POMPTON LAKES, N.J. — Helen Prejean, CSJ, one of the world’s best known critics of capital punishment and author of the highly acclaimed book and movie, Dead Man Walking, spoke at St. Mary’s here earlier this month.
The following rcap has been provided by Shirley Boardman, a freelance writer who does pro bono public relations work for the parish. The Nov. 9 program was one of the first events held at the parish’s new Carnevale Center. It was sponsored by St. Mary’s JustFaith Ministry.
Sr. Helen’s presentation was one of the finest programs that I have ever heard. Compelling, informative, humorous, self-effacing, she was simply masterful. She spoke for two hours without notes.
Early in her presentation, Sr. Helen talked about how Vatican II had affected her spiritual development and how once, while attending a weekend retreat, a speaker explained that when Christ said that the poor would have the good news preached to them, it was so that they would be poor no more. That concept, she said, changed her life.
The focus of her talk was on the un-Christian nature of the death penalty and the many injustices that are part of the capital punishment process in this country. She also touched on other areas, including her own spiritual journey – going from an 18-year-old bride of Christ, sheltered behind convent walls, to regularly visiting convicted murderers on death row.
In her soft, Louisiana drawl, she said it was nothing she had ever planned to do, but when someone asked her if she’d write a letter to a man on death row, she agreed. “God can be very sneaky,” she said of her ministry.
She talked in detail about Patrick Sonnier, the character played by actor Sean Penn in the film, Dead Man Walking. She also discussed working with the director and actors and said they were completely true to her story.
Before arriving at St. Mary’s, Sr. Helen was with the governor of New Jersey, participating in a press conference highlighting the state’s leading ban of the death penalty. Prejean congratulated New Jersey on this effort.