Daniel Berrigan

 NLN Dan Berrigan 2008  Berrigan brothers cover of Time Magazine  NLN Dan Berrigan 2008

Note: NLN Dan Berrigan 2008 // Berrigan brothers cover of Time Magazine // NLN Dan Berrigan 2008



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Daniel Berrigan

The Reverend
Daniel Berrigan

Berrigan in 2008
Born Daniel Joseph Berrigan
(1921-05-09)May 9, 1921
Virginia, Minnesota, U.S.
Died April 30, 2016(2016-04-30) (aged 94)
The Bronx, New York City, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Jesuit priest, peace activist, university educator
Known for Anti-Vietnam War activism
Relatives Philip Berrigan (brother)

Daniel Joseph Berrigan SJ (May 9, 1921  April 30, 2016) was an American Jesuit priest, anti-war activist, and poet.

Like many others during the 1960s, Berrigan's active protest against the Vietnam War earned him both scorn and admiration, but it was his participation in the Catonsville Nine that made him famous. It also landed him on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's "most wanted list" (the first-ever priest on the list), on the cover of Time magazine, and in prison. His own particular form of militancy and radical spirituality in the service of social and political justice was significant enough, at that time, to "shape the tactics of resistance to the Vietnam War" in the United States.

For the rest of his life, Berrigan remained one of the US's leading anti-war activists. In 1980, he founded the Plowshares Movement, an anti-nuclear protest group, that put him back into the national spotlight. He was also an award-winning and prolific author of some 50 books, a teacher, and a university educator.

Early life

Berrigan was born in Virginia, Minnesota, the son of Frieda Berrigan (née Fromhart), who was of German descent, and Thomas Berrigan, a second-generation Irish Catholic and active trade union member. He was the fifth of six sons. His youngest brother was fellow peace activist Philip Berrigan.

At age 5, Berrigan's family moved to Syracuse, New York. In 1946, Berrigan earned a bachelor's degree from St. Andrew-on-Hudson, a Jesuit seminary in Hyde Park, New York. In 1952 he received a master's degree from Woodstock College in Baltimore, Maryland.

Berrigan was devoted to the Catholic Church throughout his youth. He joined the Jesuits directly out of high school in 1939 and was ordained to the priesthood on June 19, 1952.


Berrigan taught at St. Peter's Preparatory School in Jersey City from 1946 to 1949.

In 1954, Berrigan was assigned to teach theology at the Jesuit Brooklyn Preparatory School. In 1957 he was appointed professor of New Testament studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. The same year, he won the Lamont Prize for his book of poems, Time Without Numbers. He developed a reputation as a religious radical, working actively against poverty and on changing the relationship between priests and lay people. While at Le Moyne, he founded its International House.

While on a sabbatical from Le Moyne in 1963, Berrigan traveled to Paris and met French Jesuits who criticized the social and political conditions in Indochina. Taking inspiration from this, he and his brother Philip founded the Catholic Peace Fellowship, a group which organized protests against in the war in Vietnam.

On October 28, 1965, Berrigan, along with the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, founded an organization known as Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam (CALCAV). The organization, founded at the Church Center for the United Nations, was joined by the likes of Dr. Hans Morgenthau, Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr., and the Rev. Philip Berrigan, S.J., among many others. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who delivered his 1967 speech Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence under sponsorship from CALCAV, served as the national co-chairman of the organization.

From 1966 to 1970, Berrigan was the assistant director of the Cornell University United Religious Work (CURW), the umbrella organization for all religious groups on campus, including the Cornell Newman Club (later the Cornell Catholic Community), eventually becoming the group's pastor.

Berrigan at one time or another held faculty positions or ran programs at Union Theological Seminary, Loyola University in New Orleans, Columbia, Cornell, and Yale. His longest tenure was at Fordham (a Jesuit university located in the Bronx), where for a brief time he also served as poet-in-residence.

Berrigan appeared briefly in the 1986 Warner Brothers film The Mission, playing a Jesuit priest. He also served as a consultant on the film.

