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Biographic Essay on Daniel J. Berrigan: Activist, Priest, and Award-Winning Poet

The following sample essay is an example of Ultius professional writing services and advanced writer options. The paper explores Daniel Berrigan’s life, accomplishments, and trials as they concern religion, the Jesuit Catholic Church, and experiences with activism and his like-minded younger brother Phillip Berrigan, all painted on a backdrop of civil, racial, and wartime unrest that represents one of the greatest social and political shifts in United States history.

The life of Daniel J. Berrigan

Daniel J. Berrigan was a force to be reckoned with during his life and was very active in peacemaking and religion during the 1960s and 1970s in the United States (Lewis). Berrigan’s vocation, as well as his interest in preserving and teaching humanity, took him to many different countries and allowed him to interact and learn from many different people during his travels.

It is no coincidence that Berrigan’s life turned to peacemaking following his initial years in Europe and Latin America, and it is also no coincidence that his temporary separation from the Jesuits occurred following his speaking out against the Vietnam War, then and still today, a hotly debated military conflict involving the United States. Berrigan’s life, speech, and written work is a testament to his thinking man’s approach to nonviolent protest and activism, which continues to be the basis of nonviolent protests today (Hedges).

Berrigan’s fight for justice

Berrigan was a fighter for justice, a Catholic Reverend, and an award-winning poet. One of his greatest acts was to help start opposition to the Vietnam war and nuclear war as propagated by the United States (Dear). As a religious man, Berrigan’s focus in his anti-war activism was based in religion, and it is fitting that his last days at the age of 94 were lived out at the Murray-Weigel Hall in the Jesuit infirmary in the Bronx, New York (Dear). Berrigan had “long been in declining health,” and passed away of natural causes (Dear, para 2).

The priest was born in Virginia, Minnesota, and had five brothers (Dear). When the family moved to Syracuse, New York, all six boys attended Catholic schools, and Berrigan applied to join the Jesuit, or Society of Jesus, Catholic order following graduation from high school (Dear). In 1939, he entered the novitiate in Poughkeepsie, New York, and completed the 30-day silent retreat known as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (Dear). He studied philosophy for two years, taught at New Jersey’s St. Peter’s Prep for three years, and finally studied in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the Weston School of Theology for four years.

He became an ordained priest in Boston at the age of 31 (Dear). Following a year abroad in France, Berrigan returned to Syracuse, New York, and taught at Brooklyn Prep for three years and founded the “International House,” an activist student community which lives in solidarity with third world poor – it is an ongoing project, with houses in New York City. Notably, inspired by Berrigan, another Jesuit priest, Father Gregory Boyle created a similar organization called Homeboy Industries – a foundation aimed at helping gang members in Los Angeles.

Early years as an activist

Berrigan was a man of deep thought, far-reaching ideas, and respect for humanity. As such, he was also in favor of the survival of humanity and gained his beliefs through much travel and experience prior to engaging in protest and speaking engagement to fight against war and nuclear weapons. Berrigan was often joined in his protest by good friends, his brother Phillip, and hundreds of other activists, such as Ayn Rand, who agreed with his beliefs and nonviolent protesting methodology.

Early Jesuit career

Berrigan’s travels during his “tertianship” (a traditional Jesuit sabbatical year) took him to France, where he came in contact with French worker-priests, who were priests focused on a worker mission (Dear). Due to a continuous decline of Christianity in Paris due in part to German military policies during World War II a priest named Father Godin realized that most of France’s working class were pagan and included no religious affiliation – he believed it should be declared a “mission country” where religious affiliated persons went to help increase the numbers of Christians in the area (Byrne).

Worker-priests became an initiative of the French Catholic Church in which priests began to interweave themselves into the working class (instead of remaining within the confines of parochial work in a church, for instance) in an attempt to rediscover industrial class workers and possibly convince some to become part of the Christian faith (Byrne). Although the idea came from Father Godon, Father Jacques Loew became the first champion of the movement when he took to dock working in Marseilles, France in 1941 (Corley).

It was the main point of the worker-priest movement that priests would study the working class, but Jacques Loew took it a step further and joined the working class in their labors (Corley). The idea, in essence, was to realize what it felt to walk in the shoes of France’s working class, in order to better minister to them through the Catholic faith.

Berrigan’s role during the 1960s

During the Freedom Rides of the South, the Catholic order denied Berrigan permission to participate, and instead to traveled to Paris, Czechoslovakia, South Africa, and Hungary on a sabbatical in 1963 (Dear). As soon as he returned to the United States, his activism in opposition to the Vietnam War involvement began in earnest with the support of his brother Phillip and other peacemakers.

