Methodist Church

‘Dead Man Walking’ author wins 2008 World Methodist Award

LAKE JUNALUSKA (North Carolina) – The World Methodist Council has presented the 2008 World Methodist Peace Award to Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States and The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.

Her 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 crime victims were key factors in the decision to present her with the award for 2008.

The presentation was made at a ceremony on April 2, 2008 at Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Rev Dr John Barrett, President of the World Methodist Council and an ordained member of The Methodist Church in Britain, presented the award.

The World Methodist Peace Award is presented annually to individuals or groups who have contributed significantly to peace, justice and reconciliation. The criteria for the award are courage, creativity and consistency. The award is presented on
behalf of the World Methodist Council, composed of 74 member-churches in more than 132 countries whose ministry reaches nearly 75 million people worldwide.

Sister Helen, 68, joined the Sisters of St Joseph of Medaille in 1957 and has served as Religious Education Director at St Frances Cabrinie Parish in New Orleans, Louisiana, as the Spiritual Formation Director for her religious community, and as a teacher to junior and senior high school students.

In 1981 she dedicated her life to the poor of New Orleans, Louisiana, and began her prison ministry. While living in the St Thomas housing project she became pen pals with Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers, who was sentenced to die in the electric chair.

Upon Sonnier’s request, she visited him often as his spiritual adviser. In doing so, she became aware of the execution process in the state of Louisiana. She turned her experiences into a book that not only made the 1994 American Library Associates Notable Book List, but was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1993. Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States was No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list for 31 weeks. It became an international best seller and has been translated into 10 languages.

In 1996 the book was developed into a major motion picture which received four Academy Award nominations, and actress Susan Sarandon won the award for the Best Actress in her portrayal of Sister Helen.

Today Sister Helen educates the public about the death penalty through her lectures and writings. As the founder of “Survive”, a victim’s advocacy group in New Orleans, she continues to counsel inmates on Death Row and the families of murder victims as well. – World Methodist Council.