Ten Mount students had the unique experience last fall of piloting a workshop designed by Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, based on her latest book, “River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.” Prejean, a leading advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, spoke virtually to the Mount community in September as part of her national book tour.
Before her talk, Prejean met with Mount student leaders for an intimate discussion about her advocacy work.
Meredith Lynch, assistant director of the CSJ Institute, says that at the end of the discussion one of the students asked Prejean if it would be possible to stay connected with her in some way. Prejean responded, “I am piloting this workshop, but I’ve never really done that before. Would you all like to be the first group to go through it?” The students were very excited and immediately said yes.
As part of the program, the students read “River of Fire” and then responded to Prejean’s journal prompts that were essentially about finding their own calling through Prejean’s journey of becoming an activist. The group then met over a two-month period to discuss their responses.
For students, the opportunity to meet together and talk about their passions was incredibly valuable. “This was the best opportunity I’ve had all year to really talk to with my peers about something other than academics and to speak our minds and our feelings,” says Elissa Doering ’24, a social work major. “We really connected.”
Megan Vu ’22, a nursing major, particularly enjoyed the journal prompts. “The question I responded to most was, ‘Where does your fire lie?’ I realized that my fire is advocating for patients. As a nurse, learning patients’ stories and what matters to them, not just to their physical health, is crucial.”
Prejean joined the group in December for their last meeting and spoke candidly about her personal process and how the students could become engaged activists. The students appreciated her openness and vulnerability. “When we began (reading the book), we didn’t think we would relate to her at all, and then every single one of us was able to relate to her story,” says Doering.
“I learned the CSJs are real women and that they have powerfully sacrificed for a greater good,” says Vu. “They’ve chosen this life and live it very purposely and beautifully. Sister Helen is a real person with real feelings who has made very intentional choices with her life.”
As a result of their discussions, Lynch and the students refined Sr. Helen’s journal prompts, and Prejean plans to offer the revised workshop to church groups, leadership groups, high schools and universities.
“I think it’s remarkable that what has been created is going to be a guide for her,” says Lynch. “This came out of the ability of the Mount students to speak up and say, ‘we want more and how can we do that?’ It showcases for me how young women at the Mount have learned to advocate for themselves.”