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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Famed author to speak at Human Rights Day program

Sunday, March 22, 2009

TERRE HAUTE -- Internationally known author and advocate of abolishing capital punishment Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, will be the keynote speaker for the eighth Human Rights Day program April 14.

Most of the day's events will be offered at the Hulman Student Union Building on the Indiana State University campus. There is no charge to attend or participate in any of the programs.

Prejean will speak at 9:30 a.m., in Dede I and will be available for book signings after her presentation. She is being hosted by the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods and the Human Rights Day steering committee.

The theme for this year's program is, "The Right to an Adequate Standard of Living," based on Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Prejean is a native of Baton Rouge, La. She joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in 1957 and received a bachelor's degree in English and education from St. Mary's Dominican College.

In 1973, she earned a master's degree 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.

She began her prison ministry in 1981 when she dedicated her life to the poor of New Orleans. 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 of Louisiana's Angola State Prison.

Upon Sonnier's request, she repeatedly visited him as his spiritual advisor. In doing so, her eyes were opened to the Louisiana execution process. She turned her experiences into a book that not only made the 1994 American Library Associates Notable Book List, but also was nominated for a 1993 Pulitzer Prize. "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 also was an international best seller and has been translated into 10 different languages.

In January 1996, the book was developed into a major motion picture starring Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen and Sean Penn as a death row inmate. Produced by Polygram Pictures, the film was directed and written by Tim Robbins. The movie received four Oscar nominations, including Tim Robbins for Best Director, Sean Penn for Best Actor, Susan Sarandon for Best Actress and Bruce Springsteen's 'Dead Man Walking," for Best Song. Sarandon won the award for Best Actress.

The book also was the basis for an opera production in 2000.

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