Daniel Berrigan: Poet, Activist, Priest

The exhibition “Daniel Berrigan: Poet, Activist, Priest” celebrates the life and career of this important American author and political activist who passed away at the age of 94 on April 30, 2016. Daniel Joseph Berrigan was born in Virginia, Minnesota on May 9, 1921.  He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1952. In 1954, Father Berrigan was assigned to teach theology at the Jesuit Brooklyn Preparatory School and three years later was appointed professor of New Testament studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. Berrigan had begun writing poetry as well, and in 1957 was awarded the Lamont Prize for his first poetry collection Time without Number. While on a sabbatical from Le Moyne in 1963, Berrigan traveled to Paris and met French Jesuits who were concerned about the developing social and political situation in Indochina. Taking inspiration from this, he and his brother Philip, who was also a Roman Catholic priest, founded the Catholic Peace Fellowship, a group which organized protests against the escalating war in Vietnam, and Daniel Berrigan’s career as a political activist was launched.

Daniel and Philip Berrigan, along with seven other Catholic activists, are perhaps best known as members of what came to be called the Catonsville nine. The group broke into the Catonsville, Maryland draft board on May 17, 1968, and using homemade napalm destroyed nearly 400 draft files. The protesters were arrested and convicted of conspiracy and destruction of government property. Daniel Berrigan was sentenced to three years in prison but went into hiding. He remained at large until he was captured on August 11, 1970. He was released from prison in1972. The events in Catonsville subsequently became the basis for Daniel Berrigan’s free-verse play, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, which in 1972 was made into a film produced by the actor Gregory Peck. Although Daniel Berrigan is remembered for his protests against the Vietnam War, he remained committed to working towards a world without war, nuclear weapons, poverty, disease, and racial injustice right up until his death.

 Daniel Berrigan was the author or co-author of more than 50 books, including 19 volumes of poetry. In addition to his award-winning first book of poems Time without Number, Berrigan’s other collections include Prison Poems (1973); Tulips in the Prison Yard: Selected Poems of Daniel Berrigan (1992); and And the Risen Bread: Selected and New Poems 1957-1997 (1998).

His political activism was a frequent focus of Berrigan’s writing and he also wrote extensively, on biblical texts and theology, often relating these topics to contemporary political and social issues. 

The exhibition “Daniel Berrigan: Poet, Activist, Priest” will be on view in the Information Room of the Morris Library from October 4 through December 16, 2016 and will feature books and other materials from all periods of Daniel Berrigan’s career. The exhibition, which is curated by Timothy Murray, Head of Special Collections, is drawn largely from the collection of the important American bookseller and collector Robert A. Wilson who knew Daniel Berrigan and built an extensive collection of the author’s work which now resides in the Special Collections of the University of Delaware Library.