Friday, October 25, 2013

Mother Antonia

I have known a remarkable woman.
A saint.

I don’t use this term lightly or with an exaggerated sense of who she was or what she did in her life.  

Mother Antonia Brenner lived in a prison in Tijuana for years caring for 'her' boys. She offered unconditional love for all including the men in the prison, their families, and the guards, the guards’ families the fortunate women who joined her as Sisters of the Eleventh Hour of St. John Edues

This is what she was known for – The Prison Angel - her work in the notorious La Mesa Prison in Tijuana led to a book and a movie and has inspired millions.

However my connection to this saint is our founder, Msgr. Anthony Brouwers – for whom she took the name Antonia.  Msgr. Brouwers was Mary Brenner’s spiritual advisor and his invitation to love and care for those most in need led her to La Mesa – and left her one of Lay Mission-Helpers and Mission Doctors greatest advocates.

Most recently she helped Mission Doctors fundraise to build a Special Care unite for patients with TB or other illnesses requiring isolation for the initial period of treatment at St. Martin de Porres Hospital in Njinikom Hospital – this Special Care unit is named for Msgr. Brouwers and Dr. James Carey – one of our early Mission Doctors. 

During the summer I had the opportunity to bring Dr. Jim and Mrs. Terry Hake to visit Mother in San Diego where we stopped at a Chinese restaurant for lunch.   Jim and Terry had just completed three years in Njinikom and wanted to bring photos of the hospital, and tell Mother just what a difference this facility is making.

I asked her if she had a message for people who may be considering following in Jim and Terry’s footsteps – and I pulled out my camera and she recorded this invitation. 

Just two weeks ago, the Franciscan sisters from Cameroon, Sr. Xaveria and Sr. Raphine were in Los Angeles and I took them to visit her – they were so excited to meet her, Sr. Xaveria couldn’t stop dancing!  Mother was thrilled to meet the missionaries she has prayed for and worked with half a world away.

Listening to everyone yesterday at the memorial service at St. James in Solano Beach, how she was able to ‘invite’ everyone to do more – after telling them how much she loved them – I understood – one could never say ‘no’ to Mother Antonia. 

I will miss picking up the phone and hearing her sweet and cheery voice – usually that meant I had just added a bit more work to my desk – but who could mind when each phone call would end with ‘I love you darling, I love all of you so much’ – all that could be said is ‘I love you too mother.’