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American Nun Who Lived in Tijuana Prison For 30 Years Dies

An American nun who left a privileged life in Beverly Hills to work in a Tijuana jail has died at age 86. A Saturday funeral mass in Tijuana is scheduled for noon.

Mary Brenner, or Mother Antonia, an American nun who left a privileged life in Beverly Hills to live and work in a Tijuana jail died Thursday morning.

Mary Brenner was married and divorced twice and had seven children before she decided to become a nun at age 50. She founded a new order called Eudist Servants of the Eleventh Hour for older women who want to serve the poor.

Brenner’s calling was to Tijuana’s La Mesa jail, where she lived — essentially in a cell — among the inmates for more than 30 years.

“She brought a mother’s touch to life inside the prison,” said Jody Hammond, a journalist who made a documentary about the nun. “She brought goodness with her.”

Inmates knew Brenner as Mother Antonia, or “La Mama.” During her years in the prison, she got in the middle of riots and diffused tense situations, Hammond said.

She was also the prisoners’ go-to person for needs and special requests. She passed messages on to spouses and lawyers outside the prison, and arranged for dental work and doctor’s visits.

“She was always available to do that and had a whole network, I would say, of people who were helping the prisoners from the outside,” Hammond said.

Brenner had moved out of the prison recently because of health problems, but was still involved in ministering to prisoners.

Jody Hammond, the filmmaker of "La Mama: An American Nun’s Life In A Mexican Prison," talks to KPBS about Mother Antonia, who became a nun at age 50 and has called Tijuana's most notorious prison, La Mesa Penitentiary, home since 1978.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Brenner's age.

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