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Returning to God

Desiree Cooper

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Antonia Bunton
(Desiree Cooper)
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This weekend, like every weekend, thousands of people will crowd into Detroit's Most Holy Redeemer Church. The 128-year-old building was once home to the largest Catholic parish in North America. Today, more than 5,000 people attend the six weekend masses, most of them at the three Spanish-language masses. So a lot of people are devoted to Most Holy Redeemer Church. But for 35-year-old Antonia Bunton, going to church there every Saturday is a special privilege. Weekend America's Desiree Cooper explains.


Antonia Bunton: On Saturdays, I get to go to church with my family to the church I grew up in. It's something I look forward to all week.

My Holy Redeemer Church was built in the 1800s, and it's amazingly beautiful. When you walk in, the floors are marble. Right in the middle where the priest stands, there's this big fountain. In the middle of that is a crucifix. There's a gazebo around the crucifix with bouquets of flowers all around it. On the ceiling that's over the gazebo, there's a painting of Jesus. His eyes are so - so real. It doesn't matter what part of the church you're sitting in, you feel that Jesus is just staring down at you.

When I was a little girl, we lived across the street from the church. I used to go to the church and go to the garden and talk to God. If my mom and dad used to fight, that made me sad as a little girl. Financially it was hard for us. And I remember being sad. That was a place I could go and talk to God to make things better. And I felt God's presence. That's the same feeling I get today.

When I was 17, I took three boys to sell marijuana to two other boys. I dropped them off. I was supposed to drive around the block and come back and pick them up. But halfway around the block, I heard gunshots. I did not go back because there wasn't supposed to be gunshots and I was scared.

I did not think anyone would get hurt. I did not think anything would happen except that there would be a drug deal and I would get 50 dollars. The marijuana deal turned armed robbery, turned murder. One boy was shot and killed. Another one was shot and he has permanent injuries. He's paralyzed.

I received 25 to 50 years.

In prison, the mass was in the education building in a classroom. The priest followed the regular format for mass. It lasted about a half hour or 45 minutes. We all prayed together and it was very nice. But I always thought about my Holy Redeemer Church. And I always thought about how beautiful it was and how I couldn't wait to get back.

The first time I walked into Holy Redeemer Church after being in prison for 17 years, I was overwhelmed. That first mass there after I got out, I was overwhelmed.

I want to help people by letting them know what could happen. Specifically young people, to let them know to be careful of the people they associate with. Because whatever happens, they can be held accountable for what someone else does, whether they intend it or not. When I talk to God, I tell Him I cannot directly help those people I hurt so bad. I may never be able to tell them how sorry I am. But what I can do is use my life for a purpose greater than myself. That's what I ask God to use me for something bigger than myself.

It's like you're resting on a cloud. That's how I feel when they sing during church. They sound like angels and I feel like I'm in heaven when I'm there.


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By steve ortiz

    From margate, MI, 04/07/2013


    By Helen Tretiak-Carmichael

    From MA, 01/16/2009

    I found Antonia's story very touching, and it amazed me how her faith help her through the darkest time in her life. I found her outlook on life to want to help others very inspiring and I wish her all the best.

    By Bernadette Low

    From Baltimore, MD, 01/12/2009

    I loved Antonia's story about her church and her experience of it. It reminded me of my own love for my church and the old services like Benediction, a service I went to with my mother and aunts every Friday night, a service make more beautiful by the lovely Latin hymns, "O Salutaris" and "Tantum Ergo." I can understand how she longed to return to this special place for many years and the joy she felt at returning. It was a beautiful story told in a lovely and moving voice.

    By kathleen brennan

    From Sonora, CA, 01/12/2009

    Good for you...You help others with this story and I think of you as inspiring and courageous. I too feel good walking into the church with the music, it is serene and conforting to know I am not alone-thank you...

    By Tom Alfe

    From West Dundee, IL, 01/11/2009

    Like many of the other listeners, I found myself both inspired and saddened by this story. Assuming Antonia's account of the events that led to her imprisonment is correct, this is a huge injustice. A sentence of 25-50 years for driving someone to a pot deal?

    Felony murder statutes have often struck me as unfair and in need of either reform or elimination. Sentencing a minor participant in a crime (one which could not reasonably be predicted to end in a homicide)as if she was a murderer - this is just plain wrong.

    By Palmira Gutierrez

    From Tucson, AZ, 01/11/2009

    This was a great story! I'm from Detroit and I also went to and lived across the street from Holy Redeemer for most of my life. As a teenager I had heard of Antonia. I had wondered what became of her and I must say that I'm so proud of her. Thank you for covering this story.

    By paul corrao

    From lewiston, ME, 01/11/2009

    I'd like to add a special word of "thanks" to Desiree Cooper who brought this story to us. Not only did she do a great job, but she also made us aware of someone who rose above a horrendous injustice done to her (Antonia), some good news about Detroit (for a change) Antonia's remarkable Church, and above all, the desperate plight of the incarcerated people in this country. There are many more "Antonia Buntons" in the prisons of this country- male and female- and they need our kindness, help, and-yes- love. Just writing to them can be a great blessing to them and to us. Paul Corrao

    By evelyn tickle

    From charlottesville, VA, 01/11/2009

    im shocked - shocked that a 17 year old received this harsh sentence and it sounds way out of proportion AND im shocked that a 17 year old turn 35 (in prison) could sustain a faith or a belief that could get her through this (not to mention the indication that sexual abuse happened within prison). maybe a law degree would be more satisfying and effective for her. good work girl!

