Berrigan, Daniel Joseph and Berrigan, Philip Francis
BERRIGAN, Daniel Joseph and Philip Francis BERRIGAN
BERRIGAN, Daniel Joseph (b. 9 May 1921 in Virginia, Minnesota), and Philip Francis BERRIGAN (b. 5 October 1923 in Two Harbors, Minnesota), first Roman Catholic priests to receive federal prison sentences for antiwar activities during the Vietnam conflict. Daniel was ordained as a Jesuit and became a poet, educator, and peace activist; his brother, a former Josephite, became an author and nonviolent resister.
Daniel and Philip Berrigan are the youngest of six sons born to Thomas W. Berrigan, a second-generation Irish American, and Frieda (Fromhart) Berrigan, whose family emigrated from Germany to the Midwest in the 1890s. Their father worked as a railroad engineer until he was fired because of his Socialist Party affiliation. In the early years of the Great Depression the family moved back to Thomas's hometown of Syracuse, New York, where he found work at the Niagara-Mohawk electrical plant. A devout Catholic, Thomas was active in local church council initiatives and in union politics.
The Berrigans lived on a ten-acre farm near Onondaga Lake. After graduating from high school in 1939, Daniel entered Saint Andrew-on-Hudson Seminary near Poughkeepsie, New York. For the next thirteen years he studied for the priesthood; he also earned a B.A. degree from the seminary in 1946 and a M.A. degree from Woodstock College in 1952. His seminary training was marked by work at a local mental hospital, teaching French, English, and Latin at Saint Peter's Preparatory School in Jersey City, New Jersey, and three years of theological studies at West College in Massachusetts. On 19 June 1952 he was ordained as a Jesuit. His primary ambition was to work in civil rights causes.
Philip spent one semester at Saint Michael's College in Toronto before being drafted into the army in 1943. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant while serving in Europe during World War II. When the war ended, he enrolled in 1946 at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and received his B.A. in 1950. After graduation he surprised his family and friends by announcing his intention to enter the priesthood. The racial hatred he saw during basic training was the deciding factor. He entered the Society of Saint Joseph, a Catholic missionary order "devoted to the spiritual care of black Americans."
Daniel and Philip's commitment to serving the dispossessed intensified during the 1950s. In 1953–1954 Daniel spent a year studying in a small town near Lyons, France, where he met members of the worker-priest movement who had taken factory jobs. In the autumn of 1954 he returned to New York and taught French and theology at Brooklyn Preparatory School for the next three years, while also working with groups such as the Young Christian Workers and the Walter Ferrell Guild promoting social justice for the poor, especially African Americans and Puerto Ricans. Daniel also wrote poetry, and in 1957 won the Lamont Poetry Award for his first collection, Time Without Number. That same year he was appointed as a professor of New Testament studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, where he remained until 1963, when older faculty members complained of his "'unprofessional' relationship to students and his daring innovations in liturgy."
Philip, meanwhile, was ordained as a Josephite priest in 1955. He then spent a year at an African-American church in Washington, D.C., and five years teaching at an African-American high school in New Orleans. In the early 1960s Philip joined civil rights groups like the Urban League and the Congress of Racial Equality. His New Orleans Catholic Sodality chapter constantly called for racial integration and equality. Perhaps to a greater degree than Daniel, he fully immersed himself into the civil rights struggles of that era. During his time in New Orleans, Philip earned two degrees: a B.S. from Loyola University in 1960 and an M.A. from Xavier University in 1963.
By the early 1960s the brother priests "began to practice a unified spiritual and political activism during the civil rights struggles." At the same time, they expanded their concerns to address the rising danger of nuclear war. They were deeply influenced by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton's view that "the country was slipping into a moral decline as a result of its indifference toward domestic demands for justice and its preoccupation with confronting the Soviet Union." In 1964 the Berrigans joined with other activists to form the Catholic Peace Fellowship, which was affiliated with the well-known religious-pacifist organization the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The two brothers perceived "the budding American Catholic peace movement as a new force in the Church's effort at reintegrating prayer and social action into the mature Christian life."
The mid-1960s marked a turning point in their activism. Influenced by the civil disobedience practices employed by Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker Movement, the Berrigans increasingly turned to active nonviolence in response to the escalation of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. When Daniel returned to the United States in 1964 after a year's sabbatical in Europe, he commented, "We were spoiling for a fight; we were determined not to yield before a poor and despised people, whose 'underdeveloped, non-white status' made them 'prime expendable targets'.… I began…, as loudly as I could, to say 'no' to the war." He started participating in antiwar protests, as well as fasting, picketing, and engaging in sit-ins and teach-ins as part of his civil disobedience actions. In the summer of 1965, much to the chagrin of the hawkish Francis Cardinal Spellman, Daniel helped to found the interdenominational Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam.
