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DePaul University Special Collections and Archives

Ministry Against the Death Penalty

This section documents Sister Helen's activism as well as responses to her campaign to abolish the death penalty. 

Photographs and letters record her interaction with Vernon and Elizabeth Harvey, parents of Faith Hathaway, the young woman killed by Robert Lee Willie and Joseph Vaccaro.  While Vernon and Elizabeth were staunch supporters of the death penalty, Sister Helen's relationship with them informed much of her work with murder victims' families.

Dead Man Walking's impact prompted many who read the book, watched the movie, or heard Sister Helen speak, to write letters.  Included are two notes from students who share how they were each personally moved by their encounter with Dead Man Walking.

Not all of the feedback that Sr. Helen receives for her work is positive.  The staff at the Ministry Against the Death Penalty office maintain a file of letters of opposition they call “Ardent Foes.” Included in this exhibit is a letter from “Guess Who?” an anonymous correspondent who sent Sr. Helen letters and newspaper clippings from 1989-1996.  Another correspondent begins his June 21, 1993 letter "Dear Whining Idiots." 

After Pope John Paul II spoke out against the death sentence of Joseph O’Dell, Sister Helen wrote to him pointing out that death penalty advocates in the United States use the wording in Evangelium Vitae (that the state has a right to execute in cases of “absolute necessity”) to justify seeking the death penalty.