Sister Helen Prejean
Sister Helen Prejean, one of the most tireless advocates
for the abolition of the death penalty, is the author of Dead Man Walking: An
Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States.
The book, an account of the time she spent with Patrick
Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers in Louisiana, became an
international best seller, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and has been
translated into 10 languages.
Dead Man Walking became a major motion picture in 1996
starring Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen and Sean Penn as the death row inmate.
The movie received four Oscar nominations including Tim Robbins for Best
Director, Sean Penn for Best Actor, Susan Sarandon for Best Actress and Bruce
Springsteens Dead Man Walking for Best Song. Susan Sarandon won the award for
In 2000 an opera based on the book and with libretto
written by Terrance McNally premiered in San Francisco.
Sister Helen has witnessed five executions in her native
Louisiana and today educates the public about the death penalty by lecturing
around the world, organizing and writing. She founded Survive, a victims
advocacy group in New Orleans, and counsels not only inmates on death row but the
families of murder victims as well.
Her new book, The Death of
Innocents, is dedicated to Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights.
Sister Helen joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille
in 1957 and received a B.A. in English and Education from St. Marys Dominican
College, New Orleans, in 1962 and an M.A. in Religious Education from St. Pauls
University in Ottawa, Canada in 1973.
Her many honors and awards for her abolition work include:
1986 - the Abolitionist Award from the Louisiana
Capitol Defense Project.
1990 - the Sanctity of Life Award from the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference and the Mike McGough Award from the Convocation of Jail and
1992 - the National Abolitionist Award given by the National Coalition to
Abolish the Death Penalty; the Catholic Press Association Journalism Award,
Best Short Story - "Beloved Sons" - St. Anthony Messenger.
1993 - the Christopher Award was given to Dead Man Walking for "artistic
excellence affirming the highest value of the human spirit;" the Herbert and
Sara Ehrmann Award from Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty;
named One of the Most confident Woman in America by McCall Magazine.
1994 - the Champion of Liberty Award from the National Association of
Criminal Defense Lawyers (first time given to a non-lawyer); the Pax Christi
USA Book Award (Honorable mention); the Melcher Book Award (Honorable
mention) given by the Unitarian Universalist Association; Isaac Hecker Award
for Social Justice by Paulist Center, Boston, MA; Lifelines Book of the year
from the Lifelines Association in the United Kingdom; the Abolitionist Award
from the Death Penalty Focus, California; the "Esse non Videre" award
("To be and not to seem") from St. Joseph's College, New York; the National
Civil Liberties Award from the American Civil Liberties Union, Georgia; the
Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights Award from Minnesota Advocates for
Human Rights; Mirabella Magazine named her among "100 Fearless Women."
1995 - the New Orleans Business Women's Owners Association Achievers Award;
Citizen of the Year Award from Louisiana Chapter of the National
Association of Social Workers; the Wade Mackie Award Peacemaking Award
from Bienville House in Baton Rouge Louisiana; an Honorary Doctorate of Law from
the University of Glasgow, Scotland; the Justice Albert Tate, Jr. Award'
from the National Association of Defense Lawyers in New Orleans; the recipient
of a Guggenheim Fellowship; the Christopher Spirit Award, New
1996 - an honorary degree from Regis College in Weston, MA; an honorary degree
from Seton Hall University in New Jersey; an honorary degree from Chestnut Hill
College in Philadelphia; an honorary degree from St. John's University in
Jamaica, New York; an honorary degree from George Town University Washington,
D.C.; a Torchbearer Award from the Dominican College in New Orleans, LA;
an award for the Alliance for Justice; the Laetare Medal from
Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana; was asked to carry the torch for
the Olympics in New Orleans on May 24,1996; the St Thomas More Award
from St. Mary's School of Law in San Antonio, Texas; the Vision 2000 Courage
Award from Catholic Charities U.S.A. and the 1996 Roger Baldwin Award
from the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Massachusetts; received
the Humanitas Prize as a consultant for the film Dead Man Walking;
the Eyewitness Award of the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty;
the Adele Dewyer - St. Thomas of Villanova Peace Award by Villanova
University Center for Peace and Justice; the Florida Lasker Civil Liberties
Award by the New York Civil Liberties Union; the Pope Paul VI Teacher of
Peace Award by Pax Christi USA.
