Philip Francis Berrigan (October 5, 1923 – December 6, 2002) was an American peace activist and Roman Catholic priest.
|Born||Phillip Francis Berrigan
October 5, 1923
Two Harbors, Minnesota, United States
|Died||December 6, 2002 (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|
|Children||Frida, Jerry and Kate Berrigan|
|Parent(s)||Thomas Berrigan & Frieda Fromhart|
|Relatives||Daniel Berrigan, S.J.|
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.
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. He was deeply affected by his exposure to the violence of war and the racism of boot camp in the southern United States.
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.
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.
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.
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 Baltimore Four" occupied the Selective Service Board in the Customs House, Baltimore, on Friday, October 27, 1967. 'The Four' were: two Catholics, Berrigan and artist Tom Lewis; and two Protestants, writer David Eberhardt, and the Rev. James L. Mengel III. Mengel was a United States Air Force veteran, United Church of Christ pastor, and missionary to Ghana, West Africa, and Asia, where he also served as an Auxiliary Civilian Chaplain at 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. In the trial of The Baltimore Four, Mengel stated that U.S. military forces had killed and maimed not only humans, but also 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. 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".
The trial of "The Baltimore Four" was postponed due to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., 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.
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. 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.
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. For a time, Liz McAlister, the nun who would later become his wife, helped hide Berrigan in New Jersey. Twelve days later Berrigan was arrested by the FBI and jailed in Lewisburg. All nine were sentenced to three years in prison.
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. They were charged with 23 counts of conspiracy including plans for kidnap and blowing up heating tunnels in Washington. Although the government spent $2 million on the Harrisburg Seven trial in 1972, it did not win a conviction. This was one of the first reversals suffered by the U.S. government in such cases, another being The Camden 28 in 1973.
Berrigan organized multiple additional operations. The D.C. Nine, in March 1969, consisted of mostly priests and nuns disrupting the Washington Dow Chemical offices by scattering their files. The group protested Dow's production of napalm for use in the Vietnam conflict. The D.C. Nine were later tried in Washington, D.C., but an appeal was won in their favor. Some jail time was served. Later in May 1969, the Chicago 15 Catholics protested napalm and burned 40,000 draft cards.
Berrigan, while 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.
On September 9, 1980, Berrigan, his brother Daniel, and six others (the 'Plowshares Eight') began the Plowshares Movement when they entered the General Electric Re-entry Division in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, where Mark 12A reentry vehicles for the Minuteman III missile were made. They hammered on two reentry vehicles, poured blood on documents, and offered prayers for peace. They were arrested and initially charged with over ten different felony and misdemeanor counts. On April 10, 1990, after nearly ten years of trials and appeals, the Plowshares Eight were re-sentenced and paroled for up to 23 months in consideration of time already served in prison. Berrigan helped set up Jonah House as the community headquarters of the organisation, a terraced house in Reservoir Hill, Baltimore. The headquarters later was moved to St. Peter the Apostle Cemetery in West Baltimore.
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. He was released on 14 December 2001. In his lifetime he had spent about 11 years in jails and prisons for civil disobedience.
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.
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.
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."
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. He was 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.