Daniel Berrigan: American Catholic priest, peace activist, and poet (1921 - 2016) | Biography
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Daniel Berrigan
American Catholic priest, peace activist, and poet

Daniel Berrigan

Daniel Berrigan
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American Catholic priest, peace activist, and poet
Was Religious scholar Activist Peace activist Theologian Writer Educator
From United States of America
Field Academia Activism Literature Religion
Gender male
Birth 9 May 1921, Virginia
Death 30 April 2016, The Bronx (aged 95 years)
Star sign Taurus
Siblings: Philip Berrigan
Daniel Berrigan
The details (from wikipedia)


Daniel Joseph Berrigan, S.J. (May 9, 1921 – April 30, 2016), was an American Jesuit priest, anti-war activist, and poet.
Like many others during the 1960s, Berrigan's active protest against the Vietnam War earned him both scorn and admiration, but it was his participation in the Catonsville Nine that made him famous. It also landed him on the FBI's "most wanted list" (the first-ever priest on the list), on the cover of TIME magazine, and in prison. His own particular form of militancy and radical spirituality in the service of social and political justice was significant enough, at that time, to "shape the tactics of resistance to the Vietnam War" in the United States.
For the rest of his life, Berrigan remained one of the US's leading anti-war activists. In 1980, he founded the Plowshares Movement, an anti-nuclear protest group, that put him back into the national spotlight. He was also an award-winning and prolific author of some 50 books, a teacher, and a university educator.

Early life

Berrigan was 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. He was the fifth of six sons. His youngest brother was fellow peace activist Philip Berrigan.

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

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 in 1952.


Berrigan taught at St. Peter's Preparatory School in Jersey City from 1946 to 1949.

In 1954, Berrigan was assigned to teach theology at the Jesuit Brooklyn Preparatory School. 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.

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 which organized protests against in the war in Vietnam.

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.

Berrigan at one time or another held faculty positions or ran programs at Union Seminary, Loyola University in New Orleans, Columbia, Cornell, and Yale. His longest tenure was at Fordham (a Jesuit university located in the Bronx), where he even served as their poet-in-residence, for a brief time.

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

Protests against the Vietnam War

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. 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, further radicalized Berrigan, or at least strengthened his determination to resist American military imperialism.

Berrigan traveled to Hanoi with Howard Zinn during the Tet Offensive in January 1968 to "receive" three American airmen, the first American POWs released by the North Vietnamese since the U.S. bombing of that nation had begun.

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. 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.

Catonsville Nine

Daniel Berrigan and his brother Philip, along with seven other Catholic protesters, 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.

Berrigan was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison, but went into hiding with the help of fellow radicals prior to imprisonment. While on the run, Berrigan was interviewed for Lee Lockwood's documentary The Holy Outlaw. The FBI apprehended him at the home of William Stringfellow and sent him to prison. He was released in 1972.

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." As The New York Times noted in its obituary: Berrigan's actions helped "shape the tactics of opposition to the Vietnam War."

Plowshares Movement

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

On September 9, 1980, Berrigan, his brother Philip, and six others (the "Plowshares Eight") began the Plowshares Movement. They trespassed onto the General Electric nuclear missile facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, where they damaged nuclear warhead nose cones and poured blood onto documents and files. They were arrested and charged with over ten different felony and misdemeanor counts. On April 10, 1990, after ten years of appeals, Berrigan's group was re-sentenced and paroled for up to 23 and 1/2 months in consideration of time already served in prison. Their legal battle was re-created in Emile de Antonio's 1982 film In the King of Prussia, which starred Martin Sheen and featured appearances by the Plowshares Eight as themselves.

Consistent life ethic

Berrigan endorsed a consistent life ethic, a morality based on a holistic reverence for life. As a member of the Rochester, New York-area consistent life ethic advocacy group Faith and Resistance Community, he protested via civil disobedience against abortion at a new Planned Parenthood clinic in 1991.

Other activism

Berrigan and his niece, Frida Berrigan, at the Witness Against Torture event held in NYC's Lower East Side on December 18, 2008

Although much of his later work was devoted to assisting AIDS patients in New York City,

Berrigan still held to his activist roots throughout his life. He maintained his opposition to American interventions abroad, from Central America in the 1980s, through the Gulf War in 1991, the Kosovo War, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He was also an anti-abortion activist and opponent of capital punishment, a contributing editor of Sojourners, and a supporter of the Occupy movement.

Fordham University



Berrigan began teaching poetry at Fordham through the Peace and Justice Studies program in 1998.

