Skip to comments.Sister Antonia Brenner dies at 86; nun moved into Tijuana prison to tend to inmates
Posted on 10/18/2013 12:24:05 PM PDT by Mrs. Don-o
Sister Antonia Brenner, a Beverly Hills-raised mother of seven who became a Roman Catholic nun and moved into a notorious Tijuana prison where she spent more than three decades mending broken lives, easing tensions and dispensing everything from toothbrushes to bail money, has died. She was 86.
Brenner, who had been in declining health, died Thursday of natural causes at the home of her religious order in Tijuana.
She was born Mary Clarke in Los Angeles on Dec. 1, 1926, to Irish immigrant parents. Her father grew wealthy running an office supply business, and the family counted Hollywood stars such as Cary Grant among their neighbors. She married and raised four daughters and three sons, all the while becoming deeply involved in charity work.
In 1977, Brenner gave away her expensive clothes and belongings, left her Ventura apartment and moved to La Mesa penitentiary. She had delivered donations in the past to the prison, each visit filling her with compassion.
Small of stature, with blue eyes peeking out from under her traditional blackand-white habit, Brenner cut a strikingly serene presence in the overcrowded prison of 8,000. She lived as any other inmate, sleeping in a 10-by-10-foot cell, eating the same food and lining up for morning roll call.
She would walk freely among thieves and drug traffickers and murderers, smiling, touching cheeks and offering prayers. Many were violent men with desperate needs. She kept extra toilet paper in her cell, arranged for medical treatment, attended funerals.
In the cellblocks she was known simply as "Mama." "There isn't anyone who hasn't heard my lecture on victims," she said in a 2002 Times story. "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."
(Excerpt) Read more at latimes.com ...
Other news sources, including NPR and the San Duiego Tribune, note that on a few occasions she broke up fights and quelled brewing riots. Brenner was an energetic fundraiser who often visited Southern California to collect food and supplies. Few people said no, though sometimes she didn't leave them much choice.
In a 2010 documentary "La Mama: An American Nun's Life in a Mexican Prison." Father Joe Carroll jokingly took to calling Brenner a "thief" for regularly clearing out his charity of donations.
"If I told her she couldn't have it, she'd just be smiling and giggling at me and putting it into her car and leaving," Carroll said, laughing.
In the late 1990s, she established her own religious order, the Eudist Servants of the Eleventh Hour. Tijuana Archbishop Rafael Romo said she possessed the qualities of a saint and said her death was a "terrible loss" for the city, the Tijuana newspaper Frontera reported.
She is also survived by her seven children, James, Kathleen, Theresa, Carol, Tom, Elizabeth and Anthony and more than 45 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
One person summarized her this way: "Rhyme, reason you can't rationalize why she did it. She has that one-on-one relationship with God."
3 decades VOLUNTARILY living in a TJ prison?
I’m uhh.. I, I’m...
(darn it. what’s the word I’m looking for here?)
Some few people in the world have extraordinary courage and love that is simply astounding. Sr. Antonia Brenner seems to have been one of those. RIP, Sister.
I posted this in News/Activism because it’s a friendlier neighborhood than the Religion Forum. Besides, this is really news — “Good News” — and her example is beautiful, one we can all emulate in some way.
“...whats the word Im looking for here?”
The Brits might say “gobsmacked”.
She was born in the same year as my mother, who’s been gone for a while.
May she RIP.
Wow. I’m speechless...what a tremendous servant of God!
"If I told her she couldn't have it, she'd just be smiling and giggling at me and putting it into her car and leaving," Carroll said, laughing.I wonder why her marriages did not work out. Maybe she was too spunky?!
While I admire what she has done, I wonder if she had any success with the “lost souls” in the prison.
Back in the early 80’s I spent a weekend (standing) in a TJ Jail, Sunday night a petite Nun came in and spoke with all of us, asking names and where we were from, she left and an hour later the Jailer let me out and told me the Nun had paid my Bail and then gave me a business card with an address where I could donate to her cause.
It may have been Sister Antonia Brenner.
If so I will meet her again and Thank her in person.
Yes. And if the daily news cycle had at least a few stories like this instead of hour after hour of Hollywood tripe and lurid crimes, perhaps more would be inspired to give such a life a try.
Wow. That’s — wow.
DONT include me on any recipient list, unless its very important.
This is not important.
She truly walked in the footsteps of Christ. I believe she should be made a saint. At least a cause could be made for her beautifacation-— To serve the lowest is to serve heaven. She remembered that once Jesus was a prisoner too.
Flabbergasted? Gobsmacked? Awed?
Thanks for the ping. An amazing story.
Thank you, Mrs. Don-o for posting the story of this beautiful woman and h/t to GreyFriar for sending me the article for posting. Mrs. Don-o beat me to it. May our Lord welcome her with open arms and a warm smile.
Thank you for posting in this digital Cul De Sac, otherwise I would have missed it. Just like most of us, Sister Antonia needed to be needed. Unlike most of us, she took a calculated risk, based on love and devotion, walking away from the physical comforts and the predictable security of her own family.
Actually, I did not realize this was allowed anywhere today; to purposely reside in a prison setting. I may have overlooked what happened to the husband. I presume she was a widow.
How divinely heroic she was! That, my friends is what real beauty is.
Oh my. 3 replies so far. And no one picked up on the obvious clues? (al baby; TJ)
Guess I’ll have to say I am STUNED.
I'm remembering how Our Lord said, "I am the Vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me, you will bear much fruit."
I've done some thinking about how "fruitfulness" differs from "efficiency". Fruitfulness has to do with the inner, organic nature of a thing: Jesus talks also about how only the good tree bears good fruit.
So it seems we have a guarantee that Sr. Antonia's life will have been fruitful, since she was acting within her relationship with Our Lord, who is the source of all that is is truly good and truly lasting.
Good, lasting results with these "lost souls"? I'd bet my right arm up to the shoulder on that. I'd bet my life.
Well, blarg. I should have caught that. If you’d written “Tiajunna,” that would have helped!
Hence my answer.
Some of my typos, I don't know how they happen. They are bigger and more complicated than the ordinary typos!
She gave a talk in my hometown about three years ago and my little boy asked her for a blessing. When this happened I told myself, my son is being blessed by a future saint!
A truly amazing lady.
RIP, Sister Antonia Brenner....
You were very lucky to get that assistance.
That’s what I told my kids the last time Father Ho Lung was at our parish! Father Ho looked embarrassed.
Dearest Mrs.Don-o, I’ve been absent from FR for weeks, just a few days ago popped in.
This story is so beautiful, it is medicine.
I will go cry now.
I hope you have been in good health and that you have been able to pray every day.
"Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful,
And enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.
Send forth Thy Spirit, and they shall be created,
And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth."
That is someone who ‘walked the walk’!
3 decades VOLUNTARILY living in a TJ prison?
Im uhh.. I, Im...
(darn it. whats the word Im looking for here?)
I know what to say. There are those who talk of what to do and then there are those who just do it. God Bless you Sister Antonia Brenner.
Another picture of "La Mama"