portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article

actions & protests | human & civil rights | imperialism & war | media criticism

Phil Berrigan Died Tonight

Phil Berrigan died December 6, 2002 at about 9:30 PM, at Jonah House, a community he co-founded in 1973, surrounded by family and friends. He died two months after being diagnosed with liver and kidney cancer, and one month after deciding to discontinue chemotherapy.
Philip Berrigan, Anti-War Activist,
Dies at Home in Baltimore, MD

BALTIMORE - December 6 - Phil Berrigan died December 6, 2002 at about 9:30 PM, at Jonah House, a community he co-founded in 1973, surrounded by family and friends. He died two months after being diagnosed with liver and kidney cancer, and one month after deciding to discontinue chemotherapy. Approximately thirty close friends and fellow peace activists gathered for the ceremony of last rites on November 30, to celebrate his life and anoint him for the next part of his journey. Berrigan's brother and co-felon, Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan officiated.
During his nearly 40 years of resistance to war and violence, Berrigan focused on living and working in community as a way to model the nonviolent, sustainable world he was working to create. Jonah House members live simply, pray together, share duties, and attempt to expose the violence of militarism and consumerism. The community was born out of resistance to the Vietnam War, including high-profile draft card burning actions; later the focus became ongoing resistance to U.S. nuclear policy, including Plowshares actions that aim to enact Isaiah's biblical prophecy of a disarmed world. Because of these efforts Berrigan spent about 11 years in prison. He wrote, lectured, and taught extensively, publishing six books, including an autobiography, Fighting the Lamb's War.

In his last weeks, Berrigan was surrounded by his family, including his wife Elizabeth McAlister, with whom he founded Jonah House; his children Frida, 28, Jerry, 27, and Kate, 21; community members Susan Crane, Gary Ashbeck, and David Arthur; and extended family and community. Community members Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert, Dominican sisters, were unable to be physically present at Jonah House; they are currently in jail in Colorado awaiting trial for a disarmament action at a missile silo, the 79th international Plowshares action. One of Berrigan's last actions was to bless the upcoming marriage of Frida to Ian Marvy.

Berrigan wrote a final statement in the days before his death. His final comments included this: "I die with the conviction, held since 1968 and Catonsville, that nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself."

The wake and funeral will be held at St. Peter Claver Church in West Baltimore, (1546 North Fremont Avenue, Baltimore MD 21217); calling hours: 4-8 PM Sunday December 8 with a circle of sharing about Phil's life at 6 PM; funeral: Monday, December 9, 12 PM. All are invited to process with the coffin from the intersection of Bentalou and Laurens streets to St. Peter Claver Church at 10 AM (please drop off marchers and park at the church). A public reception at the St. Peter Claver hall will follow the funeral mass; internment is private. In place of flowers and gifts for the offertory, attendees may bring pictures or other keepsakes. Mourners may make donations in Berrigan's name to Citizens for Peace in Space, Global Network Against Nuclear Weapons, Nukewatch, Voices in the Wilderness, the Nuclear Resister, or any Catholic Worker house.

- Enclosures: 1. Phil Berrigan's statement before death

PHIL'S STATEMENT 12/05/02 (via Liz McAlister)

Philip began dictating this statement the weekend before Thanksgiving. It was all clear - he had it written in his head. Word for word I wrote...

WHEN I LAY DYING...of cancer
Philip Berrigan

I die in a community including my family, my beloved wife Elizabeth, three great Dominican nuns - Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert, and Jackie Hudson (emeritus) jailed in Western Colorado - Susan Crane, friends local, national and even international. They have always been a life-line to me. I die with the conviction, held since 1968 and Catonsville, that nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself. We have already exploded such weapons in Japan in 1945 and the equivalent of them in Iraq in 1991, in Yugoslavia in 1999, and in Afghanistan in 2001. We left a legacy for other people of deadly radioactive isotopes - a prime counterinsurgency measure. For example, the people of Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be battling cancer, mostly from depleted uranium, for decades. In addition, our nuclear adventurism over 57 years has saturated the planet with nuclear garbage from testing, from explosions in high altitudes (four of these), from 103 nuclear power plants, from nuclear weapons factories that can't be cleaned up - and so on. Because of myopic leadership, of greed for possessions, a public chained to corporate media, there has been virtually no response to these realities...

