Read

Meet the Nun Fighting to Abolish the Death Penalty

Published:
January 8, 2024
July 5, 2020
Find out who Sister Helen Prejean is and what we can learn from her here.|Find out who Sister Helen Prejean is and what we can learn from her here.

A young man sat on death row in a Lousiana prison for the murder of two teenagers. He received a letter from an unexpected person: a Catholic nun. They became pen pals, and eventually met in person. She became his spiritual advisor, accompanying him until his execution in 1984.

The Catholic nun in this story is Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ. She walked alongside Patrick Sonnier for two years while he awaited execution. Through this relationship with Patrick, Sister Helen said she received “an awakening” to God’s presence in those on the margins: the hungry, the stranger, and even the imprisoned.

After Patrick’s execution, Sister Helen went on to spiritually advise and accompany many more people on death row. Her ministry gained national and international attention in 1993, when she wrote Dead Man Walking. The book told the story of how she learned to hold at the same time the needs of victims and the dignity and spirituality of those who are guilty and condemned to death. The book later became a movie and an opera, more widely spreading her conviction that the death penalty is immoral.

Sister Helen continues to impact the way individuals, states, nations, and faith communities think about the death penalty. Since her book was published, several states (including Delaware, Maryland and Illinois) have abolished the death penalty.

Most recently, Pope Francis affirmed the dignity of all persons, even criminals, and to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty.

It’s easy to think of someone like Sister Helen Prejean as a hero, a champion. Yet she has a simple response to these accolades: she says it’s not about her. Decade after decade, she is faithful to that original awakening. She is fueled for ministry by personal prayer and the sacraments, her community life, and a passion for justice.

“Jesus embraces both the victims and the perpetrators,” Sister Helen says. “Both have dignity, both need to be heard, accompanied and healed.” Justice can proceed properly for criminals when we uphold their dignity. Yes, there needs to be consequences and reparation for wrongdoing, but not at the expense of human dignity.

Sister Helen Prejean is a model for us: she shows us how to serve the least of these and uphold human dignity in all circumstances.

Creators:
Lisa Greey Lytwyn
Published:
January 8, 2024
July 5, 2020
On a related note...
Children's Author Teaches Kids How to Draw

Children's Author Teaches Kids How to Draw

Grotto

Shang-Chi: a Historical Movie for Asian-Americans & a Hero for All

Shang-Chi: a Historical Movie for Asian-Americans & a Hero for All

Adrienne Garalde

Tiny House Community Shelters Homeless

Tiny House Community Shelters Homeless

Grotto

Why You Need a New Hobby (Even if You're Not Creative)

Why You Need a New Hobby (Even if You're Not Creative)

Grotto

Being 'Woke' is Not Enough to Fight Racism

Being 'Woke' is Not Enough to Fight Racism

Vanesa Zuleta Goldberg

What My Mentors Taught Me About God

What My Mentors Taught Me About God

Gabriella Patti

Why I Write Letters of Encouragement to Strangers

Why I Write Letters of Encouragement to Strangers

Manda Carpenter

St. Francis de Sales Spotify Playlist | #GrottoMusic

St. Francis de Sales Spotify Playlist | #GrottoMusic

Grotto

“Ode to the Noble Tardigrade”

“Ode to the Noble Tardigrade”

Hanna Van Elk

Lenten Recipes to Show Solidarity

Lenten Recipes to Show Solidarity

Grotto Shares

These Sources will Help You Prepare for the Polls

These Sources will Help You Prepare for the Polls

Marye Colleen Larme

12 Ways to Spend a Volunteer Year

12 Ways to Spend a Volunteer Year

Marye Colleen Larme

Capturing Beauty Along American Highways

Capturing Beauty Along American Highways

Grotto

This Baker Takes Artisan to a New Level

This Baker Takes Artisan to a New Level

Grotto

How a Little Bit of Faith Can Move Mountains of Worry

How a Little Bit of Faith Can Move Mountains of Worry

Jessie McCartney

5 Hobbies You Can Take on Solo

5 Hobbies You Can Take on Solo

Marye Colleen Larme

How Do You Keep a Plant Alive?

How Do You Keep a Plant Alive?

Grotto

Raising Census Awareness in Undercounted Communities

Raising Census Awareness in Undercounted Communities

Grotto

Special Olympics Track & Field Event Gives Everyone a Chance to Compete

Special Olympics Track & Field Event Gives Everyone a Chance to Compete

Grotto

5 Lessons Learned in 5 Years of Marriage

5 Lessons Learned in 5 Years of Marriage

Matt Paolelli

newsletter

We’d love to be pals.

Sign up for our newsletter, and we’ll meet you in your inbox each week.