Loyola’s Berrigan Week Honors Jesuit Priest For Activism

Olivia Miller | The PhoenixLoyola celebrated Berrigan week Sept. 18-20, honoring the Jesuit priest, poet, author, educator and activist.

Daniel Berrigan was a poet, author and educator, but it was his religious beliefs and activism that led him to being the first priest on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Most Wanted List.”

From Sept. 18 to 20, Loyola’s Hank Center For Catholic Intellectual Heritage created and celebrated Berrigan Week — a series of personal reflections, a documentary film, information sessions, academic panels, live music and spoken poetry performances as well as an art exhibit to educate and open a dialogue about social change.

Berrigan Week is the beginning of a series of events this semester that aims to inform and engage students and faculty of the year 1968, according to Michael Murphy, director of the Hank Center.

The year 1968 included the Vietnam War, student uprisings, the Olympics, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy as well as the civil rights movement. Murphy said 50 years later, the U.S. is still socially and politically chaotic.

In ‘68, Berrigan was known for speaking out against war, according to Murphy. The Catonsville Nine — a group of nine non-violence activists, including Berrigan, burned war draft files to protest the Vietnam War, which resulted in Berrigan being on the run from the U.S. government for about 3 years, and he later served about 2 years in prison, Murphy said.

The kickoff for Berrigan Week took place Tuesday night with Bill Wylie-Kellerman, a good friend of Berrigan’s, giving a presentation titled “Berrigan and Stringfellow: The Politics of Friendship,” which was an introduction to Berrigan’s life through the eyes of someone who knew him personally.

Wylie-Kellerman said he met Berrigan in 1972 while he was a student in New York City at Union Seminary. Wylie-Kellerman was directing a course on the Harrisburg Conspiracy Trail — a group of anti-war activists who raided government buildings in protest of the Vietnam War, which Berrigan was a member of, Wylie-Kellerman said.

It’s impossible to talk about Berrigan without also mentioning William Stringfellow, according to Wylie-Kellerman. Stringfellow was a lawyer, theologian, social activist and good friend of Berrigan’s, Wylie-Kellerman said. Through their shared passion of social justice, Berrigan and Stringfellow were examples of people that lived out their faith, according to Wylie-Kellerman.

Karli Conger, a junior anthropology major, said she appreciated the emotion behind Wylie-Kellerman’s talk and how willing he was to share the details of his friendship with Berrigan.  

“I thought it was really interesting and well spoken,” the 20-year-old said. “And I thought it was different, you know, I heard it from my teacher like a background, but the personal connection he had to them was really evident, and I liked that a lot.”

Berrigan Week continued with filmmaker Susan Hagedorn. Hagedorn created “Seeking Shelter: A Story of Place, Faith, and Resistance,” which was a documentary about Berrigan’s life on Block Island, Rhode Island where he and Stringfellow created a community. According to Hagedorn, the community was said to be an example on how the rest of the world should live. Hagedorn said she’s excited to see the Loyola community having an interest in Berrigan’s life as well as the ideals he stood for.  

“You can find a community and spirituality wherever you are,” Hagedorn said. “That being based in a place and growing a community in a place enables you to do peace work.”

Elizabeth Shermer, an associate history professor at Loyola, said the film highlighted the same values Loyola teaches its students — community, social justice and activism.

“I think what’s really powerful about this is seeing it’s a 50-year tradition,” Shermer said. “You know, we usually think … in history textbooks in class we usually have these one little moments that blip up along the way, and we don’t realize that it’s a narrative arch.”

Thursday night was the “Berrigan Week Symposium,” with readings of the “Berrigan Letters,” which are conversations between Berrigan and his brother, Philip. Daniel Cosacchi, the co-editor of the letters and a Loyola alumnus, led the event along with Michelle Nickerson, an associate history professor at Loyola.

Following the reading was a discussion panel titled “The New Catholic Left,” intended to have an open conversation with participants about the Catholic Church today, featuring Fred Marchant, a poet, Kathleen Ridolfi, a professor of law at Santa Clara University, Shawn Francis Peters, a professor of integrated liberal studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison and Heidi Schlumpf, a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.

The final event for Berrigan Week was “The Poetry and Music of Protest” led by Merchant, which featured spoken poetry and live music from the 1960s.

Murphy said he’s proud of what he and his colleagues accomplished to provide Berrigan Week for the Loyola community.

“This is a critical kind of education and this is a critical kind of conversation, and we just felt like the students would open up and experience, and I think they would be glad and happy that they did that,” Murphy said.

According to the Hank Center, an art exhibit titled “Seeking Shelter Exhibit” about Berrigan’s life and work will be open on the 2nd Floor Fireplace of Damen Student Center until Nov. 15.


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