Skip to main content

Summer of Mercy video series - Week 4

Feature Film:  Dead Man Walking  (1995, 2 hr-2 min)

About the story:
Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) has been on death row in Louisiana for the past 6 years.  As his execution day comes closer, he writes to Sr. Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) for help with his appeal.  Sr. Helen reluctantly meets with him, initially finding him arrogant and unrepentant.  Still, she manages to find a lawyer who will help him file for a final appeal to avoid his death sentence.  Over a series of visits she develops a certain rapport with him, while also getting to know something about the families of his victims.  Sr. Helen soon finds herself caught between providing spiritual advice to a criminal, and seeing a need to comfort the families of his victims.

About the film:
Released in 1995, the film is a fictionalized account of the stories from Sr. Helen’s experiences as described in her book of the same name which was published 2 years earlier.  It stars Susan Sarandon as Sr. Helen Prejean and Sean Penn as Matthew Poncelet, a fictional character based on Sr Helen’s experiences with real life death row inmates Elmo Sonnier and Robert Willie.  The film was nominated for 4 Academy Awards (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Song) with Sarandon taking home the Oscar for her portrayal of Sr. Helen.  At its release the film received critical acclaim for both Sarandon and Penn, and for a story that must balance between all the facets of good and evil in both the crime and the punishment.  It is a riveting film that still resonates with audiences today.  Through this film Sr. Helen’s work with death row inmates was brought into the popular culture as she continues to advocate for abolition of the death penalty.

About the Sr. Helen Prejean:

Helen Prejean, CSJ (Congregation of St. Joseph) was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1939, and at the age of 18 joined the sisters of St Joseph.  She received a BA in English and Education from St. Mary’s Dominican College in New Orleans, and a Masters in Religious Education from St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Canada.  While serving the poor in the Thomas housing project in New Orleans, Sr. Helen began her prison ministry in 1981 when she became pen pals with death row inmate Patrick Sonnier, and later became his spiritual advisor.  She did the same for Robert Willie, another death row inmate.  Her work with both these inmates inspired her to write the book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty, which was selected for the 1994 American Library Association’s Notable book list, and was a New York Times best seller for 31 weeks.  Sr. Helen has given countless talks and interviews, and continues to advocate for abolition of the death penalty worldwide through her Ministry Against the Death Penalty.  Her most recent book, The Death of Innocents:  An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions was published in 2004.

About Debbie Morris:
Author of the book Forgiving the Dead Man Walking:  Only One Woman Can Tell the Entire Story (with Greg Lewis) published in 2000.  Ms Morris is the real life victim of Robert Willie, and who’s testimony helped to send Willie to his death by electrocution.  Her story is a journey of faith and forgiveness in the face of brutal crimes committed against her and her boyfriend.


Popular posts from this blog

3rd Sunday of Advent

The third Sunday of Advent marks the midpoint of the season… in Catholic terms, this is like “hump day”, where we happily see that the conclusion of our journey is within sight.  Referred to as Gaudete Sunday, it takes its name from the Latin word for rejoice.  We will hear this word several times throughout this Sunday's Mass in our prayers and our readings.  We light the rose colored candle on our Advent wreaths, rose being a mixture of Advent violet and Christmas white.  Not only is Christmas a joyous occasion to celebrate the birth of our Lord, but it reminds us that we are joyous (not fearful) of his return.

The Word for the 3rd Sunday of Advent Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

We open with a great announcement from Third Isaiah, that the anointed brings glad tidings to the poor.  If his words sound familiar, they should.  Not only are they reminiscent to the announcement made by the angels to the shepherd in th…

4th Sunday of Lent

This Sunday we continue our Lenten journey through Salvation History with a continued focus on covenant.  We’ve already given witness to the covenants with Noah, Abraham, and Moses.  This week we turn our attention to the Davidic Covenant (the covenant with King David), or more accurately, the covenant with the monarchy of Israel.

The Word for the 4th Sunday of Lent 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
Psalms 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Ephesians 2:4-10
John 3:14-21

Our first reading comes from the end of the 2nd book of Chronicles.  Though our intent this Sunday is to remember the Davidic Covenant, our Lectionary has chosen an interesting approach.  Rather than give us a story about King David, we are presented with a story  from the end of the Babylonian Exile.  Why approach the covenant with David from this tail-end view? 

It’s an approach that actually fits very well with the Book of Chronicles, for you see, the Book of Chronicles is much more than a retelling of the story we heard in books …

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Our readings this week focus on a core theme that runs through Jesus’ ministry… repentance.  There is no sin so grave that cannot be forgiven with true contrition and a return to God.  This was the message that John the Baptist proclaimed, and the message Jesus continued as he took up his ministry.  This theme not only runs through the gospels, but is a major theme that binds the entire Bible into a cohesive volume. 

The Word for the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

Our first reading comes from the book of Jonah.  The story of Jonah is well known in both Jewish and Christian circles, yet for all its popularity, we only hear it in the Liturgy this once.  For this reason, many Catholics only have a passing familiarity with Jonah’s story.  They know his name and that he was swallowed by a large fish (or whale), but that’s about it.  In our passage this week, God asks Jonah to go through the city of Nineveh preac…