Sister Helen PrejeanGAMBIER, Ohio (February 22, 2007) Sister Helen Prejean, the noted death-penalty opponent and author of Dead Man Walking, will visit Kenyon for a lecture and book-signing on Tuesday, February 27, at 7:00 p.m. in Higley Auditorium. Sister Helen will discuss the death penalty and her twenty-five-year ministry with men and women on death row.
Stefanie Wilson, Class of 2008, who is coordinating the visit, says she hopes that the lecture will spark a campuswide discussion of the death penalty and of how students can play a role in the national debate on this issue. "Students have a great capacity for advocacy and idealistic passion," Wilson says.
Sister Helen has visited Kenyon once before, shortly after the 1995 release of the movie based on her book. "She brings an important voice to our national awareness of the justice system and the inequities that have been recognized and that led to the suspension of executions in various states," observes Royal Rhodes of the religious studies faculty. "This is also linked to the questions surrounding the allotment of public resources to building more prisons, when far less is given to struggling school systems, here in Ohio and nationwide. Issues of race are central to those questions."
A member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille, Sister Helen started visiting Patrick Sonnier, a death-row inmate in Louisiana's Angola Prison, in 1982. 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 also with the plight of murder victims' families, she founded Survive, which provides counseling and support for grieving families.
Published in 1994, her book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States became a best seller and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. In addition to the film, it has spawned an opera and play.
Since 1984, Sister Helen has divided her time between campaigning against the death penalty and counseling individual death row prisoners. Her belief that in some cases innocent people are being put to death inspired a second book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions (2004).
Sister Helen's visit is sponsored by Canterbury, the student group of Harcourt Parish; Student Lectureships; and the Board of Campus Ministries.