Fordham University will award an honorary doctorate of humane letters to Sister Helen Prejean, a leading global activist against capital punishment, and to the University’s former board chairman, Robert D. Daleo, at its commencement ceremony at the Rose Hill campus on May 18. 

The commencement speaker, Joseph P. Kennedy III, the U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland for economic affairs, will receive an honorary doctorate of laws. 

Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun with the Congregation of St. Joseph, is known around the globe for her writing and activism against capital punishment, which has influenced Catholic Church doctrine on executions. A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, she was living and working with the poor in nearby New Orleans when she witnessed two executions that inspired her to write a book exposing the realities of capital punishment. 

‘Dead Man Walking’

That book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, published in 1993, became a national bestseller and inspired an Academy Award-winning movie starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, as well as a play and an opera. It sparked a national debate about capital punishment. 

Prejean began a speaking career that continues today, and she made contact with two popes—John Paul II and Francis—who later revised the Catholic catechism to include stronger language against capital punishment. At the time Dead Man Walking was published, capital punishment had widespread support in America, but today it has become much less common in the states where it is still allowed. 

In 2023, Prejean spoke at Fordham University in advance of the opera based on Dead Man Walking opening at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Bob Daleo, a Leader During Pivotal Times at Fordham 

Robert “Bob” Daleo, a 1972 graduate of the Gabelli School of Business, grew up in the Bronx and built his career in the news and publishing industry. After serving in financial and operational roles at McGraw Hill and Automatic Data Processing, he joined Thomson Newspapers in 1994 as senior vice president and chief financial officer. He went on to serve in a number of senior roles at its parent company, Thomson Corporation. Daleo retired as vice chair of Thomson Reuters in 2012, around the time he was becoming more active in giving back to Fordham.

After serving as a founding member of the President’s Council, he joined the Board of Trustees in 2008 and began his 11-year tenure as chairman in 2012. As board chairman, he played a key leadership role in several University initiatives: developing long-term strategy, managing the budgetary shocks stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, renewing Fordham’s efforts toward racial justice on campus, and selecting a new University president to follow Joseph M. McShane, S.J., now president emeritus. 

He and his wife, Linda Daleo, have supported scholarships and many other priorities at Fordham, as well as other nonprofits, including Cristo Rey New York High School and the New Jersey Community Development Corporation. The Daleos were presented with the Fordham Founder’s Award in 2023.


Chris Gosier is a senior editor in the marketing and communications department and associate editor of FORDHAM magazine. He can be reached at (646) 312-8267 or