Daniel Berrigan, SJ (1921–2016)

Peace activist and writer Daniel Berrigan, SJ, was born in Virginia, Minnesota, in 1921. His father Thomas Berrigan was a second-generation Irish Catholic. His mother Frieda Fromhart, of German descent, would feed any hungry itinerant who would come to the door during the Great Depression. Although his father had left the Church, Daniel remained attracted to the Catholic faith. Directly out of high school in 1939, he became a member of the Society of Jesus and was ordained in 1952.

Daniel was deeply influenced by his younger brother Philip. Philip served in the army during World War II and after the war became a Josephite priest. Daniel marched with Philip in the civil rights movement at Selma in 1965. As Philip became more active in the antiwar movements against U.S. involvement in Vietnam in the late 1960s, Daniel joined him in the protests. Their most famous protest was in 1968. With seven other participants, Daniel and Philip burned 378 files of young men who were to be drafted for military service. This led to the Berrigans’ arrest with the other members of their group. For a time Philip and Daniel avoided their prison dates and were on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. Eventually Daniel served two years in prison and was released in 1972. Berrigan wrote of the incident and the trial in his play The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.

Other protests followed, leading to more arrests and prosecutions. From 1970 to 1995, Berrigan spent a total of nearly seven years in prison. He has continued his peace activism, protesting against the 1991 Gulf War, the Kosovo War, the U.S invasion of Afghanistan, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Berrigan’s political involvement has overshadowed his accomplishments as a writer and a poet. His reflections on war resistance, his time in prison, and peace appear in some 35 books of essays and poetry. Berrigan reflected on his life in his 1988 autobiography To Dwell in Peace.