Daniel Berrigan

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Daniel Berrigan at the Third Annual Staten Island Freedom & Peace Festival, 2006-10-28

Daniel J. Berrigan, SJ, (born May 9, 1921) is an American Catholic priest, peace activist, and poet. He achieved notoriety in 1968 when he and his brother, Philip, were put on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list for their involvement in antiwar protests during the Vietnam war.[1]

Life and work[edit]

Berrigan was born in Virginia, Minnesota, on May 9, 1921. His mother, Frieda (née Fromhart), was of German descent.[2] and his father, Thomas Berrigan, was a second-generation Irish Catholic and active union member. Daniel remained devoted to the Church throughout his youth, even after his father left. Although a lifelong devotee of Notre Dame, he joined the Jesuits directly out of high school in 1939 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1952. In 1954, he 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. That same year, he won the Lamont Prize for his book of poems, Time Without Number. Berrigan developed a reputation as a religious radical, working actively against poverty, and on changing the relationship between priests and laypersons. While at Le Moyne, he founded its International House.[citation needed]

From 1966 to 1970, he 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. He became the pastor for the CCC, during which time he played an instrumental role in the national peace movement.[3] He now resides in New York City and teaches at Fordham University in addition to serving as its poet in residence.[citation needed]

Berrigan appears briefly in the 1986 Warner Bros. film, The Mission, directed by Roland Joffé and starring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons. He played a Jesuit priest and also served as a consultant on the film.[4]

Protests against the Vietnam War[edit]

Berrigan, his brother the Josephite priest Philip Berrigan, and the famed 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 Phillip was arrested for non-violent protest and sentenced to six years in prison. This, and his belief that his support of POWs during the war was not acknowledged and appreciated, further radicalized Berrigan against the U.S. government.

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. The event was widely reported in the news media and has been discussed in a number of books.[5]

In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[6] 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. He manufactured home-made napalm and, with eight other Catholic protesters, used it to destroy 378 draft files in the parking lot of the Catonsville, Maryland, draft board on May 17, 1968.[3][7] This group came to be known as the Catonsville Nine. Berrigan was promptly arrested and sentenced to three years in prison,[8] 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. Soon thereafter the FBI apprehended him at the home of William Stringfellow and sent him to prison. He was released in 1972.[9]

Berrigan later spent time in France meeting with Thich Nhat Hanh, the exiled Buddhist monk and peace activist from Vietnam.

Plowshares Movement[edit]

On September 9, 1980, Berrigan, his brother Philip, and six others (the "Plowshares Eight") began the Plowshares Movement. They illegally 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.[10] 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.

Berrigan is still involved with the Plowshares Movement.

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

Other activism[edit]

Berrigan maintained his opposition to American intervention in Central America, through the Gulf War in 1991, the Kosovo War, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He is also a pro-life activist and opponent of capital punishment, a contributing editor of Sojourners Magazine, and a supporter of the Occupy movement.[11]


Daniel's brother, Phil (1923–2002), had three children: Frida, Katie, and Jerry.

In media[edit]

Awards and recognition[edit]


Berrigan later wrote the play The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, which ran on Broadway for 29 performances in 1971 and was made into a movie in 1972.

Berrigan's other works include

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Philip Berrigan: Biography", Americans Who Tell The Truth, Retrieved on 2 July 2013
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ a b Aloi, Daniel (2006-04-04). "From Vietnam to Redbud Woods: Daniel Berrigan launches events commemorating five decades of activism at Cornell". Cornell University Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-12-01. 
  4. ^ "The Mission": cast and crew; IMDB.com; Accesses 2013.01.14.
  5. ^ Nancy Zaroulis; Gerald Sullivan (1989). Who Spoke Up? American Protest Against the War in Vietnam 1963-1975. Horizon Book Promotions. ISBN 0-385-17547-7.  ;Howard Zinn (1994; new ed. 2002). You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train. Beacon Press. pp. 126–38. ISBN 0-8070-7127-7. 
  6. ^ “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” January 30, 1968 New York Post
  7. ^ United States v. Moylan, 417 F.2d 1002 (4th Cir. 1969)
  8. ^ Berrigan v. Norton, 451 F.2d 790 (2d Cir. 1971)
  9. ^ Berrigan v. Sigler, 499 F.2d 514 (D.C. Cir. 1974)
  10. ^ Commonwealth v. Berrigan, 501 A.2d 226, 509 Pa. 118 (1985)
  11. ^ Chris Hedges (11 June 2012). "Daniel Berrigan, America's Street Priest, Stands With Occupy". 

External links[edit]