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River of Fire
Cover of River of Fire
River of Fire
My Spiritual Journey
"River of Fire is Sister Helen's story leading up to her acclaimed book Dead Man Walking—it is thought-provoking, informative, and inspiring. Read it and it will set your heart ablaze!"—Mark Shriver, author of Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis

The nation's foremost leader in efforts to abolish the death penalty shares the story of her growth as a spiritual leader, speaks out about the challenges of the Catholic Church, and shows that joy and religion are not mutually exclusive.
Sister Helen Prejean's work as an activist nun, campaigning to educate Americans about the inhumanity of the death penalty, is known to millions worldwide. Less widely known is the evolution of her spiritual journey from praying for God to solve the world's problems to engaging full-tilt in working to transform societal injustices. Sister Helen grew up in a well-off Baton Rouge family that still employed black servants. She joined the Sisters of St. Joseph at the age of eighteen and was in her forties when she had an awakening that her life's work was to immerse herself in the struggle of poor people forced to live on the margins of society.
Sister Helen writes about the relationships with friends, fellow nuns, and mentors who have shaped her over the years. In this honest and fiercely open account, she writes about her close friendship with a priest, intent on marrying her, that challenged her vocation in the "new territory of the heart." The final page of River of Fire ends with the opening page of Dead Man Walking, when she was first invited to correspond with a man on Louisiana's death row.

River of Fire
is a book for anyone interested in journeys of faith and spirituality, doubt and belief, and "catching on fire" to purpose and passion. It is a book, written in accessible, luminous prose, about how to live a spiritual life that is wide awake to the sufferings and creative opportunities of our world.
"Prejean chronicles the compelling, sometimes-difficult journey to the heart of her soul and faith with wit, honesty, and intelligence. A refreshingly intimate memoir of a life in faith."—Kirkus Reviews
"River of Fire is Sister Helen's story leading up to her acclaimed book Dead Man Walking—it is thought-provoking, informative, and inspiring. Read it and it will set your heart ablaze!"—Mark Shriver, author of Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis

The nation's foremost leader in efforts to abolish the death penalty shares the story of her growth as a spiritual leader, speaks out about the challenges of the Catholic Church, and shows that joy and religion are not mutually exclusive.
Sister Helen Prejean's work as an activist nun, campaigning to educate Americans about the inhumanity of the death penalty, is known to millions worldwide. Less widely known is the evolution of her spiritual journey from praying for God to solve the world's problems to engaging full-tilt in working to transform societal injustices. Sister Helen grew up in a well-off Baton Rouge family that still employed black servants. She joined the Sisters of St. Joseph at the age of eighteen and was in her forties when she had an awakening that her life's work was to immerse herself in the struggle of poor people forced to live on the margins of society.
Sister Helen writes about the relationships with friends, fellow nuns, and mentors who have shaped her over the years. In this honest and fiercely open account, she writes about her close friendship with a priest, intent on marrying her, that challenged her vocation in the "new territory of the heart." The final page of River of Fire ends with the opening page of Dead Man Walking, when she was first invited to correspond with a man on Louisiana's death row.

River of Fire
is a book for anyone interested in journeys of faith and spirituality, doubt and belief, and "catching on fire" to purpose and passion. It is a book, written in accessible, luminous prose, about how to live a spiritual life that is wide awake to the sufferings and creative opportunities of our world.
"Prejean chronicles the compelling, sometimes-difficult journey to the heart of her soul and faith with wit, honesty, and intelligence. A refreshingly intimate memoir of a life in faith."—Kirkus Reviews
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  • From the book Bride of Christ

    =

    Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    —­Matthew 5:48

    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

    I adore Thee, O my God! I thank Thee; I offer myself to Thee without reserve. My Lord Jesus! When shall I be ­entirely Thine and perfectly according to Thy heart? My God and my all! I love Thee with my whole heart. In Thee do I place all my hopes.

    —­"Prayers on Awakening and Arising,"

    Formulary of Prayers for the Use of the Sisters of Saint Joseph

    At the close of the evening meal I'm performing what our Holy Rule calls a "practice of humility." Along with a few other Sisters I'm kneeling at Mother Anthelma's table to ask for a penance. Pinned to my veil is a placard that states my failing: "Most uncharitable," but I have to announce my fault out loud, too: "Mother, please give me a penance for having mean and unloving thoughts about another Sister." The idea behind the practice is that by declaring our faults publicly, we might be stirred to strive more earnestly to overcome them.

    When you're going to do a practice of humility, you go to a drawer in the dining room and select your failing from a wide selection of placards: "Unrecollected," "Proud," "Gossip," "Selfish" . . . You pin it on and wear it during the meal. In among the placards there is also a string with a piece of broken dish tied to it. That is worn around the neck for failing in the vow of poverty by breaking something.

