Readers of my book ‘Walls, Wire, Bars and Souls‘ will know that I served as a prison chaplain until a severe injury forced my medical retirement. Prison ministry is still something near and dear to my heart.
It’s therefore with sorrow, but also with great happiness for all she accomplished, that I learned of the death of Sister Antonia Brenner, the ‘Mama’ of La Mesa penitentiary in Tijuana, Mexico. Her life was profiled in the book ‘The Prison Angel‘, and in a documentary movie, ‘La Mama: An American Nun’s Life in a Mexican Prison‘. It’s a remarkable story of how a twice-divorced mother of seven children became a human angel of mercy to thousands.
Here’s an excerpt from her obituary in the Los Angeles Times.
Small of stature, with blue eyes peeking out from under her traditional black–and-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.
Guards and inmates alike started referring to her as the prison angel. 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.”
There’s more at the link.
Here’s a brief excerpt from a two-part interview with Sr. Brenner.
We are poorer for her loss, but richer that she lived among us. May she rest in peace, and may those to whom she ministered join her in the fulness of God’s time. We’re all going to need the mercy of God, just as much as they do.