12/8 2002 Philip Berrigan reposed


Philip Francis Berrigan, the former Roman Catholic priest who led the draft board raids that galvanized opposition to the Vietnam War in the late 1960’s, died on Friday in Baltimore after a lifetime of battling ”the American Empire,” as he called it, over the morality of its military and social policies. He was 79.  His family said the cause was cancer.
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Two Harbors, Minnesota on the great lake

He was born Oct. 5, 1923, in Two Harbors, Minn., the youngest of six sons of Thomas W. Berrigan and Frida Fromhart Berrigan, a German immigrant. Thomas Berrigan was a frustrated poet and a political radical whose labor organizing activities led to his dismissal as a railroad engineer, after which the family moved to Syracuse, New York where he continued his Socialist diatribes.

He was Army combat veteran at the Battle of Bulge but sickened by the killing in World War II that he claimed was “immoral.” He never would say whether he supported Hitler or not, but only that war was immoral no matter what the grounds.  After the war, with the urging of his brothers Daniel and Jerome “Jerry,” Phil returned to college in 1946. He graduated with an English degree from the College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit university in Worcester, Massachusetts.

holy cross worcester ma.jpg 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 and was ordained in 1955.He went on to gain a degree in Secondary Education at Jesuit Loyola University of the South (1957) and then a Master of Arts degree at Xavier University, another Jesuit school in 1960, during which time he began to teach.

But that was a prelude to his Viet Nam days when Mr. Berrigan became  one of the most radical pacifists of the 20th century finding that war and corruption were entwined and had to be stopped.  First he found an antiwar group, Peace Mission, whose operations included picketing the homes of Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk in December 1966.
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from the Milwaukee 14 Protests of flag burning – 9-24-1968
When that did not capture media attention, he took it up a notch.  On October 17 1967, Father Berrigan and three friends and his brother Daniel  walked into the Baltimore Customs House, distracted the draft board clerks and methodically spattered 378 Selective Service records with a red liquid made partly from their own blood.  This is definitely akin to germ warfare and luckily the AIDS virus at that time was unknown.   After that, they set them all on fire with home-made napalm  concocted from a recipe that they had found in a US commando handbook.   As he and his brother were both RC priests, they recited the Lord’s Prayer over the ashes  and awaited arrest.tumblr_lts6sePb5J1qf2pb3o2_1280.jpg
Many Americans saw them as communists and traitors; today they would be called terrorists.  The American left calls them heroes.  He wrote many books and was part of the Catholic worker movement founded by Dorothy Day.  De Paul University has his and his wife’s archives.

His three children, Frida (after his mother),  Jerome (his brother) and Katherine survive him as do his three other brothers, Daniel, John, James and Jerome as does his ex-nun wife, Maureen Elizabeth McAlister.Both were excommunidated.