Talk About a Love Story–meet Mary Clarke aka Mother Antonia Brenner

by Larry Peterson

Mary Clarke was born in Los Angeles on December 1, 1926. Her parents, Joe and Kathleen Clarke, were Irish immigrants and dad  strictly enforced  the catholic upbringing of Mary and his other two children. Joe sold office supplies to the military during World War II and made a lot of money. The family moved to Beverly Hills and hobnobbed with the Hollywood elite on a frequent basis. Life was good for the Clarke family but, no matter how successful Joe Clarke was, he always taught his children to help those less fortunate. The desire to help others was deeply imbedded in Mary Clarke and would one day explode

Mary married at a young age and had three children. The first died shortly after birth. That marriage ended in divorce and as  soon as the divorce was final she married again in Las Vegas. She had five more children from that marriage. That marriage also ended in divorce. Not exactly adhering to her Catholic upbringing, was she? But now the grace of God embraced Mary Clarke squeezing her so tightly that a love inside her burst forth and suddenly the most downtrodden and pathetic among us were about to witness up close and personally the Hand of God working through her. The diminutive woman, twice divorced and the mother of seven grown children, was about to move from Beverly Hills, CA into La Mesa Penitentiary in Tijuana, Mexico, home to some of the worst kinds of criminals on the planet.

As Mary’s children grew she became more and more involved in charity work. After the kids were grown Mary began making trips to La Mesa Penitentiary to deliver donations such as food, medicine and clothing to the prisoners. Every time she left, the plight of the prisoners filled her with a growing compassion that ultimately would define her. In 1977, after her kids had grown and her second divorce was final, she gave away her  expensive clothes and belongings, moved out of her home in Ventura and headed to La Mesa Prison. She had received permission to move in to La Mesa and was given a 10′ by 10′ cell to live in. She lived as any other inmate, sleeping in her concrete cell, having only cold water and prison food. The amenities in her room included a Crucifix on the wall and a prison bed.  In the morning she lined up for roll call with all the other prisoners. This became her new home and would be home for the next 30 years.

Mary was an older, divorced woman and according to  church rules could not join any religious order. Undeterred, she went about her work while forming a new order. She received permission to take private vows and donned a habit and became known as Sister Antonia. After a year or so the local bishop, Juan Jesus Posadas, of Tijuana and Bishop Leo Maher of San Diego, officially welcomed and blessed her ministry and made her an auxiliary Mercerdarian, an order that has a special devotion to prisoners. Now, at the age of 50, she had become a sister.

Sister Antonia walked freely among the drug traffickers, thieves, murderers, rapists and others, touching cheeks and offering prayers. Many of these people were among the most violent and desperate of men. Yet she happily walked with them and comforted and consoled them and held their heads when they were dying.

Mother Antonia
Mother Antonia Brenner

 Talk about a ‘love story’. She saw the face of Jesus in every prisoner and loved them all. She became know as the “prison angel” and many began calling her “Mama”. Mama Antonia Brenner, quelled brewing riots, broke up fights, touched cheeks, gave hugs and became loved by the worst of the worst.

Mother Antonia’a following began to grow and she named her community the Eudist Servants of the Eleventh Hour. St. John Eudes,  a very close friend of Vincent de Paul, was her inspiration. The ‘eleventh hour’ refers to the call to vocation of older women ages 45 and up. Today there are 22 sisters. Eight work in La Mesa and the others are dispersed throughout the United states    working mainly in prison ministries. Mother Antonia also has seven grown children and many grandchildren. The “Prison Angel” passed away on October 17, 2013. She was 86. For the full story about this amazing woman of God who might very well be canonized a saint one day go to 

The Legend of the Jack-O-Lantern—-(one version)

by Larry Peterson

Long ago in Ireland, the land of shamrocks, leprechauns, soft winds and smiles, there lived a man named Jack. Jack was quite lazy and did not like to work. But he had the gift of “blarney” and could talk the peat off the moss. He would tell wondrous tales about his adventures as a world traveler and the people in his village would be held spellbound by his golden tongue; however, Jack outsmarted himself when he  stole money from the townsfolk. He thought that they were not very smart and would never find out. But they did find out and began chasing him down the streets of the village.

