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Philip Berrigan

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Title: Philip Berrigan  
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Subject: Ciaron O'Reilly, Christian anarchism, List of College of the Holy Cross alumni, Berrigan, Catonsville Nine
Collection: 1923 Births, 2002 Deaths, 20Th-Century Roman Catholic Priests, American Anti–nuclear Weapons Activists, American Anti–vietnam War Activists, American Christian Pacifists, American Christian Socialists, American Memoirists, American Military Personnel of World War II, American People of German Descent, American People of Irish Descent, American Roman Catholic Priests, American Schoolteachers, American Tax Resisters, Burials in Baltimore, Maryland by Place, Cancer Deaths in Maryland, Christian Anarchists, Christian Radicals, College of the Holy Cross Alumni, Josephite Fathers, Laicized Roman Catholic Priests, Loyola University New Orleans Alumni, Nonviolence Advocates, People from Baltimore, Maryland, People from Syracuse, New York, People from Two Harbors, Minnesota, Roman Catholic Activists, United States Army Officers, Xavier University Alumni
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Philip Berrigan

Philip Berrigan
Born Phillip Francis Berrigan
(1923-10-05)October 5, 1923
Two Harbors, Minnesota, United States
Died December 6, 2002(2002-12-06) (aged 79)
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Cause of death Cancer
Resting place St. Peter the Apostle Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Alma mater College of the Holy Cross
Religion Catholic
Spouse(s) Elizabeth McAlister
Children Frida, Jerry and Kate Berrigan
Parent(s) Thomas Berrigan & Frieda Fromhart
Relatives Daniel Berrigan, S.J.

Philip Francis Berrigan (October 5, 1923 – December 6, 2002) was an American peace activist and former Roman Catholic priest.


  • Early life 1
  • Protest 2
    • The Baltimore Four 2.1
    • The Catonsville Nine 2.2
    • The Harrisburg Seven 2.3
    • Other non-violent actions 1968 to 1975 2.4
  • Marriage 3
  • The Plowshares Movement 4
  • Death 5
  • Works 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Berrigan was born in Two Harbors, Minnesota, a Midwestern working class mining town. He had five brothers, including the Jesuit fellow-activist and poet, Daniel Berrigan. His mother, Frieda (née Fromhart), was of German descent and deeply religious. His father, Tom Berrigan, was a second-generation Irish-Catholic, trade union member, socialist and railway engineer.[1]

Philip Berrigan graduated from high school in Syracuse, New York, and was then employed cleaning trains for the New York Central Railroad. He played with a semi-professional baseball team. In 1943, after a semester of schooling at St. Michael's College, Toronto, Berrigan was drafted into combat duty in World War II. He served in the artillery during the Battle of the Bulge (1945) and later became a Second Lieutenant in the infantry. [1] He was deeply affected by his exposure to the violence of war and the racism of boot camp in the Southern US.

Berrigan graduated with an English degree from the College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit university in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1950 he joined the Society of St. Joseph, better known as the Josephite Fathers, a religious society of priests and lay brothers dedicated to serving those of African descent, who were still dealing with the repercussions of slavery and daily segregation in the United States. After studying at the theological school of the Society, St. Joseph's Seminary in Washington, D.C., he was ordained a priest in 1955. He went on to gain a degree in Secondary Education at Loyola University of the South (1957) and then a Master of Arts degree at Xavier University in 1960, during which time he began to teach.[1]

In addition to his academic responsibilities, Berrigan became active in the Civil Rights movement. He marched for desegregation and participated in sit-ins and bus boycotts. His brother Daniel wrote of him:

From the beginning, he stood with the urban poor. He rejected the traditional, isolated stance of the Church in black communities. He was also incurably secular; he saw the Church as one resource, bringing to bear on the squalid facts of racism the light of the Gospel, the presence of inventive courage and hope. [1]

