River of Fire By Helen Prejean

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 territory (the “Special World”) and is birthed into a true champion through various trials and challenges.
  • The Return Act: the Hero returns in triumph.

        River of Fire is the story of Sr. Helen Prejean’s life’s journey, one that embraces all stages of the Campbell’s Hero.

    She describes her life from it’s beginning and all the stages of the Hero’s Journey is present: from a life of privilege in the upper middle class white world, and that of  the traditional  Roman Catholic Church, to the beginning of her awakening to the reality of  oppression and poverty when  she discovered   “The integral to that good news (the Gospel) is that the poor are to be the poor no longer”; leading her to work in with the poorest of the poor, and finally her encounter with a death row inmate and her opposition to the  capitol punishment. 

     In the latter part of her life Helen stands as one who has encountered the love of the Cosmic Christ, a love that transcends, all artificial boundaries, and is summed up in the words of St. John of the Cross, “In the evening of life we will be judged by love.”

    Our own experience with Sr. Helen has brought us into contact with this  Hero.

    Several years ago on Haight Street, we observed her as she visited with our homeless youth; she met them where they were, as an equal on the journey. The symbol of that acceptance was when she was offered dro, 420, and she smoked with them without judgement; secondly, that night she received the Eucharist from a woman Episcopal priest, and finally three years later calling us as we faced surgery.

    River of Fire is the story of a Hero, one who represents the Cosmic Christ in all of his fullness. Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!


Fr. River Damien Sims, sfw, D.Min., D.S.T.

P.O. Box 642656

San Francisco, CA 94164


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