The magnificent nun who moved into the prison she took as her apostolate has died, and the New York Times obituary is well done.
Mother Antonia Brenner, who left a comfortable life in Beverly Hills to minister to inmates in a notorious Mexican prison, eventually becoming a nun and spending more than 30 years living in a cell to be closer to those she served, died on Thursday in Tijuana, Mexico. She was 86.
She had a neuromuscular disorder, myasthenia gravis, said Sister Anne Marie, a member of the Eudist Servants of the 11th Hour, the order Mother Antonia founded in Tijuana for older single, divorced or widowed women who want to serve the poor.
Mary Brenner was a twice-divorced mother of eight children when she began doing volunteer work for the poor in Mexico in the 1960s. She had been active in charity work in California while she was married, but her devotion intensified after a priest led her to La Mesa state penitentiary, which housed convicted murderers, gang leaders, rapists and other serious felons.
Ms. Brenner began providing for inmates’ basic needs, giving them aspirin, blankets, toiletries and prescription eyeglasses. She sang in worship services. She received a prison contract to sell soda to prisoners and used the proceeds to bail out low-level offenders. If a prisoner died, of illness or in a gang fight, she prepared him for burial.
Inmates told how Mother Antonia once walked into the middle of a prison riot while bullets flew and tear gas filled the air. When the inmates saw her, fearless in her habit, the fighting stopped. She never seemed to stop smiling.
She had taken private vows and sewn her own habit in her early years volunteering in Mexico. When the bishops of Tijuana and San Diego heard of her work, they officially accepted her work as part of church ministry.
“At age 50,” according to a biography on the order’s Web site, “she had become a sister.”