DePaul University announced on Feb. 9 that it will house the personal archives of Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., the crusading New Orleans nun who has dedicated her life to serving the poor and who is a national voice for abolishing capital punishment through the Ministry Against the Death Penalty.
Her archives include personal journals, notes from meetings, letters, speeches and other artifacts spanning a period of 30 years. The papers include her personal correspondence and manuscripts for her books “The Death of Innocents” and “Dead Man Walking”— the latter a best-selling account of Prejean’s spiritual relationship with a Louisiana death-row inmate that was the basis of an Oscar-winning 1996 film.
Prejean, 71, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, has been one of the nation’s leading voices opposing the death penalty. Her ministry to death-row inmates began 30 years ago. During that time, she has prayed with five men before and accompanied them to their executions. Her work has been on multiple fronts, including serving as chair of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in the 1990s.
“Sister Prejean has long been a leading light in the fight for social justice across a wide spectrum of issues, especially the movement to end capital punishment in the United States,” said the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., DePaul’s president. “We are deeply honored that she has chosen DePaul to preserve the records of her life’s work. We are committed to making certain that her papers will long serve as an important and accessible research tool for scholars and others interested in fighting for the rights of the condemned.”
After receiving requests from a number of other universities, Prejean chose DePaul to archive her records in part because of DePaul’s long commitment to social justice issues. DePaul’s College of Law is home to the Center for Justice in Capital Cases (CJCC), which is headed by Andrea Lyon, professor of law at DePaul and one of the nation’s leading death-penalty attorneys.
“I can’t think of a more appropriate place to archive the records of my life’s work than DePaul, as my work has so closely aligned with the university’s mission that is guided by its patron St. Vincent de Paul’s teachings on charity and social justice,” said Prejean. “I was impressed by the diversity of DePaul’s student body, and the commitment to service and to the poor by academic departments throughout the university.”
DePaul’s relationship with Prejean dates back many years. She received an honorary degree from the university in 2000 and has been a key participant in CJCC conferences examining issues surrounding the death penalty.
Discussion of Prejean donating her archives to DePaul first arose when she was interviewed at her New Orleans home in 2009 by Susanne Dumbleton, a DePaul professor and former dean of its School for New Learning, who is writing a book about extraordinary women leaders in social justice movements around the world.