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CURRENT ISSUE:  May 9, 2011
VOL. 49, NO. 9   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Four to be ordained to the priesthood May 14
Diocesan rules guide parishes on money
Catholic Charities’ annual appeal set for May 15
Sister Prejean comes to
Oakland for two speeches
Sister Helen Prejean

When: 11 a.m. May 14,
Holy Names University commencement

And: 7 p.m. May 14,
St. Columba Church, 6401 San Pablo Ave., Oakland

Admission: free

Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking” and a tireless opponent of the death penalty, will make two appearances in the Diocese of Oakland this month.

The member of the Congregation of St. Joseph will be the commencement speaker at Holy Names University on May 14. The commencement, scheduled at 11 a.m. in the Corrigan Courtyard, is open to the public.

Sister Helen Prejean
She will also speak at 7 p.m. May 14 at St. Columba Church, 6401 San Pablo Ave., Oakland. The parish and the Oakland Community Organizations are welcoming her to speak on the abolition of the death penalty.

St. Columba will be a poignant venue; the Oakland parish places a cross in front of the church for each murder victim in the city.

“On Sunday morning, it was 35,” Father Aidan McAleenan said three days after Easter. “By the end of the day, it was 37.”

But he does not see capital punishment as the solution to Oakland’s violent crime. “It’s mind-boggling that we as a state are doing this, and it doesn’t stop anyone.”

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishops have been calling for an end to the use of the death penalty for more than 25 years. In 2005, they invited Catholics to join them in an ongoing “Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty.”

The work of death penalty opponents “ties social justice to life, from one end to the other,” said Father McAleenan.

The OCO, representing about 50 organizations in Oakland, works to stop violence. Its work includes gang intervention.

In announcing the commencement speaker, Holy Names president William J. Hynes called Sister Helen “a courageous, effective and tireless advocate of social justice,” noting “Sister Helen is known primarily as one of the leading advocates for the abolition of the death penalty.”

In addition, he said, “No stranger to our campus, Sister Helen has taught several times in our Sophia masters program.” The program offers a certificate or master’s degree in culture and spirituality.

Father McAleenan credits Holy Names for Sister Helen’s appearance at St. Columba.

“She asked the faculty if they knew of a social-justice-oriented parish,” he said. She was directed to St. Columba.

Sister Helen’s prison ministry began 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, a convicted killer of two teenagers sentenced to die in the electric chair at Louisiana’s Angola State Prison. Sister Helen visited him as his spiritual adviser. She turned her experiences into the book, “Dead Man Walking,” which was nominated for a 1993 Pulitzer Prize.

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