As Jack ran down the road as fast as he could he rounded a bend and ran smack into the devil. The devil smiled at Jack and told him it was time for him to die and that he was there to take his soul. Jack quickly convinced the devil that if he would let him go and promise to never take his soul he would give him all the souls of the folks who were chasing him. “And how do you plan to do that, Jack?” the devil asked.

“Well now, all ye have ta do is turn ye-self into a pot of gold coins. Then I will give the coins to the people and you will be in all of their pockets. They will be yours.”

Since many souls were better than only one, the devil readily agreed and turned himself into a pot of gold coins. Jack gave the coins to all the people and they went away smiling never realizing that they had given themselves to the devil in return for money.

So Jack lived on, grew old and, like all mortal men, finally died. His life had been so sinful on earth that he could not get into heaven and since the devil could not take his soul, he could not get into hell. He had nowhere to go. He asked the devil how he was supposed to see because he was in complete darkness. The devil laughed and tossed Jack a burning ember from the fires of hell, an ember that would never burn out.

Jack, using the ember to guide his way, found a pumpkin patch (some say it was turnips) and carved out a pumpkin. He put the ember inside and began carrying it around so he could see where he was going. To this day he wanders the earth seeking a resting place. And that is why he is known as “Jack-O’-Lantern” or “Jack of the Lantern”.

“HAPPY HALLOWEEN”     posted in 2011 and 2012

God and Freedom of Religion–Nothing but an Oxymoron

by Larry Peterson

Florida has this peculiar demon called the ‘sandspur’. It is a barbed, pointy thing that is attached to a certain type of grass that sticks to your socks, shoes, shoelaces, and, if you happen to be barefoot, your feet. When they do become impaled in your feet they hurt–a LOT. When you try to pull them from your feet or pick them from your socks and/or shoelaces,  they get stuck in your fingertips. (The trick is to always wet your fingers first.) Here’s the thing. I never intentionally invaded their territory. It was an accident. They were here before I was. Therefore, I do my best to avoid them. I have made no attempt to eradicate them because that would be impossible. They are here to stay–end of story.

It seems that several months ago the  Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit in U.S. District Court in NY to have the name of God removed from United States currency where it is imprinted with “In God We Trust”. These people are atheists who call themselves “nontheists”  because the word ‘atheist’ is too offensive to most folks. Anyway, they say that using the motto “In God We Trust” is “problematic” because it violates the  First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I maintain that they do not know what they are talking about and neither do all the judges, school administrators, parents, and whoever else complains about using the name of GOD because it violates the Constitution. That is absolute hogwash and I can explain why very simply. God has nothing to do with Freedom of Religion. Nothing at all. It just seems that all of us “Theists” (we are the people who believe in God and number in the countless millions), have become the sandspurs in the heads of the ‘nontheists’ and they cannot stand the pain and, try as they may, cannot seem to weed us no less eradicate us. For crying out loud, why do they even want to get rid of what we believe if they do not believe it to begin with?

This is the First amendment, word for word:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  I ask you, what is religion? Is it not the manner in which we choose to worship God? God is NOT religion. The Founding Fathers accepted the existence of God as a ‘matter of fact’. They just wanted to make sure all the citizens of the new nation would have the CHOICE of worshiping Him anyway they chose. Remember, many folks came here from Europe to escape religious persecution, ie; the Pilgrims, the Puritans, Quakers, French Huguenots and Mennonites (Anabaptists) to name a few. If someone claimed to be a “nontheist” back in the 17th or 18th century and tried to get the name of God eradicated they would have either been burned at the stake or hanged.

Here is a quote from George Washington, the Father of our Country, from a speech he gave to the Constitutional Convention delegates prior to ratifying the constitution:  “If, to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards, defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair. The event is in the hand of GOD.”

There you have it. Before the Founders even started their work the First President told them that ,”the event is in the hand of God.” They knew there was a God. They accepted that as fact. They also knew that people had many different ways of honoring and worshiping Him. That is the right they wanted to protect. They NEVER considered for a moment that the name of GOD would violate the First Amendment. To me the entire concept is an oxymoron. Without God you can have no Freedom of Religion. Why would you need it?

