Tag Archives: love of neighbor

He died at the age of 40, yet he is known as the “Father of the Poor” and founded an Order of Nuns. Meet Blessed Paul Joseph Nardini

Bl. Pauil Joseph Nardini        en.wikipedia.org

By Larry Peterson

Germersheim is a small town that is next to the Rhine River in Bavaria. On July 25, 1821, an unwed woman by the name of Margareta Lichtenberger gave birth to a baby boy and named him Paul Joseph Lichtenberger. The boy’s father remained unknown. Margareta tried her best, but being a single parent, the odds were stacked against her. She ultimately turned baby Paul over to her Aunt Maria Barbara.

Margareta was blessed.  Her Aunt Maria Barbara was married to an Italian man by the name of Anton Nardini. Anton embraced the child as his own. He and Marie adopted Paul and raised him as they if he was their natural-born child. Paul’s formative years were filled with a loving homelife where religion and family meant everything. The boy was also receiving the best education possible. Incredibly, the Nardini’s never let Paul lose contact with his birth mom, Margareta.

By the time Paul finished grammar school, he had no doubt that he was called to the priesthood. Several of his teachers recommended Paul to Bishop Johannes von Geissel as a young man who might become a good priest.  Bishop von Giessel had the young man admitted to the seminary in Speyer, where he studied philosophy. From there, Paul moved on to the University of Munich. While at the university he obtained a Degree in Theology; Summa cum Laude.

On August 22, 1848, he was ordained to the priesthood in the Cathedral of Speyer. His “higher-ups” wanted him to teach at the university, but Father Paul wanted to do parish work. They acceded to his wishes and his first few years as a priest were spent as a chaplain in Frankenthal, an administrator of a parish in Trebur, and then as a prefect of a diocesan boarding school.

But in 1851 Father Paul Joseph Nardini was appointed as a parish priest at one of the poorest parishes in France, St. Joseph Parish at Pirmasens, a parish with many poor, neglected adults and children.  Unknown to anyone at the time, including Father Paul, this would be the parish where he would spend the rest of his life. His adopted parents had taught him well. Upon taking up residence at the parish one of the first things he did was to have his birth mother, Margareta Lichtenberger, take up residence with him.

Father Paul immediately demonstrated the qualities that so many had seen in him as a boy. He loved his Catholic faith deeply and the example he set for those around him was inspiring. He showed an uncommon human and moral piety, a devout reverence toward the Mass and the Sacraments, and was always denying himself for the poor around him and using actions more than words to evangelize the many protestants that lived within his area. It was not long before the people in his parish and in the surrounding area were calling him the “Father of the Poor.”

The need for help was overwhelming so  Father Paul he reached out to the Sisters of the Most Holy Redeemer of Niederborn. He asked if they could help him, especially in educating the poor kids of the parish. He also asked for their help in caring for the sick and for those who were poverty-stricken and also spiritually lost. Three Sisters were assigned to help but the work was too great for such a small number and after two years they were recalled.

Father Nardini never lost hope. He reached out to four young ladies of the Third Order of St. Francis. These four women would become the first members of the order known today as the Poor Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family.  The date was March 2, 1855. Father personally supervised the care and formation of the Sisters, secured their food and lodging, and even gave up his evening meals to make sure they had what they needed. The bishop approved the order on March 10, 1857.

As the number of women joining the order increased Father Paul’s home visits to the sick and dying increased dramatically. Holy Viaticum was his highest priority on his agenda. It was a freezing cold night when the selfless priest brought Viaticum to a person dying of pulmonary typhus. Father caught the illness. He died from its effects on January 27, 1862. He was 40 years old.

At the time of Father Paul’s death, the order was only seven years old but already had over 220 ladies working in 35 locations. They were all heartbroken over the loss of their founder whose remains are today venerated in the Chapel at Pirmasens.

Father Paul Joseph Nardini was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on June 26, 2006. His feast day is on January 27. We ask Blessed Paul Joseph Nardini to pray for us.

 

 

 

 

 

On the Fifth Anniversary of her Passing: Remembering a future saint: Mother Antonia Brenner aka The “Prison Angel”

By Larry Peterson

Mother Antonia Brenner Praying with Prisoners in La Mesa prison

Mother Antonia Brenner Praying with Prisoners in La Mesa prison

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 five 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, 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,

“La Mama”. The Prison Angel

Mother Antoni© Brenner praying with prisoners.. courtesy eudistssisters.org

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.

N.B. Mother Antonia founded the order known as The Eudist Servants of the 11th Hour. The word, Eudist, is taken from St. John Eudes, a 17th-century priest, and founder of the Eudists Order and the Order of Our Lady of Charity. The 11th Hour indicates that the Eudists sisters accept women in life having a second calling. They must be at least 45 years-old to enter the order.

©Copyright Larry Peterson 2018