Mother Antonia talks about Tijuana prison riot


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

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3 responses to “Mother Antonia talks about Tijuana prison riot

  1. I was in this prison for three years six months and have skoken with this woman at length on many occasions. She is a remarkable person and a true friend to those in need. God bless you Mama.

  2. Hi, Frank. That’s so interesting – thank you for sharing your personal experience getting to know her . I am glad to hear she was of help to you and others in the prison. Do you have any other insights as to what it was like to be there? I only visited the prison once, when it was pretty much a self-operating city within prison walls and that was many years ago.

  3. Mother Antonia builds her prison ministry on a foundation of Christ’s love. His unconditional love leads her daily and, in turn, she shows that same powerful love to the prisoners. Mother is a model for all of us to follow! Blessings to this powerful angel!

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