[CUA Office of Public Affairs]           

                                                                                                                                                Oct. 28, 2003


CUA to Honor Death Penalty Foe Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J.

Best-selling Author Joins Six Others Receiving Awards at Oct. 31 Dinner


Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J.

Jane Haher

Francis Lorson

Sharon Bell Mathis

Robert O’Neil

Timothy Shriver

Kevin Ryan

Death penalty foe and best-selling author Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., will receive The Catholic University of America Alumni Association’s highest honor, the James Cardinal Gibbons Medal, during “An Evening of Celebration,” a dinner honoring CUA’s donors and Alumni Achievement Award recipients, to be held at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 31, at the university’s Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, 620 Michigan Ave., N.E.


Prejean’s book “Dead Man Walking,” a Pulitzer Prize-nominated account of her efforts to fight capital punishment, was made into a movie of the same name. The film was adapted by Tim Robbins and starred Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, who won an Academy Award® for her portrayal of Prejean.


One of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille, Prejean will be awarded the Gibbons Medal because she “has been a passionate defender of the sanctity of human life and has argued eloquently against the death penalty through her personal witness and her writings,” says the Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., president of CUA.


The Louisiana native currently is at work on an upcoming Random House book tracing the lives of two potentially innocent men who have been sentenced to death.


Former recipients of the Gibbons Medal include President John F. Kennedy, Supreme Court Justice Anthonin Scalia and actress Helen Hayes. Created in 1947, the medal is given to individuals who may or may not be alumni, but have served the United States, the Catholic Church or Catholic University with great distinction.


Catholic University also will honor five distinguished alumni who have been chosen to receive the Alumni Achievement Award for outstanding accomplishments in their respective fields.


A sixth alumnus, Kevin Ryan, B.A. 1989, is this year’s Young Alumni Merit Award Winner. He recently was named New Jersey’s first child advocate, heading a new independent public agency charged with monitoring all state offices that serve children at risk of abuse or neglect.


To follow is a list of this year’s other Alumni Achievement Award recipients:


Jane Haher, B.A. 1962, chief of plastic, reconstructive and hand surgery at Saint Vincent’s Hospital in New York City. The Manhattan resident has spent three decades in her field and today heads a hospital staff of 24 plastic surgeons, in addition to teaching at New York Medical College and maintaining a private practice.


Francis Lorson, A.B. 1966, J.D. 1971, former deputy chief clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court. Serving as the court’s  “gatekeeper” for 30 years until his retirement in 2002, the Washington, D.C., resident advised petitioners on procedure, decided which cases were ready to be presented, and supervised the admissions of attorneys to the Supreme Court bar.


Sharon Bell Mathis, M.S.L.S. 1975, is an award-winning author recognized for her contributions to cultural diversity in children’s literature. The Fort Washington, Md., resident was awarded a Newberry Honor and Coretta Scott King Award for her books, “The Hundred Penny Box” and “Ray Charles,” respectively.


Robert O’Neil, M.C.E. 1970, president emeritus of Parsons Engineering, a former chief engineer for the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority and a member of the National Academy of Engineers. During his 42-year career with Parsons, the Rockville, Md., resident helped design the Washington, D.C., Metrorail system and the 22-mile Euro English Channel Tunnel Project linking France and the United Kingdom.


Timothy Shriver, M.A. 1989, chairman and CEO of Special Olympics, a year-round training and athletic competition program for children and adults with mental retardation. Prior to his tenure with the Special Olympics, the Chevy Chase, Md., resident launched two programs to support youth at risk of substance abuse, violence and teen pregnancy: the New Haven, Conn., Public Schools Social Development Project and the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, a national organization he continues to chair.


The awards dinner is one of the highlights of the Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 Homecoming Weekend at Catholic University. Other events include a 3 p.m. discussion with students and Prejean in Caldwell Auditorium on Oct. 31, which will be followed by a question-and-answer session and a 4:15 p.m. book signing. Families also will be taking their children to a 9 a.m. book reading by Mathis on Nov. 1 in the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, Room 303.


A homecoming Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m., Nov. 2, at CUA’s St. Vincent’s Chapel.


NOTE TO MEDIA: Coverage is invited, but first please contact Chris Harrison or Victor Nakas in the Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.






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Revised: 10/28/2003

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The Catholic University of America,
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