CARMEL VALLEY — When Sister Helen Prejean visited the Cathedral Catholic High School campus to deliver a speech on Feb. 28, she not only attempted to encourage pro-life values, but also to inspire young high school students to speak up for their beliefs.
The well-known anti-death penalty activist and author of Dead Man Walking was brought to campus by the school’s Office of Mission and Ministry and Dons for Life, a group of pro-life students who spread their beliefs through evangelization, prayer and outreach.
Sister Prejean was the keynote speaker during Cathedral Catholic’s first-ever LIFE Week, a week-long celebration of pro-life values, during which Dons for Life members gave other students the opportunity to ask questions, share their beliefs, and participate in pro-life activities.
Sister Prejean shared the story of how she made her own words heard, recounting the life-changing experience of serving as spiritual advisor for a death row inmate. She didn’t know it at the time, but accepting that role would lead to her writing a bestselling book, which was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film, and a lifetime of public speaking.
“I watched a man die and, the second I walked out of that room, I had to share my experiences,” she said. “I knew that the people would care. Someone just needed to tell the story.”
Sister Prejean made it her mission to tell that story, and now travels around the world, talking about the worth of every human life, even guilty life.
Sister Prejean was touched by the welcome she received on campus and vocal about the potential she saw in Cathedral Catholic’s students.
“I’ve enjoyed just about everyone that I’ve met here,” she said. “The students are deep and reflective, and I just sense they’re gonna make a difference in the world.”
But LIFE Week was not just about the death penalty, and its activities included far more than Sister Prejean’s speech. Dons for Life made pro-life values a campus-wide focus, with a different theme each day. Daily themes included abortion, euthanasia, and a celebration of life at the end of the week. The aim was to promote positive discussions on campus and educate students on pro-life issues.
“[Cathedral Catholic High School] is unique because you do have a special spirit here, with the Dons for Life group hosting all the different activities before I came. That’s all very important,” said Sister Prejean.
Dons for Life mainly focused on abortion last year, which Sister Prejean also touched upon in her speech. The group, which is only in its second year of existence, has participated in pro-life walks and conferences all around the country.
Many Cathedral Catholic students crowded into the lecture hall during Monday’s lunch to discuss that day’s theme: abortion. The Dons for Life committee in charge of that day spent their weekend producing a short video about common misconceptions about abortion and the pro-life viewpoint. After the video was played, Dons for Life student leaders led a group discussion where they answered questions from their peers.
On Tuesday of LIFE Week, Dons for Life hosted Kent Peters and Dr. Edward Rotunda to speak to interested students about assisted suicide.
After Wednesday’s assembly with Sister Prejean, pro-life students took advantage of their classmates’ recent exposure to the death penalty issue and hosted a prayer service during Thursday’s lunch. Thursday’s activities were centered around the death penalty, in the hope that students would feel inspired by their recent encounter with Sister Prejean.
LIFE Week concluded on Friday, when the theme was “Celebrate LIFE!” During lunchtime, the campus was filled with uplifting music, balloons, bubble machines, popcorn and laughter as Dons for Life aimed to bring smiles to the faces of their classmates. After an intense week of controversial discussions on campus, Dons for Life thought that it would be fitting to bring out the lighter side of life. The halls were filled with inspirational Post-it notes, written by the club members themselves.
The Southern Cross
Riley Hetherington is editor-in-chief of El Cid Online, the student publication of Cathedral
Catholic High School.