Berrigan brothers

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Berrigan, Daniel (1921) and Philip (1923). The Berrigan brothers—Daniel, a Jesuit priest, and Philip, of the Josephite order—led the antiwar and antidraft movements during the Vietnam War. Philip served in the U.S. Army in World War II, becoming a priest in 1955. Daniel, the intellectual and theologian, ordained in 1952, complements his brother's activism, acquired in assignments to black parishes in New Orleans and Baltimore.

In May 1968, the two brothers, along with seven other Catholic protesters, burned the records of the Catonsville, Maryland, draft board with homemade napalm. Their arrest, trial, and sentence to 3 years in prison propelled the Berrigans to national prominence. They helped found the Catholic resistance movement: estimates for draft board raids range from 53 to 250. Having lost their appeals, Philip reported to jail, in April 1970, but Daniel became a fugitive. Captured by FBI agents in August, he joined his brother in Danbury Prison. In January 1971, the Nixon administration indicted the Berrigans and others for conspiracy, including bizarre charges of planning to kidnap Henry Kissinger and blow up heating tunnels in federal buildings in Washington, D.C. After sixty hours of deliberation, the jury could not reach a verdict, forcing the judge to declare a mistrial.

After Vietnam, the brothers continued the Catholic resistance with a new focus on nuclear disarmament. In September 1980, they led a group into a GE plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, that damaged the nose cones for Mark 12A nuclear warheads and poured blood on company records. They were sentenced to 3 to 10 years, but their appeal stretched across the 1980s; eventually the case was brought before a lenient judge who sentenced them to twenty‐three months' probation.

The Berrigan brothers' radical antiwar activism reflected increased alienation from government and American society.
[See also Peace and Antiwar Movements.]


Francine du Plessix Gray , Divine Disobedience: Profiles in Catholic Radicalism, 1970.
Patricia McNeal , Harder Than War: Catholic Peacemaking in Twentieth‐century America, 1992.

Patricia McNeal

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Berrigan brothers (bĕr´Ĭgən), American Catholic priests, writers, and social activists.

Daniel Berrigan, 1921–, b. Syracuse, N.Y., was trained in the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and ordained in 1952. Travels in France exposed him to the worker-priest movement, and after teaching at secondary schools and at LeMoyne College, he devoted himself in the 1960s to civil rights and antipoverty work, eventually becoming a leading activist against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. His poetry had meanwhile appeared in several volumes, including Time Without Number (1957).

Philip Francis Berrigan, 1923–2002, b. Two Harbors, Minn., served in Europe in World War II, grad. from Holy Cross College (1950), and was ordained (1955) in the Josephite order. After holding pastoral and teaching positions, in the 1960s he turned to peace activism. In 1968 the Berrigans were arrested for destroying Selective Service files in Catonsville, Md. While in hiding, Daniel published a play, The Trial of the Catonsville 9 (1969). Both Berrigans served prison terms, and Philip secretly married Sister Elizabeth McAlister, a fellow activist; the two were later excommunicated.

After being paroled in 1972, both brothers continued their involvement in such actions as "Plowshares" protests at weapons plants. They were repeatedly arrested and imprisoned, and continued to write prolifically.

See Daniel Berrigan's autobiographical To Dwell in Peace (1987), Night Flight to Hanoi (1968), The Dark Night of Resistance (1971), and his prison memoir, Lights On in the House of the Dead (1974); Philip Berrigan's autobiographical Fighting the Lamb's War (1997), Prison Journals of a Revolutionary Priest (1970), and Widen the Prison Gates (1973). See also biog. of Daniel by R. Curtis (1974); S. Halpert and T. Murray, eds., Witness of the Berrigans (1972); M. Polner and J. O'Grady, Disarmed and Dangerous (1997).