Jerry Berrigan of activist Berrigan brothers dies at 95

by Renée K. Gadoua


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Jerome "Jerry" Berrigan, the lesser-known of the three activist Berrigan brothers, died Sunday at his home here. He was 95.

Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest, and the late Philip Berrigan, then a Josephite priest, became prominent anti-war activists during the Vietnam War. In May 1968, the two and seven other Catholics used homemade napalm to burn draft files in Catonsville, Md. Both were sentenced to three years in prison.

Jerry had his own rap sheet. He was last arrested in 2011 after protesting Reaper drones at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse. He was 91. He participated in many protests against war, the death penalty, homelessness, civil rights and the School of Americas training program at the Fort Benning, Ga., Army base.

"I take the promise of non-violence seriously as any contributor to turning the world to a Christian way would," he told the Syracuse Catholic Sun in 2010. "The lesson learned is the need to treat everyone lovingly and equally. Everyone deserves that by reason of their humanity, by reason of their being a child of God."

Berrigan served in the U.S. Army for three years during World War II. He later attended College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and studied to join the Josephites. He left the seminary and earned his college degree at Le Moyne College in Syracuse.

He retired in 2002 after 35 years of teaching English and writing composition at Onondaga Community College. He was active with Syracuse-area Catholic Worker activities, including jail ministry and Unity Acres, a men's shelter.

Jerry Berrigan is survived by Carol, his wife of 60 years; four children; five grandchildren; and his brother, Daniel Berrigan.

A funeral Mass will be held at noon on Wednesday at St. Lucy's Church, 432 Gifford St., Syracuse, NY. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Friends of Dorothy Catholic Worker House, 212 Wayne St., Syracuse, NY 13203.

Carla Berrigan, the youngest of his four children, said she remembers her uncles Dan and Phil visiting when she was young. "They would sit in the living room in a circle and would tell stories about their activism and their childhood," she said. "Their laughter shook the house."

He modeled "a sense of justice for everybody in the world," she said.

Retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Costello, who met Berrigan in the 1950s, called him a prophet and a peacemaker. "Each time he was arrested was a prophetic statement," Costello said. "He challenged all of us. I think that was part of his ministry."

Berrigan's legacy is simple, Costello said: "God is peace. Peace is God. His acts spoke more loudly than even his words."

While his brothers drew national headlines for their activism, Jerry chose to advocate for justice out of the spotlight, said his longtime pastor, Fr. Jim Mathews of St. Lucy's Church in Syracuse.

"Jerry was the quiet guy doing his own thing," Mathews said. "In his quiet way, he challenged the powers that be, whether it be war-making or injustice."

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner Monday ordered the flag at City Hall lowered to half-mast in recognition of  Berrigan's impact on the community.

[Renee K. Gadoua is a freelance writer and editor in Syracuse, N.Y. Follow her on Twitter: @ReneeKGadoua.]

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