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Sister Helen Prejean, staunch opponent of the death penalty, speaks at the 2015 Dean’s Leadership Forum.

When Sister Helen Prejean served as the spiritual advisor for a man on death row in Louisiana, she soon was asked to look in that man’s eyes when he was executed by the state. That experience shaped her book Dead Man Walking and made Sister Prejean an outspoken opponent of the death penalty; she found an organization to assist families of the victims of violence. Prejean was on campus in April for the 2015 Dean’s Leadership Forum. One moment she recounted was with Lloyd LeBlanc, father of the boy murdered by the first inmate she counseled. LeBlanc told her that every person he talked to told him that he had to demand the murderer’s death: “‘If you’re not for the death penalty it’ll look like you didn’t love your boy,’” recounts Prejean. “Think of it. They have the ultimate loss. Your son’s taken from you and you don’t choose the ultimate penalty … He was the first one that taught me that forgiveness is not first and foremost lifting the burden of guilt of the one who hurt you, but it may have that effect. First and foremost it was saving his own life.” Feisty and fierce are words that come to mind listening to Prejean—like in the moment pictured, in a class on Catholic Social Thought.

post-image Sister Helen Prejean. View full image. Photo by Charles Barry.
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