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Clarke to Host Lecture by Sister Helen Prejean in Conjunction with Production of ‘Dead Man Walking’

posted on February 6, 2012

Clarke University will host a lecture by Sister Helen Prejean, the real-life subject of the book and movie “Dead Man Walking” on Thursday, Feb. 16, at 6:30 p.m. in Terence Donaghoe Hall on the Clarke campus. Admission to the lecture is free and the public is invited to attend.

Organized by the Clarke drama department, Prejean’s appearance is in conjunction with outreach efforts around the drama department’s production of “Dead Man Walking” by Tim Robbins which opens one week later on February 23 and runs through February 26. Curtain for the show is at 7:30 p.m. on February 23-25 and 2 p.m. on February 26. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for non-Clarke students.

“‘Dead Man Walking’ gives a unique opportunity to present a moving and thought-provoking story while also encouraging additional discussion of the death penalty across campus,” said Joe Klinebriel, associate professor of drama, who is directing the show and organizing Prejean’s visit. “The topic also aligns well with Clarke’s commitment to raising awareness of social justice issues and Catholic Social Teaching.”

Sister Helen Prejean, who joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in 1957 (now known as the Congregation of St. Joseph), 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, sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana's Angola State Prison.

Upon Sonnier's request, Sister Helen 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 was also nominated for a 1993 Pulitzer Prize. “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States” was number one on the New York Times Best Seller List for 31 weeks. It also was an international best seller and has been translated into ten different languages.

In 1995, 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.

Fifteen years after beginning her crusade, the Roman Catholic sister has witnessed five additional executions in Louisiana and today educates the public about the death penalty by lecturing, organizing and writing. As the founder of "Survive," a victim's advocacy group in New Orleans, she continues to counsel not only inmates on death row, but the families of murder victims, as well.

The cast of Clarke’s production of “Dead Man Walking” includes: Rebecca Brosnan, of Algona, Iowa; Kayla Damisch, of Victor, Iowa; Tim Gelhaus, of Owen, Wis.; Ben Graham, of Dyersville, Iowa; Reid Johannsen, of Andrew, Iowa; Traci Johnson, of Dubuque, Iowa; Maxwell McNett, of Evansville, Wis.; Adam O’Dell, of Dubuque, Iowa; Allison Ott, of Dubuque, Iowa; Carrier Pieper, of Adel, Iowa; Austin Rea, of Lodi, Wis.; Joey Stamp, and Gage Steenhagen, of Roland, Iowa.

The director of the show is Joe Klinebriel, associate professor of drama, and Luke Van Meveren, of Monticello, Minn., is the assistant to the director and stage manager. Ellen Gabrielleschi, MFA, chair and associate professor of drama, is the technical director for the show, Kayla Damisch is the scenic designer, and Robert Neumann, adjunct instructor of drama, is the costume designer.

For more information, contact the Clarke University Marketing and Communication Office at (563)588-6318.

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