Loading...
Loading...
Click here if you don’t see subscription options
The EditorsMay 03, 2016
CNS photo

A Jesuit priest, poet, activist, scholar, writer, fugitive and inmate, Daniel J. Berrigan was one of the most influential Catholics of our time. His place in American Catholic history is beside the other two giants of the 20th century: Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, both of whom were his friends. Father Berrigan inspired generations of men and women in the battle for social justice and put himself on the front lines in the war against war. He was perhaps best known as a member of the Catonsville Nine, a group of Catholic activists who seized piles of draft records in May 1968, during the Vietnam War, and set them on fire. Instead of appearing at his sentencing hearing two years later, Father Berrigan chose to go underground, “a fugitive from injustice,” as he put it with his dry wit. He was captured three months later by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and jailed, one of a series of incarcerations over the years. A widely circulated photo showed him handcuffed, with a wide grin, flashing a peace sign.

Saints are often people who live out their Christianity in a way that seems ridiculous or even scandalous. As Father Berrigan wrote about Dorothy Day, he lived the Gospel as if it were true. But his actions rarely won him acclaim from the hierarchy, and he faced fierce opposition from Cardinal Francis Spellman, the powerful archbishop of New York. Even within the Jesuits there were grumblings about his “way of proceeding,” though Pedro Arrupe, S.J., then superior general, visited him in his cell in a federal prison during a trip to the United States, signaling his support.

Father Berrigan did not mellow in old age. He continued to agitate for change until the end. “Start with the impossible,” he wrote. “Proceed calmly towards the improbable. No worry, there are at least five exits.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Leonard Villa
6 years 1 month ago
Some examples and more precise language would be helpful in your editorial in your lionizing Fr. Berrigan. Yes, he inspired some and was influential on some. Social justice? How defined? "(O)n the front lines in the war against war"? Yes against the Vietnam war and against the United States. I don't recall any concern/demonstrations on his part against the communists of North Vietnam, the Soviets, Red China,the Laos-Pol Pot genocide and their subversions and their waging wars of conquest or any pressure or demonstrations against any communists. Catholic social teaching points out in Divini Redemptoris that communism is intrinsically evil. The U.S was at fault for a lot of things in the Vietnam war but his protests were one-sided of an ideological stripe (in sync with a mainstream media that often misrepresented what was happening and ignored the communist role in the conflict.) I would not identify that ideology with Catholic social teaching. Now the Lord judges: may Fr. Berrigan rest in peace.
Michael Appleton
6 years 1 month ago
I had the privilege of meeting Dan and Phil Berrigan as an undergraduate when they spoke at the Harvard-Radcliffe Catholic Student Center in 1967 or 1968. They were phenomenal men, intensely committed to the gospel and inspiring in their passion. They were also right.
Vincent Gaglione
6 years 1 month ago
I was not able to watch the funeral Mass for Fr. Daniel Berrigan nor could I find a recording of it. My fantasy funeral service for Daniel Berrigan looked and sounded something like this. The Cardinal Archbishop of New York, dressed in simple black cassock and merely a presence on the altar, not a celebrant, during the service, rises after Communion to express the condolences of the people of the archdiocese. He makes very brief remarks: “We acknowledge our indebtedness to Daniel Berrigan for his prophetic preaching of the Gospel by the life that he led. When so many of us were so wrong for so long, he was always so right. Daniel Berrigan, pray for us.”
Leo Cleary
6 years 1 month ago
One did not need to know him for long to be touched by his warmth and insight. Many years ago, in a particularly nervous time during the Cold War, and in the midst of a tiredness and sense of loss, he gave a small group of us a weekend retreat. No longer in prison, some denounced him as a traitor to America; or a disobedient, bad priest and Jesuit. He was clearly their enemy. Later, seeing him alone for a moment, I asked him "How do you respond to your enemies?" He said with warm eyes: "I don't have any enemies."

The latest from america

This week on “Inside the Vatican,” host Colleen Dulle speaks with Sant’Egidio’s Elizabeth Boyle about the lay group’s efforts to foster peace and friendship in South Sudan.
Inside the VaticanJune 30, 2022
The present age of polarization has unleashed the most ferocious forces, which seem hellbent on creating a narrow unity only through cynical division.
Matt Malone, S.J.June 30, 2022
Pro-life demonstrators are seen near the Supreme Court in Washington June 15, 2022.
Many readers disagreed with the position of the editorial board of America magazine after it voiced its support for the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Our readersJune 30, 2022
"We want our students to be alive and thinking human beings who have a story to tell," says Jennifer Carroll, an English teacher at St. Louis University High School (photo: Dan Gill).
How do Jesuit teachers talk about God in the classroom? A group of teachers from St. Louis University High School reflect.
Jim LinharesJune 30, 2022