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Born as Mary Clarke in 1926 to Joseph Clarke and Kathleen Mary Clarke. She has lived for the past 25 years in a cell at La Mesa in Tijuana, Mexico, one of Mexico's most notorious prisons, caring for the inmates. The road outside the jail was known until recently as "Los Pollos," or "The Chickens"; in November 2007 it was renamed "Madre Antonia" in her honor. She is profiled in the book The Prison Angel, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan. She has also been interviewed in the wider American media. In the Tijuana jail, in addition to her normal pious work involving the prisoners, she negotiated an end to a riot. She also persuaded the jail administrators to discontinue prisoner incarceration in substandard cells known as the tumbas, Spanish for tombs.
At some point in the 1970s she chose to devote her life to the Church after she had a nightmare, in 1969, that she was a prisoner at Calvary and about to be executed when Jesus appeared to her and offered to take her place. She refused his offer, touched him on the cheek and told him she would never leave him, no matter what happens to her.
She had been married twice and had seven children, living in Beverly Hills, California, but both of her marriages ended in divorce. As an older, divorced woman, Clarke was banned by church rules from joining any religious order, so she went about her work on her own. She founded an order for those in her situation: the Servants of the Eleventh Hour. The Church has since blessed her mission and on September 25, 2009, she received the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award, presented at the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego.
In 2010, Estudio Frontera released a DVD documentary on Mother Antonia's life, La Mama: An American Nun's Life in a Mexican Prison. Produced and written by Jody Hammond, photographed and edited by Ronn Kilby, and narrated by Susan Sarandon, the film took five years to make. See http://LaMamaTheMovie.com/ for more information.