So, to all you ‘nontheists’ (aka atheists) out there who cannot seem to get we Theistic, God believing sandspurs out of your heads, too bad. You invaded our world. Why don’t you relax and enjoy the rights afforded you. Why do you even care if we choose to believe in God? What is it to you?  You don’t believe he even exists and yet you fight to get rid of Him. You have a problem.

Remembering Angelo Roncalli aka Pope John XXIII

by Larry Peterson

When Angelo Roncalli entered the Sistine Chapel with the other Cardinals in 1958 the last thing he ever expected was to leave that place as the new pope.  He was 77 years old. He was not well known, avoided the llimelight as much as possible and, even though a cardinal, was more famous for being “ordinary” than anything else. When  he was elected on the eleventh ballot he knew that his brother Cardinals were basically looking for a Papal ‘caretaker’ for several years. Taking the name John, after his dad, Pope John XXIII surprised not only them but the entire world.

The new Pope had a quick sense of humor, an affable smile and his chubby presence was a beautiful thing. The world came to love him quickly and he was so respected by world leaders that he was deeply involved in the efforts to resolve the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. No one on the planet considered Pope John XXIII   ‘ordinary’ any more.
Pope John is best known of course for calling the historic, Second Vatican Council together. On October 11, 1962,  all the bishops from around the world convened and Vatican II was underway. The Pope set the tone for the council when, in his opening speech, he said, “The Church has always opposed…errors. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.”
The “old man” recognized that mercy had to be an intricate part of the reformed Catholic equation. The world was shrinking with advanced communications, commercial jet travel and televisions in millions of homes. Naturally, there were members of the council who thought that the Church was abdicating its sanctity by allowing certain changes. Foremost was  replacing the Tridentine Mass of Pope St. Pius V with the Novus Ordo Mass where the language went from Latin to the vernacular. Suddenly allowing lay persons to distribute Holy Communion horrified many but was also welcomed by many. The early church allowed receiving Communion in the hand and this was now once again allowed. Others thought the church needed to be more progressive  and ordain women as priests and allow priests to marry. The simple man from Lombardy held their feet to the fire. None of the changes implemented were  “uncatholic”. They simply allowed the people, especially women,  to be able to participate more fully in the life of the Church.
Pope John XXIII was  a stretcher bearer in the Italian Army during World War I. During World war II, when he was still Archbishop Roncalli, he helped save over 24,000 Jewish people. He wrote the great encyclical, ‘Pacem in Terris’, which means, ‘Peace on Earth’. In this encyclical he wrote, “That every man has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life…”

Today is Blessed John XXIII’s feast day. He will be canonized along with Blessed John Paul II in April of 2014. I was blessed to have lived during the papacy of each of these great men.  
Pope John XXIII 

Frank Bernardone (aka St. Francis of Assisi) Would They 'Baker Act" Him in 2013?

by Larry Peterson

On October 4th, we Catholics celebrated the feast day of the great St. Francis of Assisi.  Pope Francis, during his homily at the Mass, encapsulated his namesake with this one brief sentence; “In all of Francis’ life, love for the poor and the imitation of Christ in his poverty were inseparably united, like the two sides of a coin.” 

The  Catholic Church has a rich and fabulous history of people who have been elevated to the rank of Canonized Saint.It is a four  stage process to sainthood.  Reaching the first stage a person is then called “Servant of God”. The second stage is called “Venerable”. Beatification is the third stage and then a person is called Blessed. Last but not least is the actual canonization. That is when a person is declared a saint.

All of  these people belong in our Catholic ‘Hall of Fame’ and among them are some who are so well known that  their names are recognizable by most people even after  two thousand years. St. Francis of Assisi is one of those ‘Hall of Famers’ and he lived about 850 years ago.

I am a cradle Catholic  and I went to Catholic school from grades one through twelve. I learned about many saints and martyrs and it always seemed to me that what we were taught placed these folks in a heavenly world more so than in a real, earthly world. As a kid, I never understood how the martyrs were willingly and happily dying for Jesus. Weren’t they scared? Did some of them possibly cry? Were they so filled with the Spirit that they were always stoic and reserved accepting their horrible fate with  joy while thanking God for the honor of a martyr’s death?

