Prominent peace activist, poet and assistant director of Cornell United Religious Work from 1966 to 1970 Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan died Sunday. He was 94.
Throughout his life, Berrigan’s acts of civil disobedience often placed him at odds with authority figures, including the government and the Roman Catholic Church, according to The Washington Post.
One of his defining moments took place in Catonsville, Maryland, when he with his brother and seven other activists entered a Selective Service office and burned hundreds of draft files outside. They were subsequently charged with destruction of government property and became known as the “Catonsville Nine,” according to The New York Times.
Berrigan later detailed the incident in his original play called “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.”
“Our apologies, good friends,” he wrote. “For the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise.”
After being sentenced to three years in federal prison, Berrigan appealed until 1970. He then refused orders to report to prison in Connecticut — going underground before being caught by the FBI in Rhode Island. He ultimately served two years in prison, according to The Post.
While on the run, Berrigan led an anti-war rally at Barton Hall. He returned to Cornell to give a lecture on the legacy of protest at Cornell in 2006, according to the University.
“The fact that [Berrigan] is a part of Cornell’s history is something to be celebrated,” said Anke Wessels, director of Cornell’s Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy.
Several members of the Ithaca community also celebrate Berrigan time in the area.
“We rejoice for Dan’s incredible spirit, clarity and his prophetic voice,” said local activist Mary Anne Grady Flores in an email to community members. “In thanksgiving for your life Dan, we sing your spirit home!”
Berrigan published over 50 books in his lifetime, many of which were poetry, that often criticized norms and order, according to The Times.
After he was released from prison in 1972, Berrigan was continuously arrested for minor offenses, often involving protests against violence or weapons, The Times reported.
“The day after I’m embalmed, that’s when I’ll give it up,” he said on his 80th birthday.