Best-selling Author to Discuss ‘Dead Man Walking’ at the University

August 14, 2015

Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., the international best-selling author of “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the U.S.,” will discuss her book at The University of Scranton on Monday, Sept. 21. The discussion, which is the fourth annual Ignatian Values in Action Lecture, begins at 7 p.m. in the Byron Recreation Complex. It is free of charge and open to the public.

Sister Prejean gained worldwide attention through her account of her experience with Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers, who was sentenced to die in the electric chair. In 1981, she became pen pals with Sonnier while serving her ministry in New Orleans. Upon his request, she repeatedly visited him as his spiritual advisor, which opened her eyes to the Louisiana execution process.

Sister Prejean turned her experiences into a book, “Dead Man Walking,” which was number one on the New York Times Best Seller List for 31 weeks. The book, which was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, has been translated into ten different languages.

In 1996, the book was developed into a motion picture, which was written and directed by Tim Robbins and received four Academy Award nominations. Susan Sarandon won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Sister Prejean. The book was also the basis of an opera, which was presented by the San Francisco Opera in 2000.

Sister Prejean, who has witnessed several executions in Louisiana, educates the public about the death penalty. As the founder of Survive, a victims’ advocacy group in New Orleans, she continues to counsel inmates on death row, as well as the families of murder victims. Her second book, “The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions,” was published in 2004.

Sister Prejean served on the board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty from 1985 to 1995 and was its chairperson from 1993 to 1995. She is a member of Amnesty International and an honorary member of Murder Victim Families for Reconciliation. She is the Honorary Chairperson of Moratorium 2000, a group that gathered signatures for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty.

Sister Prejean was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Her numerous honors and awards include the Pope Paul VI Teacher of Peace Award from Pax Christi U.S.A. and the Vision 2000 Courage Award from Catholic Charities U.S.A. She received the Saint Anthony’s International Witness Award in Padua, Italy, in 2000, and the Distinguished Service Award from the National Council of Catholic Women in 1999. She received the National Civil Liberties Award from the American Civil Liberties Union in Georgia and the Champion of Liberty Award from The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Sister Prejean joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in 1957. She received a bachelor’s degree in English and education from St. Mary’s Dominican College, New Orleans, and a master’s degree in religious education from St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. She gave the principal address at The University of Scranton’s 2001 undergraduate commencement, where she received an honorary degree.

“Dead Man Walking” was selected for this year’s Royal Reads Program, which means it is required reading for The University of Scranton’s incoming class of 2019. In addition to attending Sister Prejean’s lecture, the students will encounter themes from the book throughout the year in classes and extracurricular opportunities.

The purpose of the Royal Reads Program is to create a shared experience for Scranton’s newest students through the reading of a carefully selected book, which introduces them to the Ignatian values at the heart of the University and invites them to consider how these values can shape their college experience and life.

For additional information, contact Rebecca Haggerty, assistant dean for assessment and programs, at or 570-941-4399.

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