Activist Sister Prejean, Oscar-winner Tim Robbins visit DePaul
April 26, 2013
By John Holden
Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., concluded a whirlwind week of activities at DePaul on April 24, some of which included Oscar-winning actor and writer-director Tim Robbins, her collaborator on the film and stage adaptations of her groundbreaking book “Dead Man Walking.”
Prejean spoke to numerous classes, seminars and public forums throughout her visit, including packed houses for the final program of World Catholicism Week on April 19 and after an April 22 staged reading and an April 23 film screening of “Dead Man Walking.”
Robbins joined the discussions at the latter two events. During the post-screening conversation hosted by the School of Cinema and Interactive Media, Robbins reflected on how he had to struggle to make a movie from the controversial book. “We were initially turned down by every major studio in Hollywood,” Robbins said. “No one wanted to make a movie about a man on death row.”
Prejean noted that although her book was an instant best-seller upon its 1993 release, it wasn’t until the film was released two years later that widespread public debate on the death penalty in America truly took hold.
“After the movie came out, audiences at my talks exploded,” said Prejean. “One place where I had spoken the year before with an audience of 25 suddenly had over 500 people trying to get in. Police had to be called in to help with the crowds. It totally changed the dynamic of the conversation.”
For an April 19 Peace, Justice and Conflict Resolution Studies class, Prejean teamed up with her long-time acquaintance and fellow human rights activist and author Don Mullan, who is serving as a senior lecturer and consultant at DePaul. Both have long worked with leading human rights activists around the world, including South African Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu. They shared with students how to engage an often-indifferent world in the causes of peace and social justice.
Capital punishment opponents joined Prejean and College of Law faculty for an April 22 breakfast meeting where an examination took place of how faulty memory often intersects with crime and wrongful convictions.
Prejean has a long relationship with DePaul University. She received an honorary doctorate from the university in 2000. She has long worked closely with Professor of Law Andrea Lyon on capital punishment and social justice issues. But her relationship with DePaul took a big step forward when Professor Susanne Dumbleton met Prejean while working on a book about extraordinary women leaders. Upon seeing the vast quantity of records Prejean had in her possession at her New Orleans home, Dumbleton convinced her to donate them to the archives at DePaul’s Library which she did in 2011.
Prejean has come back to DePaul annually since then for classes and programs to further her social justice work through DePaul students and faculty and the larger community. “I really feel a lot more momentum to my work at DePaul each time I visit,” Sister Prejean said. Planning is already underway on activities for future visits.