Sister Helen Prejean is the keynote speaker at the eighth annual South Dakota Pax Christi Peace Conference. The event is scheduled for September 22, 2012, in Watertown, S.D. at County Fair Banquet Hall 14 Second Street Northeast from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. Cost is $20, College or high school students only $10, which includes lunch and breaks. The event is open to the public. All those interested in peace and justice are encouraged to attend.
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 speaks to thousands of people across the U.S. and around the world, and 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 1984 – 1986.
During this time, she was asked to correspond with a 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. Sister Helen is presently at work on another book – RIVER OF FIRE: MY SPIRITUAL JOURNEY.
Perspectives on the Death Penalty, a critical issue for South Dakota, will include a presentation by Travis Schulze, South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, who speak on The Road to Abolition. Panel members who will share their experiences are Father Gary Ternes, Ann Thompson, Reverend Karl Kroger and Sister Gabriella Crowley. Prayer and music will also be part of the day.
The conference is sponsored by the Aberdeen Presentation Sisters, the Watertown Benedictine Sisters and local Pax Christi chapters. Pax Christi USA is a section of Pax Christi International, which is active in more than 30 countries. Members act from a belief they can help create a world that better reflects the “peace of Christ”.