Priest, protester and poet Daniel Berrigan shaped what it means to be an American Catholic

Posted May 5

Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest famous for his anti-war protests, died Saturday at age 76. The Nobel Peace Prize nominee will be remembered for reshaping people's understanding of how to turn faith into action.

"For many, many American Catholics, what it meant to be American and what it meant to be Catholic was radically altered by the witness of Daniel Berrigan," wrote James Carroll, a former priest who was friends with Berrigan, in a reflection for The New Yorker.

"I owe him my heart, my life and vocation," said Bill Wylie-Kellermann, pastor of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Detroit," to America.

Rev. John Dear, an author who, like Berrigan, was once nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, wrote, "Dan was my greatest friend and teacher for over 35 years. … Dan and (his brother) Phil inspired millions of people around the world to speak out against war and work for peace and helped turn the Catholic church back to its gospel roots of peace and nonviolence."

More reflections were collected by America in an article titled "A Man of Peace."

Berrigan was ordained as a priest in 1952 and went on to author more than 50 books, including collections of poetry and spiritual reflections. But he's best known for his acts of civil disobedience, which sent him to jail several times.

"The United States was tearing itself apart over civil rights and the war in Southeast Asia when Father Berrigan emerged in the 1960s," The New York Times reported. He articulated "a view that racism and poverty, militarism and capitalist greed were interconnected pieces of the same big problem: an unjust society."

Berrigan was arrested in 1968 along with eight other Catholic activists for stealing and then burning draft records, the article noted.

After the Vietnam War, he protested nuclear weapons, American involvement in the Middle East and Wall Street greed.

"While he was known for his wry writ, there was a darkness in much of what Father Berrigan wrote and said, the burden of which was that one had to keep trying to do the right thing regardless of the near certainty that it would make no difference," the Times reported.

He drew strength from his faith and continued to serve as a mentor to younger Jesuits and lead spiritual retreats in the last years of his life, Religion News Service reported.

The article noted that when Berrigan was asked once what he wanted inscribed on his tombstone, he said: "It was never dull. Alleluia."

Email: Twitter: @kelsey_dallas


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