Career, activism, and poetry

Daniel Berrigan was a man of many talents, many interests, and many thoughts on nuclear weapons and war – he spent most of his life traveling the world, meeting like-minded people, protesting, and speaking out against the things he considered evil in the world. His passion was evident and pure, and he showed it through numerous speaking engagements, support for protesters, and his various poetry books.

Writing

Daniel J. Berrigan published his first poetry book entitled Time Without Number in 1957, and was nominated for the National Book Award; it also won the Lamont Poetry Award and resulted in a friendship with poet Marianne Moore, who helped him with his publishing career (Dear). Following is his poem Credentials which was published in And the Risen Bread: Selected Poems of Daniel Berrigan, 1957-1997 and written in blank verse (Dear, Berrigan).

I would it were possible to state in so

Few words my errand in the world: quite simply

Forestalling all inquiry, the oak offers his leaves

Large handedly. And in winter his integral magnificent order

Decrees, says solemnly who he is

In the great thrusting limbs that are all finally one:

A return, a permanent river and sea.

So the rose is its own credential, a certain

Unattainable effortless form: wearing its heart

Visibly, it gives us heart too: bud, fullness and fall. (Berrigan)

Following his first book, Berrigan published at least one book of poetry for every year of life, including Encounters, The Bow in the Clouds, No One Walks Waters, and False Gods, Real Men (Dear).

Berrigan’s and the Catholic Peace Fellowship

In 1963, Berrigan founded the Catholic Peace Fellowship and, among other activists like Muhammad Ali, began speaking out publicly in the United States against the Vietnam War; at a retreat with Berrigan’s younger brother Phillip, Thomas Merton, and other peacemakers, they made a commitment to fight war and nuclear weapons (Dear). In the process, they would advocate peacemaking in the Christian tradition, and then Berrigan marched in Selma with Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965 (Dear). Following the march, Berrigan began another organization called Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam, and began editing Jesuit Missions – this would lead him into a decades-long weekly speaking schedule all across the United States, as well (Dear).

In the process, they would advocate peacemaking in the Christian tradition, and then Berrigan marched in Selma with Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965 (Dear). Following the march, Berrigan began another organization called Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam, and began editing Jesuit Missions – this would lead him into a decades-long weekly speaking schedule all across the United States, as well (Dear).

Protesting the Vietnam War

In protest of the Vietnam War, a 22-year-old Catholic protester (Roger Allen LaPorte) set himself on fire before the United Nations building in New York City (he was one of several protesters to use immolation to protest at the time) – upon delivering the liturgy at his funeral service, Daniel Berrigan was expelled from the United States by the Jesuits, causing a national media stir (Dear). He traveled throughout Latin America for six months and then took a position at Cornell University in 1967, becoming the first Catholic chaplain to do so (Dear).

That same year, Berrigan was arrested at a Vietnam War protest at the Pentagon, and the next traveled to Hanoi, North Vietnam, where he experienced war first-hand; the Berrigans and eight other people burned 300 Maryland draft files in 1968 and started hundreds of copycat demonstrations (Dear). Berrigan was ultimately convicted of destruction of private property for this act, known as the Catonsville Nine Protest (Dear). Berrigan turned the experience into a play, which eventually became a film starring Gregory Peck (Dear).

Berrigan eludes FBI

To escape their prison sentences, the Berrigans traveled, spoke in public, and eluded the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) until their eventual capture in Rhode Island. Daniel served 18 months in prison in Connecticut and nearly died of a Novacaine injection before his release (Dear). Following his release from Danbury Prison, Berrigan became something of a celebrity, writing numerous books including Lights on in the House of the Dead – an autobiographical memoir of his imprisonment; he was on the cover of Time magazine and became very well-known across the planet (Dear).

One of his main goals during this time was to get rid of the Church’s Just War Theory, which he believed opposed Jesus’ Old Testament teachings of nonviolence and nonviolent protest (Dear). Berrigan also opposed violent Vietnam War protesters, damning the actions of the Weathermen, who blew up buildings in protest.Daniel and Phillip became the target for wildly outlandish indictments by the U.S. government, such as a threat to kidnap Henry Kissinger when he was the U.S. Secretary of State. Eventually, the two were acquitted, and Berrigan went to Paris to study with Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, and began teaching at Fordham University in New York City where he lived until his death (Dear).

