NORTH MANCHESTER – Mother Antonia Brenner has never met a prisoner she hasnt loved.
Most of the men and women inside Tijuana, Mexicos La Mesa prison come from misery and poverty, Brenner said. They werent born under circumstances that afforded them many opportunities, she said.
Its very easy for me to love them, Brenner said. Ive never found anyone that Ive found difficult to love. Maybe difficult to like.
Brenner talked about her passion for being kind to others and understanding peoples backgrounds during a visit to Manchester College on Tuesday. Manchester named her its 2009 Innovator of the Year, an award that goes to people who are innovators in life and in lives, said Jim Falkiner, professor of entrepreneurship.
The 84-year-old nun was the subject of the book The Prison Angel, by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, who chronicled Brenners decision to reinvent herself at the age of 50. The twice-divorced, Beverly Hills mother of seven chose to sell everything she owned and move into the Tijuana prison to minister to the inmates.
For the past 32 years, Brenner, formerly known as Mary Clarke, has lived in a 10-by-10-foot concrete cell in La Mesa. She calls the prisoners her sons and daughters.
Though Brenner is not a nun in the traditional sense – having been married and had children – a Catholic Church impressed with her work welcomed her, blessed her as a sister and gave her a new religious community to lead, the Eudist Servants of the 11th Hour.
Brenner preached a number of values to the Manchester students who attended her speech, encouraging them not to gossip or to get too attached to material objects.
You are so blessed being prepared to bring peace in this world, Brenner said. Kindness is the secret to the most happy and joyful life there is.