Berrigan was first imprisoned in 1962/1963. During his many prison sentences he would often hold bible study class and offer legal educational support to other inmates. As a priest, his activism and arrests met with deep disapproval from the leadership of the Catholic Church and Berrigan was moved to Epiphany Apostolic College, the Josephite seminary college in Newburgh, New York, but he continued his protests. Working with Jim Forest, in 1964 he founded the Catholic Peace Fellowship in New York City. He was moved again to St. Peter Claver Parish in West Baltimore, Maryland, from where he started the Baltimore Interfaith Peace Mission, leading lobbies and demonstrations.[1]


The Baltimore Four

In the 1960s, after activity in civil rights, Berrigan and others began taking increasingly radical steps to bring attention to the anti-war movement. The group known as the "The Baltimore Four" occupied the Selective Service Board in the Customs House, Baltimore, on Friday, October 27, 1967.[2] 'The Four' were: two Catholics Berrigan and artist Tom Lewis, and two Protestants, writer David Eberhardt, and the Rev. James L. Mengel, United States Air Force veteran and United Church of Christ pastor and missionary to Ghana, West Africa; and Asia, where he also served as an Auxiliary Civilian Chaplain, Osan AFB, Daegu, South Korea. Performing a sacrificial, blood-pouring protest, using their own blood and that from poultry purchased from the Gay St. Market, they poured it over records.[3][2] In the trial of The Baltimore Four, Mengel stated that U.S. military forces had killed and maimed, not only humans, but animals and vegetation. Mengel agreed to the action and donated blood, but decided not to actually pour blood; instead he distributed the paperback book Good News for Modern Man (a version of the New Testament) to draft board workers, newsmen, and police. [2] Berrigan, in their written statement, noted that "This sacrificial and constructive act" was meant to protest "the pitiful waste of American and Vietnamese blood in Indochina". [1]

The trial of "The Baltimore Four" was postponed due to the assassination of Martin Luther King and the subsequent riots in Baltimore and other U.S. cities. Eberhardt and Lewis served jail time and Berrigan was sentenced to six years in federal prisons.[4][5]

The Catonsville Nine

In 1968, six months after The Baltimore Four protest, after his release on bail, Berrigan decided to repeat the protest in a modified form. A local high school physics teacher, Dean Pappas, helped to concoct homemade napalm. Nine activists, including Berrigan's Jesuit brother Daniel, later became known as the Catonsville Nine. They walked into the offices of the local draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, removed 600 draft records, doused them in napalm and burnt them in a lot outside of the building. [2][5]The Catonsville Nine, who were all Catholics, issued a statement:

We confront the Roman Catholic Church, other Christian bodies, and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country's crimes. We are convinced that the religious bureaucracy in this country is racist, is an accomplice in this war, and is hostile to the poor.[2]

Berrigan was convicted of conspiracy and destruction of government property on November 8, 1968 but was bailed for 16 months while the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court rejected the appeal and Berrigan and three others went into hiding. 12 days later Berrigan was arrested by the FBI and jailed in Lewisburg.[1][6] All nine were sentenced to three years in prison.[7][2][5]

The Harrisburg Seven

Berrigan attracted the notice of federal authorities again when he and six other anti-war activists were caught trading letters alluding to kidnapping Henry Kissinger and bombing steam tunnels.[8] They were charged with 23 counts of conspiracy including plans for kidnap and blowing up heating tunnels in Washington. [1]Although the government spent $2 million on the Harrisburg Seven trial in 1972, they did not win a conviction.[9][10] This was one of the first reversals suffered by the U.S. government in such cases, another being The Camden 28 in 1973.

