As Tijuana’s La Mesa prison erupted in riots last week, a question on some people’s minds was the well-being of Mother Antonia, the U.S. nun who made it her mission to provide spiritual support to the prisoners over the past three decades.
Mother Antonia, who lives in the prison and is now in her 80s, emerged this past weekend safe and sound. She spoke at a San Diego area church about what it was like to hear gunshots and to tend to frightened prisoners in the middle of the second wave of prison violence. You can read more about what she said in this week’s San Diego Weekly Reader.
I once tried to do an indepth story about Mother (also called Sister) Antonia when I was a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune, but she gently rebuffed my requests. I think she was already busy working with two Washington Post reporters on a book about her life. “The Prison Angel” was published in 2005.
Her remarkable access to people in both high and low places in Baja California makes the Mother Antonia story a fascinating one. Add to that the fact that Mary Brenner Clarke came from a wealthy background, was twice-divorced and set off on her mission with her own private vows (She was formally recognized by a bishop in 1978, according to one news report).
Explaining her decision to work with prisoners to a Catholic news agency, she once said “I do not judge them for their actions.” That philosophy of refraining from openly challenging the questionable dealings around her has also probably served as a necessary and useful stance to ensure her survival both within and outside the prison walls.
Screenshot from Eudist Servants of the 11th Hour webpage