Peace Activist, Poet and Writer, Daniel Berrigan Dead At 94

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Above photo: At age 94, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, SJ, pictured during Mass at Murray-Weigel Hall, still possesses a look of conviction. Source Jesuits.

Note: The Berrigan Family put out the following statement:

Daniel Berrigan, Uncle, Brother, Friend,

PRESENTE

A statement from the Family of Father Dan Berrigan, SJ

This afternoon around 2:30, a great soul left this earth. Close family missed the “time of death” by half an hour, but Dan was not alone, held and prayed out of this plane of existence by his friends. We – Liz McAlister, Kate, Jerry and Frida Berrigan, Carla and Marc Berrigan-Pittarelli—were blessed to be among friends—Patrick Walsh, Joe Cosgrove, Father Joe Towle and Maureen McCafferty—able to surround Daniel Berrigan’s body for the afternoon into the evening.

Father Berrigan being handcuffed in 2001 after he and others blocked an entrance to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan. Credit Richard Drew/Associated Press

Father Berrigan being handcuffed in 2001 after he and others blocked an entrance to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan. Credit Richard Drew/Associated Press

We were able to be with our memories of our Uncle, Friend and Brother in Law—birthdays and baptisms, weddings and wakes, funerals and Christmas dinners, long meals and longer walks, arrests and marches and court appearances.

It was a sacrament to be with Dan and feel his spirit move out of his body and into each of us and into the world. We see our fathers in him—Jerry Berrigan who died in July 2015 and Phil Berrigan who died in December 2002. We see our children in him—we think that little Madeline Vida Berrigan Sheehan-Gaumer (born February 2014) is his pre-incarnation with her dark skin, bright eyes and big ears.

We see the future in him – his commitment to making the world a little more human, a little more truthful.

We are bereft. We are so sad. We are aching and wrung out. Our bodies are tired as Dan’s was—after a hip fracture, repeated infections, prolonged frailty.  And we are so grateful: for the excellent and conscientious care Dan received at Murray Weigel, for his long life and considerable gifts, for his grace in each of our lives, for his courage and witness and prodigious vocabulary. Dan taught us that every person is a miracle, every person has a story, every person is worthy of respect.

And we are so aware of all he did and all he was and all he created in almost 95 years of life lived with enthusiasm, commitment, seriousness, and almost holy humor.

We talked this afternoon of Dan Berrigan’s uncanny sense of ceremony and ritual, his deep appreciation of the feminine, and his ability to be in the right place at the right time. He was not strategic, he was not opportunistic, but he understood solidarity—the power of showing up for people and struggles and communities. We reflect back on his long life and we are in awe of the depth and breadth of his commitment to peace and justice—from the Palestinians’ struggle for land and recognition and justice; to the gay community’s fight for health care, equal rights and humanity; to the fractured and polluted earth that is crying out for nuclear disarmament; to a deep commitment to the imprisoned, the poor, the homeless, the ill and infirm.

We are aware that no one person can pick up this heavy burden, but that there is enough work for each and every one of us. We can all move forward Dan Berrigan’s work for humanity. Dan told an

interviewer: “Peacemaking is tough, unfinished, blood-ridden.

Everything is worse now than when I started, but I’m at peace. We walk our hope and that’s the only way of keeping it going. We’ve got faith, we’ve got one another, we’ve got religious discipline…” We do have it, all of it, thanks to Dan.

Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan gave an anti-war sermon at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, 1972. Credit William E. Sauro/The New York Times.

Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan gave an anti-war sermon at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, 1972. Credit William E. Sauro/The New York Times.

Dan was at peace. He was ready to relinquish his body. His spirit is free, it is alive in the world and it is waiting for you.

Jesuit priest lived life of peace activism

From Common Dreams and NY Times

Daniel Berrigan—Jesuit priest, peace activist, poet, author, and inspiration to countless people—died on Saturday. He was 94 years old.

When America magazine asked a then-88-year-old Berrigan if he had any regrets over the course of his long life, he replied, “I could have done sooner the things I did, like Catonsville.”

In 1968, Berrigan and eight other Catholic activists, including his brother Philip, a group subsequently known as the Catonsville Nine, took hundreds of draft files and burned them outside a Selective Service office with homemade napalm.

The New York Times obituary described the historic incident:

Father Daniel Berrigan, right and his brother Philip Berrigan seized hundreds of draft records and set them on fire with homemade napalm in 1968. Credit United Press International

Father Daniel Berrigan, right and his brother Philip Berrigan seized hundreds of draft records and set them on fire with homemade napalm in 1968. Credit United Press International

The catalyzing episode occurred on May 17, 1968, six weeks after the murder of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the outbreak of new riots in dozens of cities. Nine Catholic activists, led by Daniel and Philip Berrigan, entered a Knights of Columbus building in Catonsville and went up to the second floor, where the local draft board had offices. In front of astonished clerks, they seized hundreds of draft records, carried them down to the parking lot and set them on fire with homemade napalm.

