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Mother Antonia Brenner, who lived in an infamous Mexican prison, departs for heaven

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 20th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Mother Antonia Brenner has died after spending three decades caring for prisoners in an infamous Tijuana prison where she worked to mend lives. The Catholic nun was 86 and lived a Beverly Hills life before becoming a nun.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) – Mother Antonia Brenner, 86, passed away on Thursday after a period of declining health. She died of natural causes according to her religious order in Tijuana. Her sisters cared for her in her last days.

Brenner was born in 1926 as Mary Clarke, the daughter of Irish immigrants. Her family ran an office supply business in Los Angeles and became wealthy. She enjoyed a wealthy childhood and lived next to movie stars. Eventually, she married and had seven children.

Brenner’s life changed in 1977 after her children were grown and she went through a second, painful divorce from her husband. Following the divorce, she moved out of her home in Ventura, gave away all her nice clothes and possessions, and moved to Tijuana where she started working --and living, at the La Mesa prison. She already knew of the prison because she had donated money to the facility several times in the past.

Mexican prisons often rely on outside support to provide for inmates.

Brenner once told the LA Times in an interview, "Something happened to me when I saw men behind bars. When I left, I thought a lot about the men. When it was cold, I wondered if the men were warm; when it was raining, if they had shelter. I wondered if they had medicine and how their families were doing. You know, when I returned to the prison to live, I felt as if I'd come home."

Brenner did not have a comfortable life. As any prisoner, she lived in a 10x10 cell and ate the same food as the inmates. She even lined up for morning roll call.

She then spent her days walking among the inmates, providing for their needs. She showed great compassion but lectured the inmates about the victims of their crimes. She once said in a Times interview, "They have to accept that they're wrong. They have to see the consequences. They have to feel the agony. ... But I do love them dearly."

Prison staff referred to her as an "angel" and inmates called her "mama."

Brenner funded her work by collecting donations from throughout Southern California. She would also visit her family, taking joy in her many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

In the late 1990s, Sister Brenner established a religious order known as the Eudist Servants of the Eleventh Hour. Her Archbishop said she had the qualities of a saint. Mexican authorities named the street outside of the prison after her.

She is survived by her seven children and her religious order, The Eudist Servants Of The Eleventh Hour is an association of the faithful whose members are sisters who are mature women who love Jesus and want to follow Him by serving the poor and the needy." Women who join the congregation are between the ages of 45 and 60. They continue to serve the La Mesa prison facility.

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