AIDS activism

"We deal with very many gay Catholics who have felt terribly hurt and misused by the church. There are some people who want to be reconciled with the church and there are others who have great bitterness. So I try to perform whatever human or religious work that seems called for." --Berrigan discussing pastoral care to AIDS patients

Berrigan published Sorrow Built a Bridge: Friendship and AIDS reflecting on his experiences ministering to AIDS patients through the Supportive Care Program at St. Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center in 1989. The Religious Studies Review wrote, "the strength of this volume lies in its capacity to portray sensitively the impact of AIDS on human lives." Speaking about AIDS patients, many of whom were gay, The Charlotte Observer quoted Berrigan saying in 1991, "Both the church and the state are finding ways to kill people with AIDS, and one of the ways is ostracism that pushes people between the cracks of respectability or acceptability and leaves them there to make of life what they will or what they cannot."

In media

Time Magazine cover featuring Daniel and Philip Berrigan
  • Dar Williams's song "I Had No Right" from her album The Green World is about Berrigan and his trial.
  • January 25, 1971: Featured on the cover of Time magazine along with his brother Philip.
  • Adrienne Rich's poem "The Burning of Paper Instead of Children" makes numerous references to the Catonsville Nine and includes an epigraph from Daniel Berrigan during the trial ("I was in danger of verbalizing my moral impulses out of existence")
  • It is frequently claimed that "the radical priest" in Paul Simon's song "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" refers to or was inspired by Berrigan
  • Lynne Sachs's documentary film Investigation of a Flame is about the Berrigan brothers and the Catonsville Nine.
  • Berrigan was interviewed about his life and activism for Kisseloff, Jeff (2006). Generation on Fire: Voices of Protest from the 1960s, an Oral History. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-2416-6. .
  • Berrigan appeared briefly in the 1986 Roland Joffé film The Mission, which starred Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons.
  • The character of Father Corrigan in the novel Let The Great World Spin (2009, by Colum McCann), was inspired by the life of Berrigan.
  • Berrigan was interviewed for a television documentary called, "The Holy Outlaw," by National Educational Television aired September 1970
  • The Berrigan brothers were referenced in the novel The Man Without a Shadow (2016, by Joyce Carol Oates)pp. 140–141
  • Daniel and Philip Berrigan were noted among other social justice activists on a section on Fasting for Peace and Justice, "Exploring a Great Spiritual Practice: Fasting" by Carole Garibaldi Rogers (2004)p. 155.


In 2016, Berrigan died in The Bronx, New York City, at Murray-Weigel Hall, the Jesuit infirmary at Fordham University. For many years, since 1975, he had lived on the Upper West Side at the West Side Jesuit Community.

Awards and recognition

  • 1956: Lamont Poetry Selection
  • 1974: War Resisters League Peace Award
  • 1974: Gandhi Peace Award (accepted then resigned)
  • 1988: Thomas Merton Award
  • 1989: Pax Christi USA Pope Paul VI Teacher of Peace Award
  • 1992: The Peace Abbey Foundation Courage of Conscience Award
  • 1993: Pacem in Terris Award
  • 2008: Honorary Degree from The College of Wooster

Selected publications

Daniel Berrigan was the author, or co-author, of more than fifty books.

  • Time Without Number. New York: Macmillan. 1957. OCLC 781490.  – winner of the Lamont Poetry Prize
  • Love, Love at the End: Parables, Prayers, and Meditations (1st ed.). New York: Macmillan. 1968. ISBN 978-0-02-083750-3. OCLC 5692967. 
  • Trial Poems, Oct. 7, 1968. Chicago: Thomas More Association. 1969. OCLC 921848244. 
  • (with) Coles, Robert (1971). The Geography of Faith; Conversations between Daniel Berrigan, when underground, and Robert Coles (2nd ed.). Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0-8070-0538-5. OCLC 239919. 
  • America Is Hard to Find (1st ed.). Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. 1972. ISBN 978-0-385-00327-8. OCLC 427586. 
  • (with) Berrigan, Philip ("Forward") (1973). Prison Poems (2nd ed.). Greensboro, N.C.: Unicorn Press. ISBN 978-0-87775-049-9. OCLC 726986. 
  • (with) Lockwood, Lee (1973). Daniel Berrigan: Absurd Convictions, Modest Hopes; Conversations after prison with Lee Lockwood (1st ed.). New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0-394-71912-2. OCLC 851142578. 
  • To Dwell in Peace: An Autobiography. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock. 1987. ISBN 978-1-55635-473-1. OCLC 307596569. 
  • (with) Dear, John (1998). And the Risen Bread: Selected Poems, 1957–1997. New York: Fordham University Press. ISBN 978-0-8232-1821-9. OCLC 38519749. 
  • (with) Amari, Adrianna (photography); Zinn, Howard (Introduction) (2007). Prayer for the Morning Headlines: On the Sancity of Life and Death (1st ed.). Baltimore, MD: Apprentice House. ISBN 978-1-934074-16-9. OCLC 123350245. 
  • The Trouble with Our State (Audio book). New York, NY: Yellow Bike Press. 2007. OCLC 275175135. 

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