    Among us novices, when we know a fellow novice's failing in poverty ahead of time—­like the time Sister Eugene broke a toilet seat—­we're over the top in anticipation about how she will phrase her failing to Mother. If she says "toilet" anything, the solemnity of the practice will be extinguished by hoots of laughter emanating from the novitiate side of the dining room. It doesn't take much to set us off. With no TV or radio, we're starved blind for entertainment. One time our table of six giggled through the entire meal, losing it every time we glanced toward Sister Anne Meridier, who'd pinned the placard "Unrecollected" upside down on her pious little head. It doesn't help matters that meals are supposed to be eaten in solemn silence.

    I have to say that the main reason I'm wearing this "Most uncharitable" placard is because of Sister Roseanne (not her real name). She has one of those bossy, pushy personalities, and in the close, constricted life of the novitiate . . . well, that can drive you nuts. Sister Roseanne had rushed to be the first one to arrive at the novitiate on entrance day, knowing that the "band" (class entering together) would be referred to as "Sister Roseanne's Band." It burned me up that she did that, which proved to be but a small harbinger of her dominating character. And now that everything in the novitiate is recoded into religious ideals, she's doing her level best to be Number One Novice—­even in holiness.

    Well, to be truthful, competition gets me going, so at first sound of the 5:00 a.m. bell (the bell is the voice of God) the two of us throw on all ten pieces of the holy habit—­kissing dress, veil, and rosary as we go—­and race lickety-­split to be first in the chapel for morning prayers. All it took to launch the race was a casual remark of our novice mistress that a really fervent novice would not only be on time for prayers but would hasten to the chapel early so she could have a few extra minutes with our blessed Lord. That was it. The race was on.

    Another thing that galls me about Roseanne is that during meditation—­she sits right...
About the Author-
  • Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, is known worldwide for sparking dialogue on the death penalty. After witnessing the electrocution of a condemned man in Louisiana's killing chamber in 1984, Prejean penned the bestselling Dead Man Walking and set out, through storytelling, to bring citizens close to the hard realities of government killings. Her mission has taken her to every U.S. state and to the Vatican, where her personal entreaties to two popes helped to shape Catholic opposition to the death penalty. When not on the road, this lifelong Louisianan loves to share Cajun jokes, eat Southern cooking, play "spirited" card games, and write, exploring her fascination with the Divine spark she believes is in everyone: to seek truth, love ardently, and meet, head on, the suffering world.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    March 1, 2019

    A vocal opponent of the death penalty, Sister Prejean joined the Sisters of St. Joseph at age 18 and discovered her commitment to the marginalized in her forties. Here she explores her spiritual journey toward that commitment.

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from May 13, 2019
    This riveting memoir from Prejean (The Death of Innocents) describes her life as a nun, starting with her entrance into a convent in 1957 at 18 years old and ending in 1982 when she began her work with the Louisiana death row inmate that would form the foundation of her bestselling Dead Man Walking. Born in Baton Rouge, La., Prejean joined the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Medaille after high school and entered a world of draconian rules: novitiate sisters were allowed no contact with family, received only heavily censored mail, and their lives were governed by strict instructions, including how to properly lay in a sickbed. This all changed in 1965 after the reforms of Vatican II, a watershed moment in the history of the Catholic Church that Prejean embraces as having a restorative influence on the church. Throughout, she persuasively shows why some choose the convent life (“I need the silence it offers, freed from the empty chatter and trivial conversations... I need the time to be in the company of other spiritual seekers”) and describes her spiritual transformation toward political activism. Providing a window into the upheaval in the church during the 1960s and ’70s, Prejean’s engrossing memoir also fleshes out how she rose to be an influential voice within the church before becoming a renowned proponent of abolishing the death penalty. Informing and entertaining, Prejean’s exceptional memoir will be of special interest to Catholics and social justice advocates.

  • Kirkus

    June 15, 2019
    A noted Catholic sister recounts how joining the church became the first step on her path to becoming a social justice activist. Born to an upper-middle-class Baton Rouge family, Prejean (The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, 2004, etc.) joined the Congregation of St. Joseph as a novice shortly after she graduated from high school in the late 1950s. Just 18 years old, she knew that her mission was to be an "obedient [daughter] of Mother Church" and find union with God. What she did not know was that her "Mother Church" would soon change forever. The liberalization policies developed by the Vatican II Council in the early 1960s not only affected how Prejean saw herself, but also how she understood her place, both in the church and in the world. Newly relaxed rules that allowed for more modern dress also permitted nuns and priests to openly mingle with each other. Testing her faith and the bonds she had developed with other nuns, the author became involved in an intensely emotional relationship with a troubled priest. Open conversations about the "complex new realities" of a world defined by the Vietnam War and emerging social justice movements challenged Prejean and other clerics to confront new and unsettling realities. Liberalization also allowed the author to pursue a degree in religious education and learn tools to help her "critique Church teaching in an intellectually honest way." Yet it would not be until the 1970s that Prejean awakened to her true calling to help the poor and socially disenfranchised. In 1981, she began working as a volunteer educator in the all-black St. Thomas housing project, where she began the prison pen-pal relationship that would define the next chapter of her life as an anti-death penalty advocate. A modest storyteller, Prejean chronicles the compelling, sometimes-difficult journey to the heart of her soul and faith with wit, honesty, and intelligence. A refreshingly intimate memoir of a life in faith.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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