Poet and Prophet: The Legacy of Peacemaker Daniel Berrigan
Written by Louise Lears, SC – IJPC Board Chair
Listen; blessed is the one
who walks the earth 5 years, 50 years, 80 years
and deceives no one
and curses no one
and kills no one
On such a one
the angels whisper in wonder,
behold the irresistible power
of natural powers-
of height, of joy, of soul, of non belittling!
Excerpt from “Zen Poem,” And the Risen Bread by Dan Berrigan.
Daniel Berrigan, poet and prophet, died on April 30, 2016 at age 94. He was a Jesuit for 76 years and a priest for 63 years. He devoted his life to rejecting war and nuclear weapons. He is perhaps best known for acts of civil disobedience against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. In later years he turned his attention to ending U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, closing the prison in Guantánamo Bay and supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Dan Berrigan credits Dorothy Day with awakening him to the connections between poverty and warmaking. He said that she taught him more than all the theologians, instilling in him a hope that God created the world for everyone but there was not enough for everyone and warmaking. Dan authored more than 50 books on Scripture, poetry, spirituality and peacemaking. He received the prestigious Lamont Poetry Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his first book of poetry, Time Without Number.
I never met Dan but I was privileged to hear of him from his family and friends at Jonah House peacemaking community in my hometown of Baltimore. Jonah House was initially founded in 1973 by activists working to end the Vietnam War. Among the founders was Phil Berrigan (Dan’s brother) and Liz McAllister (Dan’s sister-in-law and Phil’s spouse). Phil is buried on the grounds and Liz continues to carry on the peacemaking ministry of Jonah House.
I heard Dan’s family and friends speak of him as courageous, creative, sensitive. He was for them a challenging mentor, loving uncle, faithful brother-in-law. He loved ice cream and had his own flavor of Ben & Jerry’s (Raspberrigan), as well as a lifetime supply for his beloved Catholic Worker community.
In his earthly life and now from eternal life, Dan Berrigan continues to ask us, “What does the Gospel demand?”