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River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  335 ratings  ·  86 reviews
"River of Fire is Sister Helen's story leading up to her acclaimed book Dead Man Walking--it is thought-provoking, informative, and inspiring. Read it and it will set your heart ablaze!"--Mark Shriver, author of Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis

The nation's foremost leader in efforts to abolish the death penalty shares the story of her growth as a spiritual
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published August 13th 2019 by Random House
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Average rating 4.25  · 
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 ·  335 ratings  ·  86 reviews

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Let me preface this by admitting that I am an atheist. That said, I admire so highly those who have a strong faith and especially those who feel so strongly that they take orders. I knew a fellow student in college who went into the Poor Clares after graduation, and she was so very sure that she was making the best choice for her. It was incredible to witness.

What I didn’t realize until reading this book was how much the Catholic Church has changed in since Vatican II. I’ve studied a great deal
Apr 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
River of Fire is about uncertainty, conviction and a burning desire to succeed with purpose and zeal. It illustrates how to live a spiritual life with awareness of the sufferings in our world. It is stimulating, illuminating, uplifting and witty. I highly recommend it! Thanks to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for the advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.
The Kawaii Slartibartfast
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I received a copy of River of Fire from Random House Publishing Group through Netgalley.

One of the most noticable things about this book is the compassion in which it is written.

This is all that happened before Dead Man Walking (one of my all-time favorite books.)

I am not at all religious but enjoyed it very much.
Russell Sanders
Aug 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Don’t get me wrong. I have the utmost admiration and respect for Sister Helen Prejean. Her life has been dedicated to enlightenment, to alieving human suffering, to understanding all among us who are downtrodden, and to love for her God. Her memoir River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey tells of all of this, as we join her from age 18 to age 79. She is a remarkable soul in a world where we need more remarkable souls. I have no doubt that I would revel in getting to sit with her and discuss her ...more
I had a hard time relating to her voice, she seemed to be a bit all over the place with her feelings and thoughts. That said, the overall message of "it's not enough to say things when we should be doing things" was good though and it was neat to read post Vatican II through the eyes of someone who was there for all the upheaval, drama and changes that ensued. I probably wouldn't read it again though, like I said I had a hard time connecting to her.
This book makes me really uncomfortable. A girl goes to the convent at 18. She lives through Vatican II. She loves it as it opens up so much to her. She grows through her life and becomes what I must call a social justice warrior.

She is not a fan of rules and talk of sin, self denial, and the cross.

I can’t help but think she is missing a big part of the gospel. Yes we are to care for the least among us. But first comes love of God and giving Him thanks and praise. I think of Teresa of Calcutta
Sep 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book wasn't entirely what I was expecting. I have the greatest admiration and respect for Sister Helen Prejean and am glad that she has been so vocal about her opposition to the death penalty. She has also been a fierce advocate for the inclusion of women and LGBTQ people in the Catholic Church. She is someone that I truly admire.
So, I came into this book with some great expectations about it. I had not read any of her previous books. And I knew only the bare minimum about her. So, for me,
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What even possessed me to choose this book? Not my genre, but I picked it up on a whim. I could not put it down.

I went through 12 years of Catholic school, and along with my 5 brothers and sisters, am no longer a practicing Catholic. But my life has been so influenced (good and bad) by the experience of growing up Catholic: my parents’ strong faith, moral compass, and compassion for the oppressed; vs. the guilt, confusion, and neurosis from trying to obey the strict rules of the church,
Aug 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What can I say? I devoured this book in three days, but I'm sure that I will reread it, perhaps more than once.

I was moved, appalled, and deeply troubled by "Dead Man Walking", perhaps Sister Helen's most famous book. This autobiography is very different. To me, the one downside is the present-tense narrative, which sometimes gets confusing as Sister Helen switches back and forth in time. But this is more than made up for by the book's great strengths: her simple, clear voice and her honesty.
Lyndsey Thackston
Oct 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Nuns are total badasses.
Jt O'Neill
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a remarkable memoir by Sr. Helen Prejean. She is probably best known for her book Dead Man Walking and her relentless work on behalf of prison reform, especially her work with prisoners on death row. But this book is not a retelling of Dead Man Walking. Not at all. It is an engaging account of Sr. Helen's early life journey and her gradual awakening and discovery of her life's real work.

