This Advent, Ignatian writers from across the Jesuit Conference are sharing 25 days of reflections on Ignatian heroes. You can receive these reflections directly in your inbox by signing up here.
Day 10: Helen Prejean
By Michelle Lesher, SSJ
I remember fondly much about the social portions of high school. However, sad to say, there are precious few remembered assignments, with one notable exception. In my junior year, I wrote a particularly lengthy moral issue paper. I cannot recall precise details. Did I choose the topic? Was it assigned? Regardless, I investigated “capital punishment.” Lucky for me, that 1995-1996 school year saw the release of a movie portraying a Catholic sister dealing with this very topic! Enter Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ.
Seeing “Dead Man Walking” and “meeting” Helen Prejean at an impressionable age impacted me deeply. Her imperfect journey toward being one who simultaneously works with murder victims’ families, counsels death row inmates, educates the public, and campaigns against the death penalty, inspired and stretched me. Her work apprised me of the unfathomable complexities of “life issues.”
The most captivating part of Sister Helen’s story is that the moment that changed her life’s trajectory, the invitation to write to a death row inmate, came to her unexpectedly; she needed only to respond. That one seemingly simple yes changed both the course of Helen’s life and those whose minds and hearts she has helped expand.
Isn’t this Advent’s call — to keep our eyes open to the ways that God comes now? Isn’t it all about believing that we, too, are meant to put flesh on God? What if Helen hadn’t been open and awake enough to offer that yes? Attentive at every turn to God’s call, she responded with her life, incarnating Christ anew. What a model of Ignatian discernment!
I imagine that Helen’s life as a Sister of Saint Joseph, a congregation grounded in Ignatian spirituality, strengthens her belief that God is everywhere. From her loving union with God, she works to be a healing presence (contemplative in action). Helen’s actions remind us that everyone is created in God’s image, thus worthy of profound care (cura personalis).
Many years after writing that paper, I also entered the Sisters of Saint Joseph. That “simple” assignment certainly abides in the lineage of my vocation journey. Amazing, the reach of our yesses!
Reflection: What unexpected invitations have summoned you to incarnate Christ anew?
Sister Michelle Lesher is a Sister of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia currently serving as a novice director for the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and the Formation Director for her Congregation. Michelle has a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and a D.Min. from Fordham University. Her concentration is Spirituality and Spiritual Direction. Michelle is passionate about accompanying persons on their journey of faith.