Daniel Berrigan

Jesuit, Peacemaker (1921–2016)
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Daniel Berrigan, one of the great prophets and peacemakers of his time, died on April 30, 2016, just shy of his 95th birthday. Along with his friends Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, he charted a course of uncommon faithfulness to the way of Jesus, standing with the victims of violence and bearing witness to the God of Peace. “If you want to follow Jesus,” he said, “you’d better look good on wood.” 

Ordained a Jesuit priest in 1952, Fr. Berrigan found his distinctive vocation in response to the horrendous death toll of the Vietnam War. In 1968, along with his brother Philip, a Josephite priest, and seven others, he seized files from a draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, and burned them with homemade napalm. From the courtroom transcripts he produced a classic play, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, which included his words: “We have chosen to say / with the gift of our liberty / if necessary our lives: the violence stops here / the death stops here . . . / this war stops here.” Eventually he served two years in prison for this action—one of innumerable arrests over the years. Much less public was his service in a home for cancer patients, and later with AIDS patients during the height of the deadly epidemic of the 1980s. “Peacemaking is hard,” he wrote, “hard almost as war. / The difference being one / we can stake life upon / and limb, and thought, and love.” 

“Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children. . . . We could not, so help us God, do otherwise. For we are sick at heart, our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning Children.” 

—Daniel Berrigan, SJ 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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