Above: Icon of Philip Berrigan
Image in the Public Domain
PHILIP FRANCIS BERRIGAN (OCTOBER 5, 1923-DECEMBER 6, 2002)
Roman Catholic Priest and Social Activist
DANIEL JOSEPH BERRIGAN (MAY 9, 1921-APRIL 30, 2016)
Roman Catholic Priest and Social Activist
When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them are winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?
–Doris Plenn, 1950s
Thus He will judge among the nations
And arbitrate for the many peoples,
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks:
Nation shall not take up
Sword against nation;
They shall never again know war.
–Isaiah 2:4, TANAKH: The Holy Scriptures (1985)
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
–Matthew 5:9, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel, the gospel for which I am suffering and wearing fetters like a criminal. But the word of God is not fettered.
–2 Timothy 2:8-9, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)
Blessed are you, when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.
–Matthew 5:11-12, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)
Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
–Luke 6:26, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)
The Bible is replete with stories of prophets who spoke truth to power. One reads in that sacred anthology that some of these prophets suffered imprisonment and/or death. Those accounts are ancient and, due to the passage of so much time, generally non-controversial, at least in the circles in which I move. More contemporary figures, such as the Berrigan brothers, remain controversial, however. Although I do not agree with them entirely, I admire them and deplore the harsh treatment of them by authorities. I also respect the faith that compelled them to take up their crosses, follow Christ, and suffer for the sake of righteousness.
The Berrigan brothers’ lives, being as intertwined as they were, require writing of them in one post. Their lives stand as testimonies for peace and social justice. For their evil disobedience they spent years in federal prisons–eleven years for Philip and more than seven years for Daniel. Sometimes they engaged in civil disobedience together. They also found themselves on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most-wanted list.
The Berrigans were a devout Roman Catholic family living in the vicinity of Duluth, Minnesota, in the early 1920s. Freida Fromhart Berrigan and Thomas Berrigan raised six children–five sons and one daughter. Thomas, a trade unionist, was a railroad engineer who raised his family on a farm. Daniel debuted at Virginia, Minnesota, on May 9, 1921. Philip entered the world at Two Harbors, Minnesota, on October 5, 1923. The family moved to New York in 1926 after Thomas lost his job. At Syracuse he, who hailed from the left wing of Roman Catholicism, founded the Electrical Workers Union and a Roman Catholic interracial council.
Daniel was a longtime Jesuit, for he joined the order immediately after graduating from high school in 1939. He received his Bachelor’s degree from St. Andrew-on-the-Hudson, Hyde Park, in 1946. From 1946 to 1949 Daniel taught at St. Peter’s Preparatory School, Jersey City, New Jersey. He received his M.A. degree from Woodstock College, Baltimore, Maryland, in 1952, the same year he became a priest. From 1954 to 1957 Daniel taught theology at LeMoyne College, Syracuse, New York. In 1957 he won the Lamont Prize for Time Without Number, a volume of poetry. From 1966 to 1970 Daniel served as the Assistant Director of University United Religious Work, an umbrella organization of campus chaplaincies at Cornell University. He also served as the pastor of the Newman Club there. Daniel also had professional roles at Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York; Loyola University of the South, New Orleans, Louisiana; Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; and Fordham University, New York, New York.
Philip entered the Society of St. Joseph (the Josephite Fathers) instead. After graduating from high school at Syracuse he cleaned trains for the New York Central Railroad, played semi-professional baseball, and studied for a semester at St. Michael’s College, Toronto, Ontario. Then the U.S. Army drafted him in 1943. Philip’s proximity to institutional racism in the U.S. Army (especially during basic training in Georgia) and what he learned about the lives of sharecroppers disturbed him. Combat also affected Philip deeply; he had his fill of violence and killing. After the war Philip attended and graduated from the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1950 he joined the Josephite Fathers, an order dedicated to working with African Americans. Philip also graduated from St. Joseph’s Seminary, Washington, D.C., becoming a priest in 1955. He graduated from Loyola University of the South with a degree in secondary education in 1957 and from Xavier University with a Master’s degree three years later. Then Philip became a teacher.