Other non-violent actions 1968 to 1975

Other non-violent actions against the Vietnam War, the government and the military were organized by a group that were called by the FBI and the press the "Catholic Left." Phil Berrigan either helped to plan or inspired these actions, along with many other organisers such as Jerry Elmer. The characteristic of these actions was that each action was stringently non-violent. Also, the action would be done by a small group of people willing to take responsibility whether or not it meant facing jail time. The planning for the actions was always a series of mini retreats in which those who finally acted worked to further their political and personal commitment to non-violence. The following are some of those actions:

DC Nine
nine men and women, seven were priests and Religious Sisters protesting against the Dow Chemical Company and its production of napalm for use in the Vietnam conflict). The DC Nine were later tried in Washington, D.C., but an appeal was won in their favor. Some jail time was served.[11]
The Milwaukee 14 against the Milwaukee Draft Boards, September 24, 1968
fourteen men burned 10,000 1-A draft files. After being arrested, they spent a month in prison, unable to raise bail set at $415,000. Father James Groppi came to their aid, co-chairing the Milwaukee 14 Defense Committee. Members were later placed on trial and many did considerable jail time.[12]
The New York Action
included men who were Jesuit priests at the time. Against the New York City Draft Boards.
The Chicago 15
The Boston Eight
included other priests and Religious Sisters. These people stole files out of 4 Boston Draft Boards in order to prove that the State of Massachusetts was drafting mostly Puerto Ricans and poor whites to fill their quotas. No charges were ever brought, though the participants claimed responsibility the day after the action to the press in Boston, and again during the November Moratorium in Washington, DC.
The East Coast Conspiracy to Save Lives
an action against the Philadelphia Draft Boards and General Electric, which had contracts specifically to create incendiary weapons for use in Vietnam.
The Commission to Investigate the FBI
burglary of an FBI field office in Media, PA to expose the methods of J. Edgar Hoover against war protesters.[13]
The Camden 28 Group
action against the Camden area draft board. The group was arrested and the trial resulted acquittal on all charges.[14] A book has been written about this action by Ed Mcgowan and a documentary made by Giacchino, which appeared on PBS TV.

The Buffalo Five
an action coordinated with the Camden Action against Buffalo Draft Boards. Five of the group were put on trial and they were found guilty however Judge John Curtain handed out no jail sentences. His statement at sentencing indicated support for the action.
The Harrisburg Seven
the plan was to put people in the government like Henry Kissinger under citizens arrest for the waging of an illegal war. Phillip Berrigan and others were arrested for conspiracy. They had only gathered together to discuss the idea.[15]

In 1968, Berrigan signed the Writers and Editors War Tax Protest pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[16]


Berrigan, though still a priest, married former nun Elizabeth McAlister in 1970, although the marriage was not revealed until 1973. Together they founded Jonah House in Baltimore, a community to support resistance to war.[1]

The Plowshares Movement

On September 9, 1980, Berrigan, his brother Daniel, and six others (the 'Reservoir Hill. The headquarters later was moved to St. Peter the Apostle Cemetery in West Baltimore.[1]

Berrigan's last Plowshares action occurred in December 1999, when a group of protesters hammered on A-10 Warthog warplanes held at the Warfield Air National Guard Base. He was indicted for malicious destruction of property and sentenced to 30 months in prison. [1][19]He was released on 14 December 2001. In his lifetime he had spent about 11 years in jails and prisons for civil disobedience. [20][1]

In one of his last public statements, Berrigan said,

The American people are, more and more, making their voices heard against Bush and his warrior clones. Bush and his minions slip out of control, determined to go to war, determined to go it alone, determined to endanger the Palestinians further, determined to control Iraqi oil, determined to ravage further a suffering people and their shattered society. The American people can stop Bush, can yank his feet closer to the fire, can banish the war makers from Washington D.C., can turn this society around and restore it to faith and sanity.[20]


On December 6, 2002, Philip Berrigan died of liver and kidney cancer at the age of 79 at Jonah House in Baltimore.[21][1]In a last statement, he said

I die with the conviction, held since 1968 and Catonsville, that nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself.[1]

Howard Zinn, Professor Emeritus at Boston University, paid this tribute to Berrigan saying "Mr. Berrigan was one of the great Americans of our time. He believed war didn't solve anything. He went to prison again and again and again for his beliefs. I admired him for the sacrifices he made. He was an inspiration to a large number of people."[1]