Protests against the Vietnam War

But how shall we educate men to goodness, to a sense of one another, to a love of the truth? And more urgently, how shall we do this in a bad time? — Berrigan, quoted on the cover of TIME Magazine (Jan. 25, 1971)

Berrigan, his brother and Josephite priest Philip Berrigan, and Trappist monk Thomas Merton founded an interfaith coalition against the Vietnam War and wrote letters to major newspapers arguing for an end to the war. In 1967, Berrigan witnessed the public outcry that followed from the arrest of his brother Philip, for pouring blood on draft records as part of the Baltimore Four. Philip was sentenced to six years in prison for defacing government property. The fallout he had to endure from these many interventions, including his support for prisoners of war and, in 1968, seeing firsthand the conditions on the ground in Vietnam, further radicalized Berrigan, or at least strengthened his determination to resist American military imperialism.

Berrigan traveled to Hanoi with Howard Zinn during the Tet Offensive in January 1968 to "receive" three American airmen, the first American prisoners of war released by the North Vietnamese since the U.S. bombing of that nation had begun.

In 1968, he signed the Writers and Editors War Tax Protest pledge, vowing to refuse to make tax payments in protest of the Vietnam War. In the same year, he was interviewed in the anti-Vietnam War documentary film In the Year of the Pig, and later that year became involved in radical non-violent protest.

Catonsville Nine

"The short fuse of the American left is typical of the highs and lows of American emotional life. It is very rare to sustain a movement in recognizable form without a spiritual base."

Daniel Berrigan, on the 40th anniversary of the Catonsville Nine (2008)

Main article: Catonsville Nine

Daniel Berrigan and his brother Philip, along with seven other Catholic protesters, used homemade napalm to destroy 378 draft files in the parking lot of the Catonsville, Maryland, draft board on May 17, 1968. This group, which came to be known as the Catonsville Nine, issued a statement after the incident:

We confront the Roman Catholic Church, other Christian bodies, and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country's crimes. We are convinced that the religious bureaucracy in this country is racist, is an accomplice in this war, and is hostile to the poor.

Berrigan was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison, but went into hiding with the help of fellow radicals prior to imprisonment. While on the run, Berrigan was interviewed for Lee Lockwood's documentary The Holy Outlaw. The FBI apprehended him at the home of William Stringfellow and Anthony Towne and sent him to the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut where he served his three-year term.

In retrospect, the trial of the Catonsville Nine was significant because it "altered resistance to the Vietnam War, moving activists from street protests to repeated acts of civil disobedience, including the burning of draft cards." As The New York Times noted in its obituary, Berrigan's actions helped "shape the tactics of opposition to the Vietnam War."

Plowshares Movement

Main article: Plowshares Movement

On September 9, 1980, Berrigan, his brother Philip, and six others (the "Plowshares Eight") began the Plowshares Movement. They trespassed onto the General Electric nuclear missile facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, where they damaged nuclear warhead nose cones and poured blood onto documents and files. They were arrested and charged with over ten different felony and misdemeanor counts. On April 10, 1990, after ten years of appeals, Berrigan's group was re-sentenced and paroled for up to 23 and 1/2 months in consideration of time already served in prison. Their legal battle was re-created in Emile de Antonio's 1982 film In the King of Prussia, which starred Martin Sheen and featured appearances by the Plowshares Eight as themselves.

Consistent life ethic

I see an 'interlocking directorate' of death that binds the whole culture. That is, an unspoken agreement that we will solve our problems by killing people in various ways; a declaration that certain people are expendable, outside the pale. A decent society should no more have an abortion clinic than the Pentagon." — interview by Lucien Miller, Reflections, vol. 2, no. 4 (Fall 1979)

Berrigan endorsed a consistent life ethic, a morality based on a holistic reverence for life. As a member of the Rochester, New York-area consistent life ethic advocacy group Faith and Resistance Community, he protested via civil disobedience against abortion at a new Planned Parenthood clinic in 1991.

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