Just a little over a year ago Antonia Brenner died (1926-2013) in Tijuana, Mexico. I had never heard of this amazing woman until a few weeks ago when I discovered some things that she wrote. I then read her story for the first time.
Born Mary Clarke this amazing woman was known over the last
thirty years of her life as Mother Antonia Brenner. She never took formal orders as a Catholic. Brenner died in La Mesa prison in Tijuana, Mexico. So why is she remembered so warmly by many who miss her a year after her death? The answer is one that glorifies the gospel.
Mother Antonia voluntarily entered a Mexican prison where she spent the last thirty years of her life. She committed no crime. In fact she received a call from God while she was living in Beverly Hills. She abandoned a luxurious lifestyle, took religious vows and walked into a dark and harsh prison to spend the rest of her life serving others for Christ.
Mother Antonia, born December 1, 1926, as Mary Clarke, lived a very different life before she met Jesus. Born into an Irish-Catholic family, Mary Clark was raised in the exclusive community of Beverly Hills, California. Her father became a very successful businessman and provided well for his family.
Twice married and divorced, she raised seven children. In 1969 Jesus appeared to her in a dream. When she awoke she was determined to devote her life to the service of Jesus in love. While she had been going through her second divorce a priest had invited her to help him in his prison ministry at La Mesa. This overwhelmed mega-prison housed eight thousands inmates!
Mother Antonia had visited the prison for years and performed small acts of charity that she felt God called her to undertake in obedience to her faith. But after her divorce she felt called to do more with the remainder of her life. No religious order would accept a fifty-year-old twice-divorced woman, which begs for serious dialogue about why such a broken woman would not be welcomed with open arms. Mary Clarke sowed her own habit, took private religious vows and received permission to enter the prison and remain in the women’s section. She says, “I felt as if I was home.” She walked freely throughout the prison ministering to murderers, gang members, and desperate criminals of all types. Many called her the “Prison Angel.” To most she was simply “Mama.”
Mother Antonia Brenner’s life can be summed up in a statement she wrote:
Happiness does not depend on where you are. I live in prison. And I have not had a day of depression in 25 years. I have been upset, angry. I have been sad. But never depressed. I have a reason for my being.