Remembering the "Prison Angel", Mother Antonia Brenner: On the Anniversary of Her Passing

 Mother Antonia Brenner was and still is a shining example for all of us as to what it means to take up one’s cross and follow Christ.) (from 2015)

“La Mama”. The Prison Angel


by Larry Peterson

This is a love story. No, it is not about romantic love. Rather, it is about the love of Christ exploding in the soul of a woman who ran with her God given gift and did her best to shower it upon some of the meanest and worst criminals in Mexico.

 

This is about Mother Antonia Brenner, who was born in Beverly Hills, CA, married and divorced twice, had seven children and ultimately became known as the “Prison Angel” of La Mesa Prison, the worst and most dangerous prison in all of Mexico.  Mother Antonia died two years ago on October 17. On the anniversary of her passing I just thought I would remember her with a few words.

Mary Clarke was born in Beverly Hills on December 1, 1926. Her dad, Joe Clarke, was a successful businessman and Mary and her two siblings grew up surrounded with affluence and the glitz of the movie world. One thing was certain about Papa Joe. No matter how good life was for his family he made sure his kids were always taught to help the less fortunate. The desire to help others would blossom in Mary and was one day, destined to explode. However, before the “explosion” Mary embarked on a circuitous life journey.

 

Mary married at 18 and had three children. The first died shortly after birth. That marriage ended in divorce and then Mary married again. The wedding took place in Las Vegas and it was to a man named Carl Brenner. She and Carl had five children together but ultimately, that marriage also ended in divorce. Mary had somehow distanced herself from her strict Catholic upbringing. No matter, it seems that the Holy Spirit had his eye on Mary Clarke her entire life. It was time for Him to shower His grace on His daughter.

Mary became more and more involved in charity work and has her seven children got older she began to visit La Mesa Penitentiary to deliver donations such as  food, medicine and clothing to the prisoners. The plight of the prisoners at La Mesa began to impact her greatly and as time went by her growing compassion and love of neighbor would become focused on these people. They would become her specialty, her ministry, her purpose in life.

 

In 1977, after her kids were grown and her second divorce was final, Mary gave away her expensive belongings, moved out of her home in Ventura and headed to La Mesa. She had received permission to move there. Her new home was to be a 10′ by 10′ cell. She would live as any other inmate, sleeping in her concrete cell and having only cold water and prison food. The amenities in her room included a Crucifix on the wall, a Bible and Spanish dictionary nearby and a hard, prison bed. In the morning she lined up with the other prisoners for roll call. This was to be her home for the next thirty years.

 

The story of how this twice divorced woman and mother of seven kids from two marriages was accepted by the Catholic Church as a Sister and founder of a new order can be found at the links provided. Suffice it to say that as time went by Sister Antonia became “La Mama” (Mother Antonia) aka The Prison Angel,  She moved 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 between her hands as they were dying.

 

Mother Antonia Brenner truly saw the face of Christ in each and every prisoner she came in contact with. She loved them all. Why else would hardened criminals, some who had never loved or been loved, call the diminutive woman who hailed from Beverly Hills, “La Mama”? They loved her in return.

I believe that one day Mother Antonia Brenner will be canonized a saint. She was an example for each and every one of us showing us how to selflessly “love our neighbor” no matter who they might be. Her life also shows all of us that no matter who or what we are or where we have been or what we have done, God is always calling us. Like Mother Antonia, all we have to do is listen to His call.

Mother Antonia, please pray for us.     Please remember her followers, The Eudists Servants of the Eleventh Hour  and consider donating to their prison ministry.

 

©Larry Peterson 2015 All Rights reserved


A Different Love Story: Remembering the "Prison Angel"; Mother Antonia Brenner

Mother Antonia with prisoners at La Mesa Prison

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

by Larry Peterson

This is a love story. No, it is not about romantic love. Rather, it is about the love of
Christ exploding in the soul of a woman who ran with her God given gift and did her best to shower it upon some of the meanest and worst criminals in Mexico.

This is about Mother Antonia Brenner, who was born in Beverly Hills, CA, was married and divorced twice, had seven children and ultimately became known as the “Prison Angel” of La Mesa Prison, the worst and most dangerous prison in all of Mexico.  Mother Antonia died one year ago on October 17. On the anniversary of her passing I just thought I would remember her with a few words.

 Mary Clarke was born in Beverly Hills, Calif.on December 1, 1926. Her dad, Joe Clarke, was a successful businessman and Mary and her two siblings grew up surrounded with affluence and the glitz of the movie world. One thing was certain about Papa Joe. No matter how good life was for his family he made sure his kids were always taught to help the less fortunate. The desire to help others would blossom in Mary and was one day destined to explode. However, before the “explosion” Mary embarked on a circuitous life journey.

Mary married at 18 and had three children. The first died shortly after birth. That marriage ended in divorce and then Mary married again. The wedding took place in Las Vegas and it was to a man named Carl Brenner. She and Carl had five children together but ultimately, that marriage also ended in divorce. Mary had somehow distanced herself from her strict Catholic upbringing. No matter, it seems that the Holy Spirit had his eye on Mary Clarke her entire life. It was time for Him to shower His grace on His daughter.

Mary became more and more involved in charity work and has her seven children got older she began to visit La Mesa Penitentiary to deliver donations such as  food, medicine and clothing to the prisoners. The plight of the prisoners at La Mesa began to impact her greatly and as time went by her growing compassion and love of neighbor would become focused on these people. They would become her specialty, her ministry, her purpose in life.

In 1977, after her kids were grown and her second divorce was final, Mary gave away her expensive belongings, moved out of her home in Ventura and headed to La Mesa. She had received permission to move there. Her new home was to be a 10′ by 10′ cell. She would live as any other inmate, sleeping in her concrete cell and having only cold water and prison food. The amenities in her room included a Crucifix on the wall, a Bible and Spanish dictionary nearby and a hard, prison bed. In the morning she lined up with the other prisoners for roll call. This was to be her home for the next thirty years.

The story of how this twice divorced woman and mother of seven kids from two marriages was accepted by the Catholic Church as a Sister and founder of a new order can be found at the links provided. Suffice it to say that as time went by Sister Antonia became “La Mama” (Mother Antonia) aka The Prison Angel,  She 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 between her hands as they were dying. Mother Antonia Brenner truly saw the face of Christ in each and every prisoner she came in contact with. She loved them all. Why else would hardened criminals, some who had never loved or been loved,  call the diminutive woman who hailed from Beverly Hills, “La Mama”? They loved her in return.

I believe that one day Mother Antonia Brenner will be canonized a saint and inducted into the “Catholic Hall of Fame” . She was an example for each and every one of us showing us how to selflessly “love our neighbor” no matter who they might be. As the anniversary of her passing is October 17 maybe we might all pray for her intercession for a man who started his journey in  La Mesa Prison  back on March 31st. His name is Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi; USMC . Maybe the Prison Angel can put in an extra word to the True Power in our lives and help get him out to honor her on the first anniversary of her passing into her eternal reward.

Mother Antonia, please pray for Sgt. Andrew and all of us too.


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 http://eudistservants.org/site/