Some reporters had been told of the raid in advance. They were given a statement that said in part, “We destroy these draft records not only because they exploit our young men but because they represent misplaced power concentrated in the ruling class of America.” It added, “We confront the Catholic Church, other Christian bodies and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country’s crimes.”

In a year sick with images of destruction, from the Tet offensive in Vietnam to the murder of Dr. King, a scene was recorded that had been contrived to shock people to attention, and did so. When the police came, the trespassers were praying in the parking lot, led by two middle-aged men in clerical collars: the big, craggy Philip, a decorated hero of World War II, and the ascetic Daniel, waiting peacefully to be led into the van.

Of the action, Berrigan stated, “Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise.”

Daniel Berrigan being arrested for civil disobedience outside the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in 2006.

Daniel Berrigan being arrested for civil disobedience outside the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in 2006.

According to a historian, it was “the single most powerful anti-war act in American history.”  Rather than beginning in 1970 his prison time for burning those draft files, Berrigan became “a fugitive from injustice,” spending four months—much to the frustration of J. Edgar Hoover—evading FBI agents.

And the Catonsville action was far from his only act of civil disobedience, as decade after decade he continued to work for justice, leading to numerous arrests and jail time.

Berrigan and “other peace activists,” as America noted, ” hammered on nuclear warhead nose cones at the General Electric nuclear missile facility, a symbolic action reminiscent of Isaiah’s phrase: ‘beating swords to plowshares.'”

And along with his late brother Phillip, journalist Deena Guzder wrote of some of the activism that spanned his life, Dan Berrigan “publicly opposed aid to alleged anti-Communist forces in Southeast Asia, the use of American forces in Grenada, the installation of Pershing missiles in West Germany, aid to the Contras in Nicaragua, intervention in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion, the Cold War, and the Gulf War. ”  In 1968 he went with Howard Zinn to North Vietnam to accompany home three American prisoners of war.  He lent support to Occupy Wall Street as well.TIME Magazine Cover of Daniel and Phillip Berrigan

Ken Butigan, director of Pace e Bene, described his encounter decades ago with Berrigan,writing:  “For a couple of hours, he shared with me his vision, which essentially boiled down to this: ‘We live in a culture of death — and it is up to us to resist it.'”

Speaking at an event in 2012 honoring her uncle, Frida Berrigan, said, “I stand here on behalf of my family—but really on behalf of all these people who celebrate you Dan—far too many to be in this room. And on behalf of all of them, I say: thank you for leading, thank you for listening, thank you for loving.”

Frida and other members of the Berrigan family released a statement following his death, which reads, in part:

We reflect back on his long life and we are in awe of the depth and breadth of his commitment to peace and justice—from the Palestinians’ struggle for land and recognition and justice; to the gay community’s fight for health care, equal rights and humanity; to the fractured and polluted earth that is crying out for nuclear disarmament; to a deep commitment to the imprisoned, the poor, the homeless, the ill and infirm.

We are aware that no one person can pick up this heavy burden, but that there is enough work for each and every one of us. We can all move forward Dan Berrigan’s work for humanity. Dan told an interviewer: “Peacemaking is tough, unfinished, blood-ridden. Everything is worse now than when I started, but I’m at peace. We walk our hope and that’s the only way of keeping it going. We’ve got faith, we’ve got one another, we’ve got religious discipline…” We do have it, all of it, thanks to Dan.

Dan was at peace. He was ready to relinquish his body. His spirit is free, it is alive in the world and it is waiting for you.

* * *

Many have already taken to Twitter to celebrate Berrigan’s life and his influence on them:

 

To watch Berrigan discuss some of this life, watch his interview with Democracy Now! recorded when he was 85.

To watch the late Howard Zinn honor Berrigan on the occasion of his 85th birthday, see the video below from LEPOCO Peace Center:

  • Jo Hayward-haines

    Oh, what a shock!! But as that wonderful photo of Dan being arrested shows- who’s arresting who??- his spirit will never fade from this Earth as long as those living love keep breathing truth and justice into our common causes.

  • Tribalscribal

    Inside the beast with you

    There’s breathing room

    inside the belly of the beast

    because of you, having

    left an opening and

    given voice to the idea

    that sound travels far

    in water, through bone

    the beast leaking love

    from the opening, taking on

    water and, of course,

    more passengers floundering

    or fabricating rafts but

    not the shore, it’s

    in the distance, inside

    the beast, inside the puppet with you

    it all seems so reachable.

    – Don Ogden, 6/10/06

  • Jon

    The phrase “moral giant” comes to mind, along with “integrity.” The Berrigan brothers life work revealed the following:
    Honor brings truth, which brings justice, which finally brings peace–in that order.
    They set an example for us all.

  • Dr.Cajetan Coelho

    Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord and let your perpetual light shine upon Fr Dan Berrigan.