Daniel Berrigan

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Berrigan in 2008
BORNDaniel Joseph Berrigan
May 9, 1921
Virginia, Minnesota, United States
DIEDApril 30, 2016 (aged 94)
The BronxNew York City, U.S.
OCCUPATIONJesuit priest, peace activist, university educator
KNOWN FORAnti-Vietnam War activism
Anti-nuclear activism
RELATIVESPhilip Berrigan (brother)

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

Berrigan’s active protest against the Vietnam War earned him both scorn and admiration, especially regarding his association with the Catonsville Nine.[1][2] It also landed him on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “most wanted list” (the first-ever priest on the list),[3] on the cover of Time magazine,[4] and in prison.[5]

For the rest of his life, Berrigan remained one of the United States’ leading anti-war activists.[6] In 1980, he founded the Plowshares movement, an anti-nuclear protest group, that put him back into the national spotlight.[7] He was also an award-winning and prolific author of some 50 books, a teacher, and a university educator.[5] He, along with his activist brother Philip Berrigan, was nominated in 1998 for the Nobel Peace Prize by 1976 laureate Mairead Maguire.

Early life

Berrigan wasSuperscript text 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.[8] He was the fifth of six sons.[5] His youngest brother was fellow peace activist Philip Berrigan.[9]

At age 5, Berrigan’s family moved to Syracuse, New York.[10] In 1946, Berrigan earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Andrew-on-Hudson, a Jesuit seminary in Hyde Park, New York.[11] In 1952 he received a master’s degree from Woodstock College in Baltimore, Maryland.[5]

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.[5][12]


Berrigan taught at St. Peter’s Preparatory School in Jersey City from 1946 to 1949.[13]

In 1954, Berrigan was assigned to teach French and theology at the Jesuit Brooklyn Preparatory School.[14][15][16][a] 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 Number. 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.[18]

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 that organized protests against the war in Vietnam.[19]

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, and the Rev. Philip Berrigan, 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.[20]

Berrigan at one time or another held faculty positions or ran programs at Union Theological SeminaryLoyola University New OrleansColumbiaCornell, and Yale.[5] 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.[5][21][22]

Berrigan appeared briefly in the 1986 Warner Bros. film The Mission, playing a Jesuit priest. He also served as a consultant on the film.[23][24]


Vietnam War era

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 (Jan. 25, 1971)[25]

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.[26] 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,[27] further radicalized Berrigan, or at least strengthened his determination to resist American military imperialism.[28][29]

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.[30][31]

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.[32] 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.

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