Although Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic Sister in the Congregation of St. Joseph order is coming to Butler University next week to discuss of capital punishment, her talk, is about much more: answering a call to act in the world.
Inspired by her impoverished home state of Louisiana, Prejean wanted to make a difference by living with the poor, learning their struggle and giving them a voice. She later discovered a calling to work with inmates on death row.
“Helen Prejean shows us all what a difference one person can make,” said Professor of Music Peter Alexander. “[She shows us] how opening one’s self to difficult, even horrendous experiences can ultimately make a huge difference.”
Prejean’s talk will be held in the Atherton Union Reilly Room Friday, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. She is the author of “Dead Man Walking” and “River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.” Both of these works are based on her lifelong passion for giving death row inmates a voice and illuminating their plight.
Her life’s work is “something to be celebrated” said Alexander, and her advocacy sheds light on an issue that has long been in the dark. As part of her visit, Prejean will kick off an honors course at Butler entitled “Dead Man Walking,” taught by Alexander. It examines capital punishment through the lens of varied mediums, including film, literature, ethics, politics and social science.
This is the third semester for the class and Judith Cebula, director for the Butler Center for Faith and Vocation, is optimistic.
“It’s going to be a great class,” Cebula said. “To have it kicked off with Sister Helen is just tremendous.”
Alexander said the class has changed a little from last semester in that the focus will be more on issues of innocence, but it will continue to examine how capital punishment influences the lives of convicts, prison guards and officials and victims’ families.
Combined with the course, a performance of “The Exonerated” will take place Monday, Aug. 29 at 8 p.m. in the Lilly Hall Theater. The performance is directed by Theater Department Chair William Fisher. The script of “The Exonerated” uses the actual words of inmates who were found innocent after years on death row.
Prejean’s has served as a spiritual adviser to six inmates on death row since 1981 and has witnessed all of their executions. Her experiences are what make up the contents of “Dead Man Walking,” also made into a feature film in 1995.
Prejean’s talk is about answering a call to action and contributing to society in a meaningful way. Some view her ability to humanize inmates often depicted as monsters illustrates Prejean’s dedication to making a difference in the world.
“Each of us has a chance to tune into how we are being called to make a difference in the world when we hear someone else tell her own story,” Cebula said. “And Sister’s story is pretty amazing.”