At this point in dictation, Phil's lungs filled; he began to cough uncontrollably; he was tired. We had to stop - with promises to finish later. But later never came - another moment in an illness that depleted Phil so rapidly it was all we could do to keep pace with it... And then he couldn't talk at all. And then - gradually - he left us.

What did Phil intend to say? What is the message of his life? What message was he leaving us in his dying? Is it different for each of us, now that we are left to imagine how he would frame it?

During one of our prayers in Phil's room, Brendan Walsh remembered a banner Phil had asked Willa Bickham to make years ago for St. Peter Claver. It read: "The sting of death is all around us. O Christ, where is your victory?"

The sting of death is all around us. The death Phil was asking us to attend to is not his death (though the sting of that is on us and will not be denied). The sting Phil would have us know is the sting of institutionalized death and killing. He never wearied of articulating it. He never ceased being astonished by the length and breadth and depth of it. And he never accepted it.

O Christ, where is your victory? It was back in the mid 1960's that Phil was asking that question of God and her Christ. He kept asking it. And, over the years, he learned
" that it is right and good to question our God, to plead for justice for all that inhabit the earth
" that it is urgent to feel this; injustice done to any is injustice done to all
" that we must never weary of exposing and resisting such injustice
" that what victories we see are smaller than the mustard seeds Jesus praised, and they need such tender nurture
" that it is vital to celebrate each victory - especially the victory of sisterhood and brotherhood embodied in loving, nonviolent community.

Over the months of Phil's illness we have been blessed a hundred-fold by small and large victories over an anti-human, anti-life, anti-love culture, by friendships - in and out of prison - and by the love that has permeated Phil's life. Living these years and months with Phil free us to revert to the original liturgical question: "O death, where is your sting?"

2. Biographical Information

Philip Berrigan, 1923-2002
Born: October 5, 1923, Minnesota Iron Range, near Bemidji to Frieda Fromhart and Thomas Berrigan
1943-1945: Served in WWII, artillery officer, Europe.
1949: Graduated from Holy Cross College.
1955: Ordained a Catholic Priest in the Josephite Order, specializing in inner city ministry.
1956-1963: Taught at St. Augustine's high school, New Orleans, a segregated all black school.
1962 (or 3?): First priest to ride in a Civil Rights movement Freedom Ride.
1963-1965: Taught at a Josephite seminary, Newburgh, NY.
1966: Published first book, No More Strangers.
1966: Served at St. Peter Claver parish, Baltimore, MD.
October 27, 1967: Poured blood on draft files in Baltimore with 3 others. Known as the "Baltimore Four."
May 17, 1968: Burned draft files in Catonsville, MD with 8 others, including his brother, Fr. Daniel Berrigan. Action known as the "Catonsville Nine." Convicted of destruction of US property, destruction of Selective Service records, and interference with the Selective Service Act of 1967. Sentenced to prison.
1970: Married Elizabeth McAlister, an activist nun, Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary.
1970: Became a fugitive when appeals failed. Captured and returned to prison.
1971: Named co-conspirator by J. Edgar Hoover and Harrisburg grand jury while in prison. Charged with plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger and blow up the utility tunnels of US Capitol buildings. Convicted only of violating prison rules for smuggling out letters.
1973: Co-founded Jonah House community of war resisters in Baltimore, MD.
April 1, 1974: Birth of Frida Berrigan at Jonah House.
April 17, 1975: Birth of Jerry Berrigan at Jonah House.
1975: End of Vietnam War and beginning of focus on weapons of mass destruction and changing U.S. nuclear policy. Actions included pouring of blood and digging of graves at the White House and Pentagon resulted in several jail terms ranging up to six months.
1975: Atlantic Life Community conceptualized as East Coast counterpart to Pacific Life Community.
1976: First of summer community building sessions; led to triannual Faith & Resistance Retreats in DC.
September 9, 1980: Poured blood and hammered with 7 others on Mark 12A warheads at a GE nuclear missile plant, King of Prussia, PA. Charged with conspiracy, burglary, and criminal mischief; convicted and imprisoned. Action known as the "Plowshares Eight;" began the international Plowshares movement.
1980-1999: Participated in 5 more Plowshares actions, resulting in ~7 years of imprisonment.
November 5, 1981: Birth of Kate Berrigan at Jonah House.
1989: Published The Times' Discipline, on the Jonah House experience, with Liz McAlister.
1996: Published autobiography, Fighting the Lamb's War.
December 14, 2001: Released from Elkton, OH prison after nearly a year of imprisonment for his final Plowshares action.
July 12, 2002: Underwent hip replacement surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital, Baltimore, MD.
October 8, 2002: Diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, cancer in the liver and kidney.
December 6, 2002: Died at home in Baltimore, surrounded by family and community.
Phil Berrigans connection to Oregon 07.Dec.2002 09:50

