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Helen Prejean          

Author of Dead Man Walking

Sister Helen Prejean, a native of Louisiana, is known internationally for her tireless work against the death penalty. She was instrumental in sparking national dialogue on the issue and in shaping the Catholic Church’s newly vigorous opposition to all state executions.

Sister Prejean is a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph. She spent her first 24 years with the Sisters teaching religion to junior high school students and working within her community, first as religious education director and then as formation director. At the age of 40, she realized that being on the side of poor people was an essential part of the Gospel. She moved into the St. Thomas Housing Project in New Orleans and began working at Hope House, a center that assists public housing residents.

During this time, she was asked to correspond with a death row inmate. She agreed, and so began a new journey. In 1982, she started visiting Patrick Sonnier in Louisiana’s Angola Prison. She became his spiritual adviser, worked to prevent his execution, and finally walked with him to the electric chair. She did the same thing with a second prisoner, Robert Willie. Concerned with the plight of murder victims’ families she founded Survive, which provides counseling and support for grieving families.

She then sat down and wrote a book about the experience. The result was Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, which Random House published in 1993. The book became a bestseller, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and spawned an Oscar-winning movie and an internationally-acclaimed opera. Now, Tim Robbins has made it into a play that is being performed by high school and college students across the country.

Since 1984, Sister Prejean has divided her time between campaigning against the death penalty and counseling individual death row prisoners. She has accompanied four more men to their deaths. In doing so, she began to suspect that some of those executed were not guilty. This realization inspired her second book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, which was released in December of 2004.

She is a regular interviewee and contributor to national and international publications, and has become a recurring presence on major television news shows. Besides her degrees in English and religious education, Sister Prejean has received honorary degrees from universities all over the world and numerous awards. Sister Prejean lives in New Orleans and works with the Death Penalty Discourse Center, the Moratorium Campaign and the Dead Man Walking Play Project. She is presently at work on a new book – River Of Fire: My Spiritual Journey To Death Row.

Speech Topics

Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States

The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions

River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey


Sister Helen Prejean's passion to end the death penalty is a ...

Tireless advocate receives national Faith That Does Justice Award from the Ignatian Solidarity Network.

Five questions for Sister Helen Prejean

Dead Man Walking by Catholic nun Helen Prejean was a bestseller thanks to the 1995 movie staring Susan Sarandon. This week, Vintage releases a 20th ...

Sister Helen Prejean at St. Thomas University: Death Penalty as a ...

MIAMI, Fla., Nov. 6, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Sister Helen Prejean at St. Thomas University: Death Penalty as a Moral Issue.

Sister Helen Prejean to visit Annapolis - Baltimore Sun

A Roman Catholic nun whose advocacy against capital punishment has made her a national figure will be in Annapolis today to lobby for repeal of Maryland's ...

Denison announces Class of 2016 commencement speaker

With the class of 2016’s graduation only about a month away, Denison has officially chosen Sister Helen Prejean as the keynote speaker for the 175th Commencement Ceremony. Prejean has made great efforts to bring the death penalty into dialogue and she travels globally giving talks about her ministry.

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