St. Joseph Sr. Helen Prejean is known the world over for her commitment to social justice, particularly for her ministry to and advocacy on behalf of those incarcerated and sentenced to die. Her ministry has garnered attention and has helped to shape public sentiment about the injustice of the death penalty, especially among Catholics. But how did she become filled with that prophetic fire and righteous passion for which she is known today?
Her new memoir, River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey, chronicles the path from pre-conciliar nun to modern-day voice of conscience. This book (her third) ends where her first, Dead Man Walking, begins. It is the story behind the story — how the devout schoolteacher and aspiring mystic grew into her vocation, which took her behind bars and into the world of America's inhumane pseudo-justice system in order to bring the compassionate face of Christ to those least sympathetic in our society.
Reading the book, I was reminded of the famous passage in the Letter of James, which tells us starkly that: "faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). I believe this is the constant refrain of Sister Helen's story.