Fear is a normal emotion. Courage is when you stare it down and confront it regardless of the consequences even unto giving up your life.  Filled with a faith that was unshakable they loved God and their fellow man so much  that their courage knew no bounds even as they faced death. These were people of valor filled with grace, honor, fortitude and foremost, love.

My namesake and one of my favorite saints is St. Lawrence. Legend has it that he  was roasted alive by the Emperor Valerian in August of 258 A.D. The story is that Lawrence, having been tortured for a period of time over hot coals said to his executioners,“I believe I am done on this side, please turn me over.” 

I do not believe that really happened but it goes to my point of being taught about the saints being “happy”  even as they endured the most horrible tortures. Anyway, I try to take my supernal heroes and bring them  into my world of the 21st century. Then I imagine them doing their thing in the zero tolerant, politically correct, secularist world that we living, wannabe saints exist in. How do you think St. Francis of Assisi would have fared in the year 21st century?

Peter Bernardone, a wealthy silk merchant from Assisi, and his wife Pica, also from a wealthy family, gave birth to a son in 1181. They named him Johnny but later his father changed his name to Francis because he loved France, a country where he had made a lot of money (maybe dad had his own issues). Anyway, Frank grew up as a wealthy kid and had everything money could buy. He was handsome, courteous and dashing.

In 1204 frank went off to war and had a dream directing him to go back to Assisi. He did return and for some reason lost all desire for the worldly life. He joined a pilgrimage to Rome and joined with the poor who would beg in St. Peter’s Square. The experience moved him to want a life of poverty. Back home in  Assisi he began preaching in the streets and soon he had a following.

St. Francis of Assisi dedicated his own life to the poor and to Christ in poverty. He founded the Franciscan Order and the Order of Poor Clares. In 1224 he received the Stigmata, which are the wounds that Christ received when He was crucified. This is not folklore or rumor or an “old wives tale”. The Stigmata has been documented and St. Francis did have it. In addition, the man was known for his love of animals, and many of the statues erected in his honor have a bird sitting on his extended finger and maybe a squirrel at his feet. 
So how would Frank Bernardone have fared in modern day  America? What would have happened if he decided to throw off his expensive clothing and don some old clothes he got from a thrift store? What if he wore those clothes to Main Street and started preaching on the corner? What if he had tried to preach that way in front of  a church? What if he went and knocked on the door of the nearest Catholic rectory and asked for some food?

More than likely the priest probably would have given him a number to the parish ‘outreach’ or maybe St. Vincent de Paul Conference, wished him well and closed the door. Then Frank would have had to find a phone to use and maybe he would have found one and maybe not. Sooner or later he would definitely have been spotted by the cops who would want to see ID and find out what he was doing and where he lived. They probably would have called his father. 

Eight hundred years ago in Assisi, Frank’s dad was so infuriated at his son’s behavior that when Frank came home from Rome, his dad beat him and locked him in the basement for a year. Today,  Frank’s father could not legally  beat his son and lock him in the basement. So he might have asked the cops to ‘Baker Act” his grown son. If you do not know what  “Baker Act” means, it is simple. In Florida there is a law that allows the police or family or most anyone to have someone who is acting “irrational’, and could be a danger to themselves or others, to be taken into custody and placed in lock down for 72 hours so they can be evaluated. The person has no say in the matter. Then it is up to the courts. If Frank told a modern day judge that he would rather live with the poor and beg for food even though he did not have to that judge may have put him in the ‘booby-hatch’ for a lot longer than 72 hours. 
Let me, as they say, “cut to the chase'”.  Francis of Assisi was a spiritual man who loved Christ and loved the poor. He gave up everything worldly to serve the poor. He asked for nothing and eventually thousands followed him as Franciscan priests, friars, brothers and missionaries. The Order of Poor Clares came into existence because of Francis. Francis of Assisi changed the world through the love of the poor and the love of Christ in poverty. 
I cannot imagine how a man like Francis would do his thing today.  But, all things are possible with God, even in the pompous, secularist, meistic world of the 21st century. Just take a look at who suddenly became our Pope. A simple Argentinian named Jorge Bergoglio  was elected and he took the name of Francis, a simple man from Assisi.

                                                  copyright ©Larry Peterson 2013