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caption: Sister Helen Prejean at Seattle University
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Sister Helen Prejean at Seattle University
Credit: Sonya Harris

Sister Helen: ‘People think I’m a saint...until they know me'

Helen Prejean was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1939. In 1957, just eighteen years old, she had a last meal at home, then cried in the car on the way to join the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

She had chosen to become a nun.

Sister Helen’s vocation led her to social justice work in poor communities. Her life took a turn when a colleague asked if she would like to be a pen pal with a death row inmate.

She is now widely-known for her efforts to end the practice of capital punishment. Her book, “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States,” was made into an acclaimed motion picture. Her new book is “River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.”

In this talk, she shares the story of her upbringing, why she chose to become a nun and the challenges that choice entailed. She also shares insights into how the Catholic church embraced liberalism after the Vatican II Council and hints at how factions are now trying to undo those changes. She speaks with conviction, humility and wit about the events that shaped her life.

Sister Helen Prejean spoke on September 9 at Seattle University’s Campion Ballroom. Her talk was presented by Seattle University and The Elliott Bay Book Company. KUOW’s Sonya Harris recorded the event.