Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Sister Helen Prejean To Speak At St. Brendan Church

Published January 27, 2005

Sister Helen Prejean will present “Raising Life & Death Questions” at St. Brendan Church in Cumming at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 2.

A Gospel perspective on issues of life and death will be the focus of this special presentation by the internationally acclaimed Sister of St. Joseph, who ministers to prisoners on Death Row and is the author of the award-winning book “Dead Man Walking.”

Pope John Paul II and the U.S. bishops have with increasing frequency articulated Catholic Church teaching against use of the death penalty when there are alternative ways to protect society against those who commit violent crimes. Many Catholics see opposition to capital punishment—as well as abortion, euthanasia, and other forms of violence against human life—as part of a “consistent ethic of life” rooted in the Gospel.

The pope’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) said that given the means available today to keep criminals from doing harm, “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’” The Catholic Catechism calls on authorities to limit themselves to “non-lethal” means of punishment, and notes that church teaching holds that the death penalty should not be used when “non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor” because, it said, “these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.”

An educator by training and experience, Sister Prejean began her prison ministry in 1981 when she dedicated her life to the poor of New Orleans. While living in the St. Thomas housing project, she became pen pals with Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers, sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana’s Angola State Prison. Upon Sonnier’s request, Sister Prejean repeatedly visited him as his spiritual advisor. In doing so, her eyes were opened to the Louisiana execution process.

She turned her experiences into a book that was nominated for a 1993 Pulitzer Prize. “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States” was number one on the New York Times bestseller list for 31 weeks. It also was an international best seller and has been translated into 10 different languages. In January 1996, the book was developed into a major motion picture starring Susan Sarandon as Sister Prejean and Sean Penn as a Death Row inmate. The movie received four Oscar nominations.

Fifteen years after beginning her crusade, Sister Prejean has witnessed five executions in Louisiana and today educates the public about the death penalty by lecturing, organizing and writing. She is also the founder of “Survive,” a victim’s advocacy group in New Orleans, and she continues to counsel not only inmates on Death Row, but the families of murder victims as well.

St. Brendan’s is located at 4633 Shiloh Road, Cumming. More information about Sister Prejean, her work and Catholic teaching on the death penalty is available at For further information about her talk at St. Brendan’s, contact Father Willie Hickey, pastor, or Alan McGill, director of faith formation, at (770) 205-7969.