This section highlights the values and actions of the Berrigans as leaders in Christian peace activism for over fifty years. Discover who the Berrigans are and how their Catholic faith inspired their commitment to nonviolence.
Faith and Family
Jerome, Daniel, and Philip Berrigan were the three youngest children in a family of eight. Their parents Thomas Berrigan and Frida Fromhardt were both devout Catholics. Thomas and Frida raised their six sons—Thomas, John, James, Jerome, Daniel, and Philip—in the same religious tradition.
Although only Dan and Phil formally entered the priesthood, the family’s Catholic roots remained central. For the Berrigans, opposing injustice, war, and nuclear weapons stemmed from Jesus’ teachings to respond to violence with love.
To the left, you can view a letter from Frida Fromhardt Berrigan to Daniel Berrigan about a radio talk he gave that she found inspiring. In it she expressed, “There is so much said about ‘the Love of God,’ without ever a mention of how to carry our burdens for ‘the Love of God.’” Through their activism, the Berrigans used this “burden” as an opportunity to make change.
“You just have to do what you know is right.”
Doing what was right did not always align with the law or religious authorities. Daniel “Dan” Berrigan was a poet, priest, and peace activist.
Despite the wishes of his Jesuit superiors, Dan spoke out openly against racial injustice and the Vietnam War during the 1960s and 1970s. He participated in several anti-war protests, including at the Pentagon, and experienced his first arrest for this very act in October 1967.
Throughout his life, Dan continued to advocate for peace through his poetry and teaching. He taught at Cornell University and also served as a visiting faculty member at DePaul University during the 1990s.
Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister
"Peacemaking is not only a central characteristic of the Gospel, peacemaking is the greatest need of the world today."
As a teacher, activist, and former Josephite priest, Philip “Phil” Berrigan dedicated his life to addressing the world’s need for peace. Through his involvement in the peace movement, Phil met Elizabeth “Liz” McAlister, a nun of the Order of the Sacred Heart. Liz studied and taught art history at Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York.
Both Phil and Liz opposed the Vietnam War and shared a commitment to peace activism. During the spring of 1969, Phil and Liz married by “mutual consent.” Over the next few years, the couple formalized their union, legalized their marriage, and left their respective religious orders.
Phil and Liz’s participation in protests at the Pentagon, White House, and in various Plowshares actions often resulted in long prison sentences. In total, they were separated from each other and their children for eleven nonconsecutive years. Since Phil's death in 2002, Liz has continued to engage in anti-nuclear peace activism through her speeches, writing, Plowshares actions, and leadership of Jonah House.
Jerome and Carol Berrigan
The fourth of the Berrigan boys, Jerome “Jerry” C. Berrigan was an English teacher and peace activist. He and his wife Carol Rizzo participated in anti-war and racial justice activism while raising their four children—Philip, Maria, Jerome, and Carla. Both Carol and Jerry went on to earn their doctorates. While Carol specialized in Learning Disabilities, Jerry pursued his doctoral studies in English.
In 1967, Jerry became an English and writing composition professor at Onondaga Community College. Throughout his 35 years of teaching there, Jerry continued to speak about peace and nonviolence. To serve his community, he co-founded Neighbors, Inc. Sponsored by the church, the organization provided housing for low-income, minority families.