2002 Dignitas Humana Award

Helen Prejean, CSJ, Receives 2002 Dignitas Humana Award


Bill Cahoy and Br. Dietrich present award

Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ, receives the 2002 Dignitas Humana Award from (L-R): Bill Cahoy, dean of Saint John’s School of Theology·Seminary; Dietrich Reinhart, OSB, President of Saint John’s University; and Abbot John Klassen, OSB, abbot of Saint John’s Abbey.


Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ has lived and worked in Louisiana all her life. She joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in 1957. She received a B.A. in English from St. Mary’s Dominican College in New Orleans in 1962 and an M.A. in Religious Education from St. Paul’s University in Ottawa in 1973. Sister Helen has served as a junior and senior high school teacher, a religious education director, and formation director for her community. In 1981, while working at the St. Thomas housing project with poor inner-city residents, she began counseling death row inmates – a ministry she continues today. She has accompanied five men to their death by execution, works with murder victims’ families and is an honorary member of Murder Victims for Reconciliation.

She is the author of Dead Man Walking: An Eye Witness Account of the Death Penalty in the U.S. (1993), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and was on the New York Times best seller list for 31 weeks. It has been translated into 12 languages and made into a motion picture and an opera.

Sister Helen has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and received numerous awards, including the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame, the Champion of Liberty Award from the US Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Sanctity of Life Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and 25 honorary degrees. She has been featured in major newspapers, magazines and television shows. Mirabella Magazine named her one of the “100 Fearless Women” of 1994. She is a member of the US National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Amnesty International and is honorary chairperson of Hands Off Cain, an international group based in Rome working for abolition of the death penalty and the Moratorium Campaign, gathering signatures for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty.

Following her reception of the Dignitas Humana award, Sister Helen completed her second book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, published in December 2004. In it, she tells the story of two men whom she accompanied to their executions. She believes both of them were innocent.