Helen Prejean

Born:April 21, 1939 (age 85)
Career:Catholic nun, activist
Education:B.A., St. Mary's Dominican College
M.A., St. Paul's University

Helen Prejean is a Roman Catholic nun and an advocate for the abolition of the death penalty.

Prejean was born on April 21, 1939, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in 1957 (now known as the Congregation of St. Joseph) and received a B.A. in English and education from St. Mary's Dominican College, New Orleans in 1962. In 1973, she earned an M.A. in religious education from St. Paul's University in Ottawa, Canada. She has been the religious education director at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in New Orleans, the formation director for her religious community, and has taught junior and senior high school students.

Prejean began her prison ministry in 1981. In 1982, she began a correspondence with convicted murderer Elmo Patrick Sonnier, a death row inmate housed in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, and at his request, visited him in prison and agreed to be his spiritual advisor. She turned her experiences into a book, "Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty That Sparked a National Debate," that made the 1994 American Library Associates Notable Book List, was number one on the New York Times Best Seller List for 31 weeks and an international best seller, has been translated into ten languages, and was the basis for the movie "Dead Man Walking" and an opera.

Prejean began speaking out against capital punishment and founded Survive, an organization devoted to counseling the families of victims of violence. She has since ministered to many other inmates on death row and witnessed several more executions. She served on the board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty from 1985 to 1995 and as chairperson of the board from 1993 to 1995. She is a member of Amnesty International and an honorary member of Murder Victim Families for Reconciliation. She is the honorary chairperson of Moratorium Campaign, a group gathering signatures for a world-wide moratorium on the death penalty.


Caponegro, R. A. (2013. October 28). “Sister Helen Prejean” Britannica. Retrieved November 28, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sister-Helen-Prejean

Ministry Against the Death Penalty (n.d.). “Sister Helen Prejean: Biography” Britannica. Retrieved November 28, 2022. https://www.sisterhelen.org/biography/