Daniel and Phillip became the target for wildly outlandish indictments by the U.S. government, such as a threat to kidnap Henry Kissinger when he was the U.S. Secretary of State. Eventually, the two were acquitted, and Berrigan went to Paris to study with Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and began teaching at Fordham University in New York City where he lived until his death (Dear).

Acquittal and peace work

Following the acquittal, both Berrigans used resistance to fight the U.S. against the nuclear weapons industry and were convicted of destruction of government property for hammering the nosecones of unarmed nuclear weapons at General Electric in Pennsylvania, a weapons manufacturer at the time (Dear). These demonstrations, called “Plowshares,” have occurred all over the world in countries including Germany, Australia, England, and Ireland since the Berrigans initiated them (Dear).

Daniel Berrigan’s peacemaking and comforting work continued throughout the rest of his life, with the poor, cancer and AIDs patients, and travel to El Salvador and Nicaragua to learn about the effects of U.S. wars on Latin American soil; the 1985 movie, The Mission, featured him in a small part with Robert DeNiro, Liam Neeson, and Jeremy Irons and chronicled Jesuit Latin American missions in the 1770s (Dear). John Dear, a fellow peacemaker who wrote the Huffington Post article most of this information was taken from following Berrigan’s death, was a close friend, and considered Berrigan as important to faith and nonviolent protest as Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Thomas Merton (Dear).

Remembering Daniel J. Berrigan

John Dear noted that Berrigan will be remembered as an inspirational leader against war and for peace, which helped the Catholic Church re-embrace its nonviolent roots through peace – Dear also considers Berrigan a saints and modern-day prophet who worked tirelessly against war, poverty, and the loneliness of the soul. Berrigan’s thoughts and words are immortalized in the minds of many people, and will be passed down through his many poetry books and written works, as well as survived through film. Berrigan will be a part of history books in the future, and will be remembered as one of the good ones. He pursued his beliefs to the very end of his life, trading protest, travel, and speaking engagements for the greater comfort of individuals through his donations of time and love to many ill people in New York City who needed it very much. Berrigan’s name is representative of things that are good in this world, ideas that change negatives to positives, and the capability of nonviolent protest to make very real change in this violent world. Berrigan’s writing influenced other writers like James Carroll by demonstrating that writing could be “an act of worship” and an act of protest (para 1), he is only one writer, religious man, and citizen of the world who will remember Berrigan as a man who truly changed the world.

He pursued his beliefs to the very end of his life, trading protest, travel, and speaking engagements for the greater comfort of individuals through his donations of time and love to many ill people in New York City who needed it very much. Berrigan’s name is representative of things that are good in this world, ideas that change negatives to positives, and the capability of nonviolent protest to make very real change in this violent world. Berrigan’s writing influenced other writers like James Carroll by demonstrating that writing could be “an act of worship” and an act of protest (para 1), he is only one writer, religious man, and citizen of the world who will remember Berrigan as a man who truly changed the world.

Works Cited

Berrigan, Daniel. And the Risen Bread: Selected and New Poems, 1957-1997. New York: Fordham University Press, 1998. Print.

Byrnes, Robert F. “The French Priest-Workers.” Foreign Affairs. Council on Foreign Relations, Inc. 1955. Web. 4 Jun 2016. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/france/1955-01-01/french-priest-workers.

Carroll, James. “Daniel Berrigan, My Dangerous Friend.” The New Yorker. Conde Nast, 2016. Web. 27 May 2016. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/daniel-berrigan-my-dangerous-friend.

Corley, Felix. “Obituary: Fr Jacques Loew.” Independent. Independent, 1999. Web. 4 Jun 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-fr-jacques-loew-1073431.html.

Dear, John. “The Life and Death of Daniel Berrigan.” Huffington Post. The HuffingtonPost.com, Inc., 2016. Web. 27 May 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-dear/the-life-and-death-of-dan_b_9815148.html.

Hedges, Chris. “Bearing the Cross (On the Life and Death of Daniel Berrigan).” Common Dreams. Common Dreams, 2016. Web. 27 May 2016. http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/05/09/bearing-cross-life-and-death-daniel-berrigan.

Lewis, Daniel. “Daniel J. Berrigan, Defiant Priest Who Preached Pacifism, Dies at 94.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 2016. Web. 27 May 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/01/nyregion/daniel-j-berrigan-defiant-priest-who-preached-pacifism-dies-at-94.html?_r=0.

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