The Berrigans: Those Troublesome Priests

The Berrigans continued to be troublemakers, including in the anti-nukes movement.

When I first went to college in 1971, I was pulling away from my “traditional” Christian roots. At the same time, I was fascinated by two Catholic priests, the Berrigans, who were fighting against the Vietnam War in provocative ways.

Separately and together, Philip and Daniel Berrigan, with a coterie other, mostly Catholic, protesters, were involved in several antiwar activities. The Berrigans and seven others:

…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.”

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.”

And that surely included me, as I was one of 12 people who was arrested at an antiwar demonstration at IBM Poughkeepsie. What I failed to mention in that account, or in its follow-up were a few details.

Earlier that week in 1972 was a demonstration near the Kingston draft board, which I wrote about. What I FAILED to mention was that I slipped my draft card under the door. I realize that burning it would have been safer (smarter), but it was a Kilroy was here moment, which probably helped get me jammed up with my draft board later that year.

The other thing I just didn’t remember is that one of the books I lent friend Alice while she was in jail for eight days was The Berrigans, “the famous special issue of HOLY CROSS QUARTERLY with original articles…Now with additional essays.” It excluded only a piece by Father Andrew Greeley, who was critical of the Berrigan brothers and would not allow his piece to be reprinted.

I know that this was one of the books because I still have my copy. “Alice” is written in pencil on the front cover, and her full name printed in pen on the inside front cover.

Clearly, the Berrigans were huge influences in my life. Philip Berrigan and his wife, former nun Elizabeth McAlister, came to my college in the mid-1970s; they married in 1970, although the marriage was not revealed until 1973, as he was still a priest.

The Berrigans continued to be troublemakers, including in the anti-nukes movement. Philip died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 79. Daniel died on April 30, 2016 at the age of 94.

Daniel and Philip Berrigan, c. 1967
Daniel and Philip Berrigan, c. 1967

Daniel Berrigan’s mea culpa

“His World Was Always Filled with Such Beauty”: Frida Berrigan on Her Uncle, Priest Daniel Berrigan

Frida Berrigan: Give Your Children a Conscience Instead of Material Possessions

The New Yorker: Postscript: Daniel Berrigan, 1921-2016

Huffington Post: The Life and Death of Daniel Berrigan

Common Dreams: How Friends and Family Remember Daniel Berrigan

The Intercept: Daniel Berrigan, a Leader of Peaceful Opposition to Vietnam War, Inspired a Generation of Activists

New York Times obituary:

The Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan, a Jesuit priest, and poet whose defiant protests helped shape the tactics of opposition to the Vietnam War and landed him in prison, died Saturday [April 30] in New York City. He was 94.

The United States was tearing itself apart over civil rights and the war in Southeast Asia when Father Berrigan emerged in the 1960s as an intellectual star of the Roman Catholic “new left,” articulating a view that racism and poverty, militarism and capitalist greed were interconnected pieces of the same big problem: an unjust society.

Father Berrigan; his brother Philip, a Josephite priest; and their allies took their case to the streets with rising disregard for the law or their personal fortunes. A defining point was the burning of Selective Service draft records in Catonsville, Md.

Paul Simon – Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard

In a couple of days they come and
Take me away
But the press let the story leak
And when the radical priest
Come to get me released
We was all on the cover of Newsweek

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