewis

    Dear Sister Susan:

    I think you are incorrect in stating that the Boys’ were not trained to read music – yes, they were under the tutelage of several Bandmasters, Of note, the Late Lennie Hibbert, O.D., who himself was a student of the Renowned Alpha Boys’ School.

    I recalled in 1996 I sang the Panis Angelus at Mass; and I wanted to rehearse with sister Alexis,and Sister Mary Alexi heil, RSM., politely told me that I read music and do not need to rehearse.

    Therefore, your statement should be promptly corrected. Failure to do so tarnishes the legacy of Sister Marie Therese, O.D.; & Sister Ignatius Davies, Badge of Honor.

  5. Nikki Ferry

    Sister Susan, congratulations! I am so excited to hear about the recent advancements at Alpha and Bosco. I miss my times with you in Jamaica and hope to return soon! Wishing you all the very best.

  6. Sr Jackie Moreau

    Thank you for your self gift and faithfulness to this wonderful ministry!

  7. Sr Jackie Moreau

    Wonderful ministry. Bless you

  8. Moira

    Susan!, thanks for your great leadership…and I am sure your joy and wisdom
    teaches and sustains all your students and staff efforts.
    Nice to know something of what you are about. I remember our sharing in Lima!
    but specially your heartfelt laughter!

  9. Fran Repka

    Susan, I just now read the article. It is wonderful and I am so proud of you, your courage, and leadership; not to mention your deep faith, my friend. Thank you for being Mercy.

  10. Sally Sherman, RSM


    This can’t begin to describe all that you do and have done in those 42 years.
    May you know the blessing of a job well done!
    You are missed up here.