DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > Anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean to visit DePaul

Anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean to visit DePaul

Prejean will participate in a series of open public lectures and classroom discussions

Sister Helen Prejean and DePaul President Rob Manuel
Sister Helen Prejean received the prestigious Saint Vincent de Paul Award last September from DePaul President Rob Manuel. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)

Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, an internationally known anti-death penalty activist and author, is making her annual trek to DePaul’s campus from her home in New Orleans for a series of open public lectures and classroom discussions. Prejean will be on campus April 21-27.

Among her many speaking engagements while in town are a pair of lectures on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus. On Friday, April 21, Barbara Crain Major, a community organizer, educator, author, activist and core anti-racism trainer, will join Prejean to discuss “The Church as Moral Compass.” On Thursday, April 27, Prejean will speak on a panel with leaders from the Illinois Prison Project, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, The Visiting Room Project and Youth Empowerment Performance Project for a transformative conversation about criminalization, transformation, survival and resistance.

In addition, on Sunday, April 23, Prejean will preach at the 5 p.m. Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, and on Tuesday, April 25, Prejean will participate in Lunch with Vincent for faculty and staff. More information and links to RSVP are below. She will also visit DePaul College Prep, Harper College and six DePaul classes throughout her visit.

About Sr. Helen

Prejean began her anti-capital punishment work in 1982 after moving into the St. Thomas Housing Project in New Orleans. There she became spiritual advisor for a pair of death row inmates who were eventually put to death. Those experiences were the basis of her first book, “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States,” which inspired an Academy Award-winning film, “Dead Man Walking,” as well as a play and an opera. Since then, Prejean has written two additional books: “The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions” and “River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.”

Her advocacy against the death penalty helped catalyze change at the highest levels of the Catholic Church. She met with St. John Paul II and he strengthened the church’s opposition to executions with very few exceptions. She also met Pope Francis, who announced new language to the Catholic Catechism that declared: “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

Prejean donated her personal archives to DePaul’s Special Collections and Archives department in 2011. Included in the files are personal journals, notes from meetings, letters, speeches and other artifacts spanning 40 years of anti-death penalty work. She was awarded the prestigious Saint Vincent de Paul Award in September 2022.

Scott/Fender Distinguished Lecture: The Church as Moral Compass
Friday, April 21
3 - 5 p.m.
Student Center, Room 120 A&B
RSVP Required

Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Sunday, April 23
5 – 6 p.m.
1010 West Webster Ave.
RSVP Not Required

Lunch with Vincent: Social Justice @ DePaul
Tuesday, April 25
11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Hybrid; Student Center, Room 314
RSVP Required

Untold Stories: Ending Invisibility - A Panel with Sr. Helen Prejean
Thursday, April 27
6 – 7:30 p.m.
Student Center, Room 314
RSVP Required