    By Chris Zalski

    From Cleveland, OH, 01/11/2009

    What song what is it that they played after the music download segment? The slong that goes "anything you want it" "anything you need you got it" thanks.

    By Rahn Becker

    From Arnold, CA, 01/10/2009

    A story that shows spirituality is beynd religiion. One can find inspiration anywhere--Antonia found it in a beautiful church. Whereever you find it, take your personal tragedy and turn it into meaning for others. Thank you for the story

    By Rick Haeseler

    From Guilford, CT, 01/10/2009

    Thank you for sharing this powerful story Antonia. I learned much from it and found much to be thankful for. Best of luck in the important work you have chosen to do.

    By Marcia K

    From Rainier, WA, 01/10/2009

    What a beautiful story. Antonia sounds just like an angel herself. I loved this piece. Love and Best Wishes to Antonia...Thanks Weekend America!

    By Christopher Banks

    From Gardena, CA, 01/10/2009

    What an incredible story in the voice of the storyteller. Although not religious myself, I could see in my mind's eye the scenes she depicted and sympathize readily with the misfortunate experiences of another person. Thanks Weekend America

    By Susan Kugel (Maloney)

    From Lancaster, PA, 01/10/2009

    I was moved to tears by Antonia's story. Her description of the Church brought me right to where I attended several years of High School and Mass - in 1960-1962. It is very special and so is Antonia. Love, Sue

    By Margaret Walker

    From Chicago, IL, 01/10/2009

    What a travesty of justice! Thank God this young woman had her belief to sustain her. Whoever defended her should be ashamed. A perfect example of double standards in the justice system. If she was a rich girl from the suburbs she would not have gotten this kind of punishment.

    By Wendy Concepcion

    From anaheim, CA, 01/10/2009

    I stayed several extra minutes in my car to hear this beautiful and inspiring story. Thank you for allowing someone who has a deep faith that has carried her through many difficulties share what it means to her. I was blessed by her story and reminded of how a "Holy Redeemer" can save anyone.

    By paul corrao

    From lewiston, ME, 01/10/2009

    It was a beautiful, inspiring piece, and I'm grateful for it. She helps me in my struggle to recover the faith of my youth. Her voice alone is so gentle, sensitive and spiritual that her beautiful smile was no surprise either. I, too, feel that her sentence was much too harsh, and by rights she should be pardoned, and not just have a commuted sentence. I wish I could experience Holy Redeemer Church, but it did remind me of beautiful Spanish churches in California, where I used to live. Thanks again, and best wishes to Antonia. The people she serves are lucky to have her.

    By Trish Avellone

    From Northridge, CA, 01/10/2009

    John Cline,
    Your anger is out of proportion for the crime of reporting a story. The story is not promoting superstition, but reporting one person's personal experience. Her religion helped her get through a very difficult experience, for a young person to endure. It doesn't make me want to run out and join her religion. Try to be a little objective, you don't have to listen, no one's forcing you.

    By Pat Baker

    From Tucson, AZ, 01/10/2009

    What an inspiring and touching story! Hard to believe Antonio got such a severe sentence as a 17 year old and seemingly unaware that any shooting would occur. How wonderful to know that she never lost her faith in God's coninual love and is using this experience to do so much good. Blessings to you, Antonio!

    By john cline

    From chicago, IL, 01/10/2009

    i have absolutely no sympathy here and was really annoyed listening to this story. npr and it's focus religion and people finding god in a day in age when science should be the focus? REALLY annoying... god didnt make the decision to do a drug deal, YOU did...YOU fix your life... unbelievable this promotion of superstition....

    By marie Chaplin

    From Providence, RI, 01/10/2009

    Seventeen years was a very harsh sentence. There must have been previous crimes. I hope Antonia will affect many young people with her heartfelt story. I, too, feel peace with music and friends in my church. Thanks, Antonia. Blessings.

    By Jeanne-Marie Cabe

    From Lynn, MA, 01/10/2009

    I know this is supposed to be a story about someone returning to her beautiful church, but I was really shocked by her sentence. Did she really get 25 to 50 years for dropping people off to buy marijuana? Did she have a prior record? Did others testify that she knew about the attempted shooting?

    Ms. Bunton said that she wanted to warn young people "to be careful of the people they associate with. Because whatever happens, they can be held accountable for what someone else does, whether they intend it or not."

    If she really was as innocent as the story implies, perhaps she should instead dedicate herself to changing laws that hold people accountable for what others have done when those held accountable did not knowingly participate in such crimes.

    By James Wallace

    From Mountain Ranch, CA, 01/10/2009

    Thank-u for the heartfelt story,Antonia has strengthend my Faith.

    By maureen ford

    From reno, NV, 01/10/2009

    Religion can come across as rules and duty. Jesus was never about religion, and when Antonia spoke about his eyes and the love she felt- I wanted to see that too. Thank you for telling a real story about redemption and how bad things can change us and love can heal us.

    By Linda MacKay

    From Milton, MA, 01/10/2009

    This was a heart wrenching and inspiring story. Thanks for putting it on. Antonia sounds like an amazing and faithfilled young woman.

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