The funeral was held at St. Peter Claver Church in West Baltimore and he was buried in West Baltimore cemetery. Berrigan's widow, Elizabeth McAlister, and others still maintain Jonah House in Baltimore and a website that details all Plowshares activities.[22][1] He is survived by four brothers, Daniel, John, Jim and Jerome; his wife, Elizabeth McAlister; and their three children, Frida, Jerry and Kate, all of whom are also activists in the peace movement.[1]


  • No More Strangers, Punishment for Peace ISBN 0-345-22430-2
  • Prison Journals of a Priest Revolutionary ISBN 0-03-084513-0
  • Punishment for Peace ISBN 0-345-02430-3
  • Disciples and Dissidents, 2000 Haley's, edited by Fred Wilcox, authors Steven Baggarly, Philip Berrigan, Mark Coville,. Susan Crane, Steve Kelly, S.J.. Tom Lewis-Borbely
  • Widen the Prison Gates ISBN 0-671-21638-4
  • Fighting the Lamb's War 1996 (autobiography) ISBN 1-56751-101-5
  • The Times' Discipline, written with his wife about Jonah House

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Baltimore Sun"Philip Berrigan, apostle of peace, dies at age 79" December 07, 2002,
  2. ^ a b c d e f Religion and War Resistance in the Plowshares Movement (2008) Sharon Erickson Nepstad, Cambridge University Press, p48 ISBN 9780521717670
  3. ^
  4. ^ United States v. Eberhardt, 417 F.2d 1009 (4th Cir. 1969).[1]
  5. ^ a b c The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era (2012) Shawn Francis Peters, Oxford University Press, p35 ISBN 9780199942756
  6. ^ Dunlap, David W. (2004) From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan's Houses of Worship. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004, p.207."
  7. ^ United States v. Moylan, 417 F.2d 1002 (4th Cir. 1969).[2]
  8. ^ "No Again on the Conspiracy Law", Time. (17 April 1972) Retrieved on 8 September 2007.
  9. ^ United States v. Berrigan, 482 F.2d 171 (3d Cir. 1973).[3]
  10. ^ Religion and War Resistance in the Plowshares Movement (2008) Sharon Erickson Nepstad, Cambridge University Press, p51 ISBN 9780521717670
  11. ^ The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era (2012) Shawn Francis Peters, Oxford University Press, p246 ISBN 9780199942756
  12. ^ The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era (2012) Shawn Francis Peters, Oxford University Press, p157 ISBN 9780199942756
  13. ^ B. Medsger, The Burglary (2014)
  14. ^ D. Kairys, Philadelphia Freedom: Memoir of a Civil Rights Lawyer (2008).
  15. ^ The Hidden 1970s: Histories of Radicalism (2010) Editor Dan Berger Rutgers University Press, p261 ISBN 9780813548746
  16. ^ Writers and Editors War Tax Protest January 30, 1968 New York Post
  17. ^ Essential Catholic Social Thought (2008) Bernard V. Brady, Orbis Books, p27 ISBN 9781570757563
  18. ^ Commonwealth v. Berrigan, 501 A.2d 266, 509 Pa. 118 (1985). [4]
  19. ^ American Dissidents: An Encyclopedia of Activists, Subversives, and Prisoners of Conscience: An Encyclopedia of Activists, Subversives, and Prisoners of Conscience (2011) Kathlyn Gay ABC-CLIO p66 ISBN 9781598847659
  20. ^ a b Peacework MagazineDecember 2002/ January 2003
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Resurrecting a cemetery, demonstrating for peace" June 14, 2004 Baltimore Sun.

Further reading

  • The Berrigan brothers: the story of Daniel and Philip Berrigan (1974) the University of Michigan
  • Murray Polner and Jim O'Grady Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Lives & Times of Daniel & Philip Berrigan (Basic Books, 1997; Westvew Press, 1998)
  • Jerry Elmer, Felon for Peace Vanderbilt University Press, 2005

ISBN 9780826514950

External links

  • Works by or about Philip Berrigan in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Democracy Now!Archive of Philip Berrigan on
  • Jonah House website
  • DVD on Philip & Daniel Berrigan and the story of the Catonsville Nine.
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