1997 - an honorary doctorate from Mt. St. Vincent College in Riverdale, New
York; the Carondelet Medal from Mt. ST. Mary College in Los Angeles, California
and an honorary doctorate from Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts; the
Louisiana Legends Award in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by the Louisiana Public
1998 - the Ben Smith Award from the American Civil Liberties Union in New
Orleans, La.; the Robert O. Cooper Fellowship in Peace and Justice Award
and the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award from St. Ambrose
University in Davenport, Iowa; the Abolitionist of the Year Award from
Juneau, Alaska; the award at the 5th annual celebration of Women Week
from Y.M.C.A. in New Orleans; an honorary degree from Gonzaga University in
Spokane, Washington; an honorary degree from Notre Dame College in Manchester,
New Hampshire; an honorary degree from St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa
and an honorary degree from St. Joseph College in West Hartford, CT; the
Peacemakers Award from ROCA, Inc.; an honorary Faculty Award from New
England College, NH.
1999 - an honorary degree from Briar Cliff College in Sioux City, Iowa; an
honorary degree from Maryville University in St Louis, Missouri; an honorary
degree from Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida; an honorary degree from
Avila college in Kansas City; an honorary degree from Cabrini College in Radnor,
Pennsylvania; an honorary degree from the University of San Francisco; an
honorary degree from Holy Cross College in Worchester, Massachusetts; the
Catholic Woman of Achievement Award from the College of St. Elizabeth in New
Jersey; the 1999 U.S. Catholic Award from U.S. Catholic Magazine
in Chicago; the Pope John XXII Award at Viterbo College in La Crosse, Wisconsin;
the Alumna of the Year Award from St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada;
the Distinguished Service Award from the National Council of Catholic
Women; the Centennial Catholic Woman of Achievement Award from Lourdes
College in Sylvania, Ohio; the Centennial Catholic Woman of Achievement Award
from St. Norbert College in DePerre, Wisconsin.
2000 - the Bishop Dingman Peace Award from the Catholic Peace Ministry in
Des Moines, Iowa. She received the Bishop Carroll Dozier Peace and Justice Award
from the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee; an honorary degree
from the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario; an honorary degree
DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois; an honorary degree from Northeastern
University in Boston, MA; the Human Rights Award from The St. Anthony
Messenger in Padua, Italy; an honorary degree from St. Thomas University in
Fredericton New Brunswick, Canada.
2001 - the Harry F. Fagan Roundtable Award; an honorary degree from St.
Mary of the Woods from Terra Haute, Indiana; an honorary degree from Wheeling
Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia; an honorary degree from the
University of Scranton in Scranton, Pennsylvania; an honorary degree from
Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas; an honorary degree from St. Rose College
in Albany, New York.
2002 - the Ut Diligatis Invicem Award from Gannon University, Erie, PA;
an honorary degree from Ball State University, Muncie, ID; an honorary degree
from Marygrove College, Detroit, MI.; an honorary degree from Governors State
University, University Park, IL; an honorary degree from University of Dayton,
Dayton, OH; an honorary degree from National University of Ireland, Galway,
Ireland; Caritas Award from Catholic Charities in Paterson, New Jersey; the
Dignitas Humana Award from St. John's School of Theology and Seminary,
2003 - Franciscan International Award from Franciscan Retreats, Prior Lake, MN;
an honorary degree from Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL; an honorary degree from
Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, IL.
Sr. Helen's Official
Sr. Helen's Latest book, The Death of Innocents on Amazon.com
The Death of Innocents website