somewhere in the hills

For you who don't know, or can't remember...

Phil Berrigan came to Oregon during the time he was a political refugee on the run. I first met him in a farmhouse in a remote part of Oregon. He was being hidden and cared for because he was a hunted man for burning draft cards and breaking into a military recruiting office and pouring blood on draft records.

A few people got to visit with him. I was changed forever by my time with him. I was an ex-Catholic. I was a peace activist. I had much anger about the Catholic church and the role of religion in the spread of war and hatred. He told us that the greatest spiritual truth comes from within us. He said that each of us have to hold a center that belongs to what is good and courageous. We can call it God or we can call it what we will. He talked to us about being willing to give up everything, even our own lives to stop the spread of war around the world. He explained the connections between multi-national corporations and the Nixon regime and how they wanted to take over all the resources of every country in the world. He explained the CIA/FBI connection to the war in Vietnam.

This was in 1970...or 1969.. Little has changed. The One world government is still building itself up death by death, soul by soul. It consuming the earth, the water, the air.

My dearest Phil. I was a young person confused about how I could help. You help make me a warrior for peace. I will miss you terribly.


the moral conscience of our generation 07.Dec.2002 11:17

Plowshares member

Phil Berrigan -the passing of a great moral leader - the moral conscience of our generation

Phil Berrigan has consistently acted in conscious against war for more than 40 years. He organized millions of people around the world to rise up against oppression and war. He spent many years in jail standing against oppression. In 1998 Phil was incarcerated in FCI Petersburg, Virginia for his Prince of Peace Plowshares Act of Conscience against a nuclear-capable Aegis Cruiser in Maine. He received two years in prison for vandalizing a Navy guided-missile destroyer in an Ash Wednesday protest at Bath Iron Works. Here is a link to information about his trial in 1997. It is called the Plowshares trial by activists around the world. Phil Berrigan tried to warn the world about DU (depleted uranium)used in weapons. He tried to tell the world about the illnesses that US ground troops and Iragi civilians were experiencing after George Bush Sr. attack on Iraq in 1990.

One of the judges involved in that case publicly called Phil Berrigan "the moral conscience of our generation." Then US Attorney General Janet Reno cut off all visits to Phil Berrigan after a visit from Mairead Corrigan Maguire (Co-founder, Peace People, Northern Ireland; 1976 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate). Phil was considered dangerous to the miltary buildup. Read a letter from Maguire to Reno concerning this punishment at

He served time at Roxbury Correctional Institution in Maryland for direct disarmament of A-10 anti-tank warplanes. Here is a link to a letter Phil wrote to activists while at this prison.

Essay by Phil Berrigan on Confronting Truth - http://www.musenet.org/~bkort/plowshares/berrigan.html

Plowshares website:http://www.nonviolence.org/

the moral conscience of our generation
the moral conscience of our generation