Both brothers were active in the civil rights movement. They participated in sit-ins, marches (such as at Selma, Alabama, in 1965), and bus boycotts. Philip, in particular, identified with the urban poor. For civil disobedience he went to prison for the first time in 1962-1963. Philip ministered to other inmates while there. Nevertheless, his activism earned him the disapproval of his superiors in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Berrigan brothers also protested the Vietnam War. In 1964, at New York City, they founded the Catholic Peace Fellowship. Later, at Baltimore, Philip founded the Baltimore Interfaith Peace Fellowship. On October 27, 1967, he was one of the Baltimore Four, two Roman Catholics and two Protestants. They poured their own blood on draft records. Philip, out of jail on bail prior to sentencing for that act, recruited Daniel to join him and to become part of the Cantonsville Nine. On May 17, 1968, at Cantonsville, Maryland, they doused draft records in homemade napalm and burned them. All involved received prison sentences, delayed by an appeals period of sixteen months. After the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeals, Daniel and Philip went into hiding. F.B.I. agents caught up with Philip after twelve days. Daniel remained holed up in the block house of William Stringfellow (1928-1985), an Episcopalian, social activist, and lay theologian, for four months. The prison terms expired in 1972.
While in prison Philip secretly married Elizabeth McAlister, a nun and one of the Cantonsville Nine, in 1969. He was also among those charged with plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger and to bomb steam tunnels. The trial (1972) ended in an acquittal. The marriage of Philip and Elizabeth became public in 1973. Then Pope Paul VI excommunicated him. The couple had three children. Philip and Elizabeth continued their antiwar activism. In 1973, at Baltimore, they founded Jonah House, to support war resisters.
In 1980 the Berrigan brothers founded the anti-nuclear war and weapons Plowshares Movement. On September 9, 1980, the Plowshares Eight, who included both brothers, trespassed at the General Electric nuclear missile facility at King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. There they damaged cones of Mark 12A missiles and poured blood on documents and files. The Plowshares Eight, convicted the following year, appealed their sentences until 1990, when a judge reduced them to time served and 23 months of probation.
At his trial in 1981 Daniel said, in part:
Our act is all I have to say. The only message I have to the world is this: We are not allowed to kill innocent people. We are not allowed to be complicit in murder. We are not allowed to be silent while preparations for mass murder proceed in our name, with our money, secretly.
I have nothing else to say in the world. At other times one could talk about family life and divorce and birth control and abortion and many other questions. But this Mark 12A is here. And it renders all other questions null and void. Nothing, nothing can be settled until this is settled. Or this will settle us, once and for all.
It’s terrible for me to live in a time where I have nothing to say to human beings except, “Stop killing.” There are other beautiful things that I would love to be saying to people. There are other projects I could be very useful at. And I can’t do them. I cannot.
Because everything is endangered. Everything is up for grabs. Ours is a kind of primitive situation, even though we would call ourselves sophisticated. Our plight is very primitive from a Christian point of view. We are back where we started. Thou shalt not kill: we are not allowed to kill. Everything today comes down to that–everything.
–Quoted in Jim Wallis and Joyce Hollyday, editors, Cloud of Witnesses, Revised Edition (2005), page 230
Philip’s final prison sentence resulted from his participation in the hammering of A-10 Warthog war planes at Warfield Air National Guard Base, Middle River, Maryland, in December 1999. He was in prison until December 2001. He died a year later, on December 6, 2002, at Baltimore. He was 79 years old.
In his later years Daniel continued in the good fight. He opposed U.S. wars and military interventions in Central America, Iraq (both times), Kosovo, and Afghanistan. He also tended to AIDS patients and spoke out against abortion and capital punishment and supported the Occupy Movement and equal rights for homosexuals. Daniel died in New York City on April 30, 2016. He was 94 years old.
The witness of the lives of the Berrigan brothers teaches us to love one another, especially when doing so is dangerous to oneself.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
OCTOBER 22, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF FREDERICK PRATT GREEN, BRITISH METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOMEW ZOUBERBUHLER ANGLICAN PRIEST
THE FEAST OF CYRIACUS SCHNEEGASS, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, MUSICIAN, AND HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF EMILY HUNTINGTON MILLER, U.S. METHODIST AUTHOR AND HYMN WRITER
O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served, and to give his life for the life of the world.
Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.
Through us give hope to the hopeless,
love to the unloved,
peace to the troubled,
and rest to the weary,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
—Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60