I grew up immersed in Catholicism, with all of the kid curiosity about nuns and that whole way of
Berni Phillips
Sep 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religious
Sr. Helen, the "Dead Man Walking" nun, gives us an honest and frank autobiography here. You may think that as a nun and a national figure, she is literally holier than thou, but she spells out her path from a naive pre-Vatican II high school girl entering the novitiate, through her years as a professed sister and how she found her eventual calling.

It's refreshing and a bit of a shock to read how natural she is and she lays out all the facets of white privilege and bias she grew up with as a
John Newton
Sep 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoirs
This isn't a spoiler, but just an FYI in case you haven't read any reviews. This book covers Prejean's life up to the point when she begins her work with death-row prisoners. It ends where Dead Man Walking starts, so if that is the aspect of Prejean's life that interests you most, her other two books might be better choices.

Here, Prejean describes her life from childhood (though mostly from when she first enters a convent) up until the change in the focus of her calling, from one that is
Sep 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
It’s important to know that this memoir focuses on the author’s life up to the beginning of her work with death row prisoners, which she discusses in her other books. I admire her life of service and advocacy, but it was hard to read her condescending tone towards her younger Catholic self, Catholics of that time, and Christian and Catholic foundational beliefs. She even comments that she had planned on being more charitable in how she wrote about her young, well-intentioned self, but oh well. ...more
Kelly Brill
Sep 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
First I heard Terry Gross interview Sr. Helen Prejean - so when I read the book, I could hear her lively voice through the pages...this memoir chronicles Prejean's adult life in the period before Dead Man Walking. She entered the religious life a few years before Vatican II, so she describes the "before and after". Life as a nun pre-Vatican II was strict and in many ways confining, especially for someone as spirited as Prejean. (It's priceless to hear her tell Terry Gross about the time she and ...more
Laura Cee
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Special thanks to Random House and Netgalley for the ARC of this memoir in exchange for an honest review.

Honestly, I am not quite sure how I ended up with a copy of this memoir, but I am oh so glad I did! River of Fire is an absolute delight. The writing style is so conversational, it feels as if you are becoming reacquainted with an old friend. Prejean not only shares her memories of her spiritual journey, she provides a layman's explain of the evolution of the Catholic faith. She guides the
Sep 25, 2019 added it
Absolutely loved this book! A must read for everyone. It reads like your chatting with your best friend through all the trials and tribulations of life.
Sister Helen Prejean is a hoot, among other things. Her journey before DEAD MAN WALKING. Don't deny yourself this read.
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I attended Catholic school from kindergarten through 12th grade, and was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph (the same order Sr. Helen Prejean belongs to) throughout high school in the aftermath of Vatican II and all the radical changes going on in the Church.

So you will understand if I say that I found Sr. Helen's story absolutely riveting. Her feisty take on the tenets of submissiveness and total unquestioning obedience to authority were a revelation. I am amazed that she lasted throughout her
Mary Beth Miranda
Sep 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Fr. River
Aug 29, 2019 rated it really liked it

A Reflection on River of Fire By Sr. Helen Prejean

The Hero's Journey is a classic story structure that's shared by stories worldwide. Coined by academic Joseph Campbell in 1949, it refers to a wide-ranging category of tales in which a character ventures out to get what they need, faces conflict, and ultimately triumphs over adversity.

Here are the three stages of the hero’s journey:

The Departure Act: the Hero leaves the Ordinary World.
The Initiation Act: the Hero ventures into unknown
Bryon Butler
Sep 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I give this book five stars as it succeeds in its endeavor to share, memoir wise, important aspects of Prejean's life up to her road towards Dead Man Walking. I saw River of Fire at a bookstore, and was impressed enough to begin reading it and listen to Prejean on a C-Span episode. Her humor, wisdom, frankness and gravitas show through, both in the episode and in the pages of the book.
Helpful also, for a protestant, is her discussion of young nun-life during the Vatican II paradigm shift of the
Nov 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is Sr. Helen's autobiography of her life up until her work began in the anti-death penalty ministry. She portrays her childhood, her entry into the convent (which she describes with such love and happiness for her life choice that it seems a most appealing committment), her early work assignments, education and awakening to social justice issues. Sr. Helen's writing is very lively and engaging. I really liked reading her perspective of the changes after Vatican II. In some ways, it seems ...more
Sep 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I received a free copy of this book from the author. I had the opportunity to review or not.