Philip, who was now working in an African-American parish in Baltimore, joined with local clerical and lay supporters in conducting a sit-in at Fort Myer, Virginia. He also began to turn toward a more dramatic form of protest: resistance. On 27 October 1967 he and three associates carried out a planned raid upon an inner-city draft board. The "Baltimore Four" entered the office and grabbed a number of records and poured containers of duck blood on Selective Service files.
Initially, Daniel had expressed serious reservations over the tactics of the Baltimore Four, although he had already been arrested and jailed during the October 1967 March on the Pentagon. But shortly after accompanying the historian and activist Howard Zinn to Hanoi, North Vietnam, to assist in obtaining the release of three U.S. pilots, Daniel joined his brother and seven other activists in destroying Selective Service files in Catonsville, Maryland. After alerting the media about their raid, on 17 May 1968 the "Catonsville Nine" entered the draft board and seized some 1-A files. They escaped to an adjacent parking lot, placed the documents in trash containers they had brought, and burned the files using homemade napalm while reciting the Lord's Prayer. The police rushed in to arrest them, and the raid gained national attention.
Daniel was now fully committed to a life of resistance, while on 7 April 1969 Philip secretly married one of the protestors, Elizabeth McAlister, a nun who taught art history at Marymount Manhattan College; the couple eventually had three children. The marriage was not formally announced until four years later, thus ending Philip's ministry as a Catholic priest. Scheduled to report to federal authorities on 9 April 1970 for their Catonsville activities, the brothers chose to go underground. Daniel had been sentenced to three years in jail; Philip was given three and one-half years, to run concurrently with the six years he had already begun serving for his first draft board incident. After only twelve days Philip, along with a companion from the Baltimore Four, was picked up by authorities. Daniel was later arrested on Block Island (off Rhode Island), having avoided capture for several months. The Berrigans were paroled in 1972.
Throughout the 1970s and the following decades, the Berrigans continued their antiwar resistance. Philip and Elizabeth joined other activists in establishing a resistance community, Jonah House, in Baltimore. Daniel and Philip were arrested numerous times for protest actions at weapons manufacturers and other sites and both were active in the antinuclear Plowshares movement. Along with living a life of nonviolent civil disobedience, the brothers have been prolific writers. Daniel has written more than fifty books and four films. Philip has authored six books and numerous articles. The Berrigan brothers began their adult lives devoted to God's calling in the ministry; by the 1960s they were transformed into nonviolent revolutionaries and remain so today.
A number of works written by the Berrigans offer insights into their words and deeds. Philip's No More Strangers (1965) discusses his shift from civil rights to antiwar activism. Daniel's To Dwell in Peace: An Autobiography (1987) represents an extension of his earlier No Bars to Manhood (1970). Philip's more recent autobiographical work is Fighting the Lamb's War: Skirmishes with the American Empire (1996). A compelling testimonial account of the actions of the Catonsville Nine is Daniel's The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (1970). A personal account of Philip Berrigan's and Elizabeth McAlister's antiwar activism is The Time's Discipline: The Beatitudes and Nuclear Resistance (1989). Francine du Plessix Gray, Divine Disobedience: Profiles in Catholic Radicalism (1970), represents a spirited account of their activism as does Patricia McNeal, Harder than War: Catholic Peacemaking in Twentieth-Century America (1992). A penetrating reflection on the dissident priests can be found in William Van Etten Casey and Philip Nobile, eds., The Berrigans (1971). The rise and fall of the Berrig an influenced Catholic resistance is examined in Charles A. Meconis, With Clumsy Grace: The American Catholic Left, 1961–1975 (1979). Murray Polner and Jim O'Grady, Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Lives and Times of Daniel and Philip Berrigan (1997), provides provocative and telling insights. An important bibliographical reference work is Anne Klejment, The Berrigans: Bibliography of Published Works by Daniel, Philip, and Elizabeth McAlister Berrigan (1979). Klejment has also written a useful essay, "The Berrigans: Revolutionary Christian Nonviolence," in Peace Heroes in Twentieth-Century America, ed. Charles DeBenedetti (1986).
Charles F. Howlett