I am moved by a story I read today written by Matt Schudel of the Washington Post entitled “Mother Antonia, 86, lived in, transformed Mexican prison.” Mother Antonia, who was born Mary Clarke in the US, died on October 17 after a later-in-life mission where she served others in need and created a group called the “Sisters of the Eleventh Hour of St. John Etudes.” I love this story and adore the name she chose to help people using the metaphor as the clock nears midnight. The symbolism of the name matches the work she has done for the last 48 years of her life.
After accompanying a priest to deliver medicine and supplies to Tijuana, Mexico in 1965, she visited a prison and was moved by the plight and maltreatment of the men behind bars. With no one advocating for them, she frequented the prison more and then moved down to Tijuana to “tend to the needs of some of the most destitute and dangerous people in Mexico. She brought them medicine, bedding, clothing and food. She worked with Mexican officials to improve conditions in La Mesa and other prisons.” She was a light to these men and she would kiss their hands and they would return the favor. She was held in such high regard, she diffused a prison riot with guns in 1994 by walking up to the rioters and asking them for their weapons.
What is also interesting about her life is she was married twice, had seven children and died with 11 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren and 2 great, great-grandchildren. She took care of her father’s business after he died, but was devoted to helping others. After her prison ministry began, she made herself into a nun and went about helping these men in need. She had no formal training and made her own nun’s habit. She wore a cross made by the inmates, which also contained a Star of David in the center, “symbolic of her father’s respect for Jewish people and her own sense of open-armed acceptance.” She lived her life in a 10 by 10 foot cell with the walls painted pink. There is a book on her life called “The Prison Angel” by Washington Post journalists Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, which was made into a documentary film.
The way I see it is she just wanted to help those in need and help she did. Both popes and government leaders have celebrated her work. I find her mission very refreshing, especially with Pope Francis trying to restore the Catholic Church to its greater mission of helping those in need. One of my heroes is Mother Teresa, who also cared more about helping others. Mother Antonia is someone of the same cloth. Through her life, we can see how we should aspire to be. The new pope lived this mission as well and is trying to get others to see the importance of the overarching teaching of Jesus to help the “least of these.”
So, please help me celebrate the life of this new-found hero (at least to me). Thank you Mother Antonia for what you did and the mission you created and left us with.