I did not read Sister Helen Prejean’s first book, “Dead Man Walking,” so her writing is new to me. I found the writing somewhat off putting, but not enough to put down the book. Her story was more compelling than her literary prowess. Helen takes us into her novitiate as an 18-year-old girl willing to put herself into the hands of the nuns of St. Joseph Congregation where she is taught self-discipline
Oct 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
If you've heard the name "Helen Prejean," you likely know her because you've seen the film or read Dead Man Walking. If you've not seen it, maybe you've heard of her in relation to Amnesty International or any other organization working to end state-sponsored executions.

I like that Sister Helen is candid and authentic, acknowledging her own blind spots and documenting her spiritual growth over the course of her lifetime. I love the way she has grown to understand that her value as a follower of
Laureen Nowakowski
Sep 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was recommended on Twitter by a favorite author of mine, Fr. James Martin. He said it is her story of being a nun and that there is a lot of humor. That grabbed my attention! What I liked most about the book is that I found out so much about what it was like to be a nun, from the 1950s to the present. Sr. Helen grew up in Louisiana to a comfortable white family and a great deal of her life, even in the convent, was spent with white people in the suburbs. Well into her nunhood she discovers ...more
Elizabeth Barreca
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Not only is this such a vivid dialogue about the changes of Vatican II and it’s influences on religious life, but an autobiography of such a real and relatable woman. From her development as a young novice of 18 years old, to her perspectives of being among the first groups of sisters who studied theology after Vatican II, and to even her first aversion to “social justice camp of Sisters,” we journey with Sister Helen Prejean in her growth. We eventually get to hear of her “ah ha” moment of ...more
Sep 25, 2019 rated it liked it
One woman's spiritual journey. Helen was born into a very insular Catholic culture.
She is also extraordinarily truthful with herself and others. As a result, she faces challenges head-on which move her through an ever-broadening personal soulscape.
Her life mirrors the awakening that Catholicism has gone through in her lifetime. (She is eighty at the time of writing this memoir.)
American Catholics will experience instant recognition especially of the first part of the journey. What she does
Oct 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Having attended 12 years of Catholic schools, this book brought on some serious episodes of deja vu. I'm only a few years younger than the author so I remember well the Church as it was prior to Vatican II and Pope John XXIII. I tell people with no experience of the old-time Catholic education, that I went to school in the middle ages. When Prejean entered the convent at 18 it truly was the middle ages. Unlike others, my experience with the nuns was really positive. They were not just "holding ...more
David Findley
Sep 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a non-Catholic I was amazed how Vatican II changed the life of those involved in the life of the Church. Sister Prejean went straight from a sheltered, suburban life into a traditional order of nuns. With the changes brought about by Vatican II, she gradually transformed herself from blind acceptance of authoritarian teachings to what I would consider a more adult belief system. After additional educational opportunities and exposure to new perspectives, she went from a contemplative life, ...more
Sue Wakula
Nov 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
This memoir is her journey to social-justice awareness and into Dead Man Walking.

Sr. Helen and I share a similar background. Her story is a bit more privileged than mine but still, I was raised as a white woman in safety and received a high-quality education. She is very honest and open here, pointing to her privilege and lack of awareness regarding the plight of the poor, until the "ah-ha" moment. I, too, had an awakening regarding the poor and disenfranchised in this country and world. I
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Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ (b. April 21, 1939, Baton Rouge, Louisiana) is a vowed Roman Catholic religious sister, one of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille, who has become a leading American advocate for the abolition of the death penalty.

Her efforts began in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1981, through a correspondence she maintained with a convicted murderer, Elmo Patrick Sonnier, who was
“...there's no such thing as being apolitical. If we sit back and do nothing, leaving all the policy making to others, that is, in fact, a position of support for the status quo, which is a very political stance to take.” 2 likes
“I guess when you're not awake, you're not awake. Waking up to the suffering of people who are different from us is a long process, and has a whole lot to do with what community we belong to and whose consciousness and life experiences impact our own on a daily basis. I have a hunch I'm going to be waking up until the moment I die.” 2 likes
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