Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Nun's Trip from Death Row to Hollywood

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Nun's Trip from Death Row to Hollywood

Article excerpt

Sr. Helen Prejean is played, right down to the drawl, by Susan Sarandon in "Dead Man Walking," the story of Prejean's work with Louisiana's deathrow inmates. Hers is the only true-life character in a film otherwise peopled by fictional composites and events based on real victims' and murderers' lives.

The movie opened Dec. 29, 1995, in New York and Los Angeles, and across the country Jan. 19. It quickly landed on many critics' top Ten lists for 1995.

A member of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in New Orleans, Prejean, 53, was nothing but pleased with Sarandon's portrayal of her and with the film's overall depiction of nuns: "Sisters in general are so glad to see such a strong image of religious women who are in there and bringing faith into the public arena."

Where church rules bar women from full participation in some areas, she said, the film shows how a nun, through bearing witness with unconditional love, can live the phrase, "I am a sacrament."

The film shows women as having strength and being engaged in public issues and not just in domestic kinds of things or teaching children and nursing the sick or the kind of roles that people have pigeonholed nuns "into," she said.

Prejean still lives in New Orleans and remains active on behalf of the poor, though her concentration at the moment is on capital punishment and writing. Her next book will be about Catholic women's struggle for church equality.

"Until I got involved with poor people, all my issues were manageable," Prejean told NCR. …

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