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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Post-Lent review... How did you do?

Lent is now behind us, yet in our excitement for Easter (and for Lent being over), how often to you take a moment to look back at your Lenten journey to do a post-game review?

As a volunteer leader and business school graduate, the concept of doing a formal "review" after an event or activity is a long held important practice... one that, unfortunately, tends to get overlooked even at the highest levels.  Still, it remains a staple of standard practice, and for good reason... It affords those involved, and the entire organization, a chance to review everything after the fact... what went well, what didn't, and lay the groundwork for next time.  The same is true for looking back at our Lenten journey.  So... how did you do?

I have to be honest, I sometimes fail to practice what I preach.  For as important as a post-lenten review might be, I hadn't thought of the idea until now.  I didn't even really think about it until this morning when I read the following artic…

5th Sunday of Easter

What happens when you have too much of a good thing?  When a business wins that lucrative new contract or expands into a new location?  Or taking that same idea a bit closer to home, what happens when two families merge through marriage, or when a family welcomes a new child?  We consider this kind of growth to be a good thing, but as with all things, these successes also come with their own baggage.  Our readings for this 5th Sunday of Easter have our Apostles facing similar challenges in the face of their growing successes.

The Word for the 5th Sunday of Easter Acts 6:1-7
Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19
1 Peter 2:4-9
John 14:1-12

Our reading from Acts of the Apostles learning the hard way about the challenges that grow out of their continued success when their number of followers continues to grow.  Up to this point the Apostles have been doing their best to address the needs of the community, both spiritual and physical, but the community has grown so large now that they are becom…

3rd Sunday of Easter

Easter is about revelation!  On Easter Sunday we revealed that the tomb was found empty.  Last week Jesus revealed himself to the Apostles in the upper room, reminding us that “Blessed are those who have not seen, but still believe.”  This Third Sunday of Easter, Jesus is revealed through the breaking of the Bread.


The Word for the 3rd Sunday of Easter Acts 2:14, 22-33
Psalm 16:2, 5, 7-11
1 Peter 1:17-21
Luke 24:13-35

In our first reading from Acts of the Apostles we have Peter, discovering his voice and standing before all of Jerusalem giving witness about who Jesus was and what happened there.  It’s both a reminder to those present who also witnessed these events, and a much necessary explanation for those who (like us) were not there (especially Luke’s primarily Gentile audience).  The heart of Peter’s message reminds us that this messiah was killed by his own people, but through that act, as prophesied by their greatest king, David, has been raised by God, and sends his Ho…