Daniel J. Berrigan, pacifist priest, 94

The Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan, a writer, teacher, and longtime opponent of U.S. military involvement abroad, whose repeated acts of civil disobedience put him at odds with his government and the Roman Catholic Church but made him a major figure among advocates for peace and social justice, died Saturday, April 30, at a Jesuit residence at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. He was 94.

The cause was a cardiovascular ailment, said the Rev. James Yannarell, a priest affiliated with the Fordham Jesuit community.

20160501_inq_o-berrigan01-a
Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan

In May 1968, Father Berrigan, along with his brother and fellow priest Philip Berrigan and seven other pacifists, entered a Selective Service office in Catonsville, Maryland. They gathered hundreds of draft files, lugged them outside and, with a recipe of kerosene and soap chips taken from a Green Berets handbook, burned them to ashes.

The Catonsville Nine, as they became known, were arrested and in a five-day trial in October 1968 were found guilty of destruction of government property.

The judge sentenced Father Berrigan, then 47, to three years in federal prison. Philip Berrigan, who had been charged in earlier nonviolent protests, received six years.

In 1970, after the appeals ran out, Father Berrigan refused orders to report to federal prison in Danbury, Conn. He went underground, on the lam from safe house to safe house, and spent four months dodging an FBI manhunt. After many false leads, he was finally caught on Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island. Days before he was captured, he spoke at a church in Germantown, saying, "We have chosen to be branded peace criminals by war criminals."

Father Berrigan was a willing recidivist who was first arrested in 1967. His rap sheet would eventually be filled with arrests and convictions from protests at weapons laboratories and at the Pentagon.

Daniel Joseph Berrigan was born May 9, 1921, in Virginia, Minn., the fifth of six sons of a pro-union father and a mother who opened her home to the poor.

In 1939, he entered the former St. Andrew-on-the-Hudson Jesuit novitiate near Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

During 13 years of theological training, he wrote poetry and taught at Catholic high schools, preparing for a career of teaching or pastoring. He was ordained in 1952.

With no conventional ministry, Father Berrigan operated for more than 40 years out of a small commune known as the West Side Jesuit Community on West 98th Street in Manhattan.

In 1968, Father Berrigan traveled with Howard Zinn, the liberal political activist and historian, to North Vietnam in a successful effort to bring back three captured U.S. pilots. Father Berrigan was affiliated with several Catholic antiwar groups and later ministered to AIDS patients.

In 1980, he and his brother Philip were instrumental in forming the Plowshares Movement, a loose coalition of pacifists who were often arrested for acts of civil disobedience at military bases and other sites. Known as the Plowshares Eight, the peace activists, led by the Berrigan brothers, damaged nuclear missile cones and poured blood on documents at the General Electric Co. Plant in King of Prussia in 1980.

Father Berrigan wrote more than 40 books, including a 1987 autobiography, To Dwell in Peace. His brother Philip died in 2002. Survivors include a sister.

Former Inquirer staff writer Keith Herbert contributed to this article.