On March 29 at 3 p.m., Sister Helen Prejean, a leading advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, presents her discussion “Sparking Dialogue on the Death Penalty” in Phelps Stokes Auditorium.
Author of “Dead Man Walking,” Prejean has been a prominent voice in the death penalty debate and has been crucial in shaping the Catholic Church’s new opposition to state executions.
Prejean is a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph and during her first few years as a sister she taught religion to junior high school students. Feeling that in order to live according to the gospel she would have to work with the disadvantaged, Prejean moved into the St. Thomas Housing Project in New Orleans and worked at Hope House from 1984-1986.
During this time Prejean became pen pals with Patrick Sonnier, a convicted killer of two teenagers and sentenced to death in Louisiana’s Angola State Prison. Prejean became Sonnier’s spiritual advisor and visited him several times a week. During this time Prejean became aware of the Louisiana execution process and wrote a book on her experience called “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States.” The book was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and was number one on the New York Times Best Seller List for 31 weeks. The book was made into a movie starring Suzanne Sarandon and Sean Penn as well as becoming an opera and play.
Since 1984, Prejean has been educating citizens about the death penalty and counseling inmates on death row. So far she has accompanied six men to their executions, not all of whom she believed to be guilty. Shedding light onto her account, she wrote “An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.”
Prejean served on the board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty from 1985-1995. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and education from St. Mary’s Dominican College in New Orleans in 1962 and in 1973 earned her master’s degree in religious education from St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Canada. She is the founder of “Survive,” a victim’s advocacy group in New Orleans where she continues to counsel inmates on death row as well as the families of the murder victims.
This event is a Robbins Peace Lecture and is sponsored by the Campus Christian Center.