River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey
Hardcover – August 13, 2019
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
“Compelling and down-to-earth, River of Fire is a deeply authentic memoir of faith in action. We need Sister Helen’s courageous and committed example of how to live fueled by a faith that does separate us from each other, but throws us wholeheartedly into the complicated, messy, and often tragic elements of humanity.”—Kate Hennessy, author of Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty
“Sister Prejean’s radical openness and bracing honesty about her own faith journey is as refreshing and compelling as it is demanding and questioning. If you’ve ever wondered what ‘faith’ asks of you, you must read this book. It will turn your world upside down as you witness the conversion of a pious, sheltered nun into a fiery, faithful freedom fighter for the poor and the marginal. It set my own heart on fire, as I followed her quest to set the heart of the world aflame with passion for justice.”—Serene Jones, author of Call It Grace: Finding Meaning in a Fractured World
“Sister Helen Prejean is one of the great moral leaders of our time. Her superb new memoir, River of Fire, is the inviting and inspiring story of her early days as a Catholic sister. A born storyteller, Sister Helen leads you, with her fierce intelligence and lively wit, from her entrance into a novitiate that still practiced the traditional ways of spiritual formation, to the volcanic changes wrought by the Second Vatican Council, to the initial stirrings of understanding what ‘social justice’ meant in action. River of Fire is a book to read and treasure, and Sister Helen’s is a life to celebrate and honor.”—James Martin, SJ, author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything
“Helen Prejean’s account of her journey to ‘get Jesus right’ is rich in warm insights, tenderly human, and a full account of life in the American Church during the last sixty years. She is a beacon of authenticity and fidelity to the margins.”—Gregory Boyle, founder, Homeboy Industries
About the Author
Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, is known worldwide for starting a dialogue on the death penalty. After witnessing the electrocution of a condemned man in a Louisiana prison in 1984, Prejean wrote 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.