'Prison Angel' Nun Dead at 86
California native spent decades living in Tijiuana prison
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 18, 2013 11:08 AM CDT
In this Dec. 15, 2005 file photo, Sister Antonia Brenner, 79, known as the "prison angel," waves as she leaves the chapel at the La Mesa State Penitentiary in Tijuana, Mexico.   (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi, file)

(Newser) – Sister Antonia Brenner was raised in Beverly Hills, with people like Cary Grant for neighbors. But as an adult she spent more than three decades living, by choice, in a Tijuana prison cell, surrounded by the convicts she ministered to. Inmates and guards alike referred to Sister Brenner as the "prison angel." She would pray with prisoners; hand out extra toilet paper, tooth brushes, and bail money; and even break up fights and riots at La Mesa State Penitentiary, which is located just over the border from San Diego, the LA Times recalls.

"Something happened to me when I saw men behind bars. .. I thought a lot about them," wondering if they were well cared-for, Brenner once said of her initial visits to the prison. "When I returned to the prison to live, I felt as if I'd come home." There, she lived as the convicts did, even queuing for morning roll call. Her home was a 10-by-10-foot cell, which the AP notes barely had room for a cot, desk, and folding chair. Brenner died yesterday, at age 86, at her religious order's home base in Tijuana, according to her daughter-in-law. The city's archbishop called her death a "terrible loss" and said she possessed the qualities of a saint.