Home > Our World > News > News Archives by Date > News Archive 2008 > March 2008 > News - March 2008
Sister Prejean to receive Methodist peace award

Sister Helen Prejean speaks Dec. 17, 2007, at New Jersey's Capitol during a signing ceremony making New Jersey the first state to legislatively end the death penalty since 1976. A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin.

By United Methodist News Service
March 28, 2008

Sister Helen Prejean, the Catholic nun who has become a symbol of opposition to the death penalty, will receive the 2008 World Methodist Peace Award on April 2 in New Orleans.

The Rev. John Barrett, president of the World Methodist Council and an ordained member of the British Methodist Church, will present the award during a special ceremony.

Prejean is the author of Dead Man Walking: an Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, which served as the basis for a 1995 movie starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Sarandon won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Prejean.

She was present in Trenton, N.J., on Dec. 17, 2007, when Gov. Jon Corzine signed legislation ending capital punishment in New Jersey, the first state to do so legislatively since 1976.

The Rev. George Freeman, the council’s chief executive, cited Prejean’s "commitment to abolishing the death penalty in the United States, her ministry to inmates and their families, as well as her ministry to the families of victims" as the key factors in presenting her with 2008 award.

The World Methodist Peace Award is presented annually to individuals or groups who have contributed significantly to peace, justice and reconciliation. Among the criteria for the award are courage, creativity and consistency.

Prison ministry

Prejean, 68, joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in 1957 and served as a teacher and religious education director in New Orleans.

In 1981, after dedicating her life to the poor and beginning a prison ministry, she began corresponding with Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers, and became his spiritual advisor. Because Sonnier was scheduled to die in the electric chair, she became aware of the execution process in the state of Louisiana. Sonnier was executed in 1984.

Dead Man Walking, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1993, is an account of her experiences. On The New York Times Best Seller list for 31 weeks, the book also became an international best seller and has been translated into 10 languages.

Her second book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, was published in 2004. It focuses on two men, Dobie Gillis Williams and Joseph O’Dell, whom she accompanied to their executions, and examines the evidence and the death penalty system. She believed both men were innocent.

Prejean continues to educate the public about capital punishment. She founded Survive, a victims advocacy group in New Orleans, and continues to counsel inmates on death row, as well as the families of murder victims.

She is a member and former chairperson of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and currently is the honorary chairperson of Moratorium Campaign, a group gathering signatures for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty. In 2000, she joined Paul Hoffman, board member of Amnesty International, and Mario Marizziti, representative of The St. Egidio Community in Rome, in presenting U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan with 2.5 million signatures calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. Both the St. Egidio Community and Annan are past recipients of the peace award.

Legacy of peace

The 2007 recipient of the World Methodist Peace Award was the Rev. Harold Good, a former president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, who was honored for his role in working for stability and peace in Northern Ireland. Other past winners include former South Africa President Nelson Mandela, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Habitat for Humanity and Boris Trajkovski, the late president of Macedonia.

This year's presentation ceremony, which is open to the public, will be at 7:30 p.m. at Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church, 3900 St. Charles Ave. in New Orleans.

The World Methodist Council is a communion of 74 member churches in more than 132 countries reaching nearly 75 million people worldwide.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


Sister Helen Prejean

Related Articles

U.S. state efforts advance to abolish death penalty

Advocates fought for N.J. death penalty repeal

Commentary: Death penalty law recaptures spirit of '56

Irish Methodist pastor to receive peace award


World Methodist Council

Sister Helen Prejean

Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.


*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW

Original text