Le Moyne College mourns the death of former Professor Daniel Berrigan, S.J., the Jesuit priest, activist, poet and peacemaker, who died on Saturday, April 30 at Murray-Weigel Hall at Fordham University. Father Berrigan, who was 94, had been in declining health for several years.
Raised in Syracuse, Father Berrigan taught theology at Le Moyne from 1957 to 1963, and while at the College also founded International House, the student-run social activism group. As described in The New York Times, he gained prominence on the national scene, as the "United States was tearing itself apart over civil rights and the war in Southeast Asia when Father Berrigan emerged in the 1960s as an intellectual star of the Roman Catholic 'new left,' articulating a view that racism and poverty, militarism and capitalist greed were interconnected pieces of the same big problem: an unjust society."
Described as "a champion of social justice and a tireless promoter of peace" Father Berrigan was involved in thousands of acts of protest and civil disobedience, perhaps most famously in 1968 when he along with his brother Jerry, and seven others burned 300 Selective Service draft records in the parking lot in Catonsville, Md. A subsequent trial for the group, who were dubbed the Catonsville Nine, resulted in a conviction. His work was not slowed by his age, as he was arrested hundreds of times in support of a variety of causes over nearly 50 years. Among his activities were participating in the March on Selma, dozens of public protests against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, co-founding the Catholic Peace Fellowship, spending two years in jail, and traveling to Vietnam to bring home Air Force POWs in 1968.
He was a prolific author, publishing more than 50 books of poetry, essays, journals and scripture commentaries, and a play The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, which is still performed. His influence on culture was undeniable -- he was referred to as the "radical priest" in Paul Simon's 1972 song Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard and in 1971 he and his brother Philip appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
In addition to Le Moyne, he also spend time at several other institutions, including Loyola University New Orleans, Columbia, Cornell and Yale. Since 1973, he had lived with other Jesuits at the New York West Side Jesuit Community in Manhattan.
In an essay he wrote that appeared in the Huffington Post,
John Dear S.J., one of Father Berrigan's proteges, states "I considered him one of the most important religious figures of the last century, right alongside with Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and his brother Philip. Dan and 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. I consider him not just a legendary peace activist but one of the greatest saints and prophets of modern times."
Among the many articles about his death were stories in The New York Times
, The Washington Post
, Catholic Sun
, Los Angeles Times
, America Magazine
, USA Today
, The Guardian
, Boston Herald
, , and the Syracuse Post-Standard
"The Le Moyne family joins with others in commemorating the remarkable life of Father Berrigan," said Le Moyne President Linda LeMura. "Though he left the College more than 50 years ago, his influence on the institution, our alumni and current students remains to this day, and we are proud that Le Moyne played a pivotal role in his life."
She noted that each year the College brings a speaker to campus as part of the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, S.J./International House Peacemaker Lecture Series. A memorial Mass will be held on campus in the coming weeks to celebrate Father Berrigan's life and legacy.