Sister Helen Prejean, Author of Dead Man Walking, to Speak as Wendt Center for Character Education Spring Lecturer

Feb 25, 2015 | Kristi Lynch

On Monday, March 30, the University of Dubuque’s Wendt Center for Character Education will host Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, author of Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, who will deliver the lecture, “Dead Man Walking – The Journey Continues” as part of the Lester G. and Michael Lester Wendt Lecture Series.  The lecture will begin at 7:00 p.m. in Heritage Center’s John and Alice Butler Hall on the University of Dubuque Campus. Sr. Helen’s lecture will be followed by a book signing in the A.Y. McDonald Lobby; both of her books will be available for purchase.  The event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required for admission and may be obtained through the Farber Box Office.

In preparation for the lecture, there will be three showings of the film version of Dead Man Walking at Mindframe Theaters: Monday, March 23 at 6:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; and Sunday, March 29 at 3:00 p.m.  Admission is $5 at the door for the general public and free for all UD faculty, staff, and students with a UD ID.

“Sister Helen, by example, challenges us to show compassion to victims and yet to see the humanity in even the worst of offenders,” commented Annalee Ward, director of the Wendt Center for Character Education.  “What a difficult journey she’s been on! We are grateful for her willingness to share her story with us.”

Sister Helen Prejean has been instrumental in sparking national dialogue on the death penalty and helping to shape the Catholic Church’s newly vigorous opposition to state executions.  She travels around the world giving talks about her ministry.  She considers herself a southern storyteller.

Sister Helen is a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph.  She spent her first years with the Sisters teaching religion to junior high school students.  Realizing that being on the side of poor people is an essential part of the Gospel she moved into the St. Thomas Housing Project in New Orleans and began working at Hope House from 1981 – 1984.  During this time, she was asked to correspond with death row inmate Patrick Sonnier at Angola.  She agreed and became his spiritual adviser.  After witnessing his execution, she wrote a book about the experience.  The result was Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States.  It became a movie, an opera and a play for high schools and colleges.

Since 1984, Sister Helen has divided her time between educating citizens about the death penalty and counseling individual death row prisoners.  She has accompanied six men to their deaths.  In doing so, she began to suspect that some of those executed were not guilty.  This realization inspired her second book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, which was released by Random House in December of 2004.

Sr. Helen is presently at work on another book - River Of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.

The Wendt Character Initiative was established in 2004 at the University of Dubuque by the endowed Lester G. and Michael Lester Wendt Character Initiative Fund.  The Initiative operates under the care of the Wendt Center for Character Education.  This Initiative promotes a campus culture that nurtures the formation of excellent moral character, and encourages all members of the community to live lives of purpose. The work of the Wendt Character Initiative is centered in the University’s Mission and Values, a commitment to its Reformed Christian identity, and a sense of creative vocation in faithful response to the Creator.  This Initiative is part of the total educational experience of all University of Dubuque students through curricular and co-curricular programs.  Faculty and staff also participate in the Initiative.

Tickets for this eventare available at Heritage Center’s Farber Box Office Monday through Friday from 12:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.; by phone at 563.585.SHOW; or online at