New Digital Exhibit – “To Be Free From Fear”: The Berrigan Family’s Call To Action

DePaul University Special Collections and Archives’ new digital exhibit, “To Be Free From Fear”: The Berrigan Family’s Call To Action, was created to coincide with and commemorate the presentation of the inaugural Berrigan-McAlister Award on Wednesday, May 5, 2021.  The exhibit, curated by Jade Ryerson ‘21, Special Collections and Archives Student Assistant, focuses on the values that inspired generations of the Berrigan family to speak out against injustice and war.

Selected documents and photographs reveal notable events in the lives of the Berrigan family including their involvement with racial justice in the 1960s, protests against the Vietnam War, and founding the Plowshares movement in 1980, which opposes the development and stockpile of nuclear weapons.  The exhibit’s title comes from a letter dated January 26, 1977, written by Elizabeth (“Liz”) McAlister to her two small children, Frida and Jerome.  In the opening sentence of a very short letter she sums up the purpose of her work: “To be free from fear of having all of life vaporized by seemingly reasonable folk – is what it is all about dear little ones.”   

Letter from Liz McAlister to her children, Frida and Jerome Berrigan, while she was incarcerated. Page features a poem in the top left corner and a drawing of homes, flowers, and a person trying to break out of the canopy of a tree.
January 26, 1977, letter from Liz to her children, Frida and Jerome.

The Berrigan family archives were dedicated and opened for research in March 2001.  The Berrigan Library was acquired from Loome Theological Booksellers in 1999 and 2004.  Scholars and filmmakers have consulted the Berrigan family archives and related peace activism collections in DePaul’s Special Collections and Archives for their books, articles, and documentaries.  DePaul students have analyzed primary sources from the collections in history classes and archivists have collaborated with faculty teaching courses in the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies program to integrate selected materials into their curriculum. 

People are drawn to the primary sources created by the Berrigan family and their network of supporters because they document the power of community rooted in shared values.  Their poetry, letters, essays, and photographs echo Phil Berrigan’s message: “Peacemaking is not only a central characteristic of the Gospel, peacemaking is the greatest need of the world today.”

While we are not currently able to offer in-person research at this time, you can learn more about the Berrigan family archives and other Catholic social justice archival collections on our website.  If you would like to incorporate any of these works in an instruction session, please reach out to Morgen MacIntosh Hodgetts, Coordinator of Special Collections and Archives Engagement,

One Reply to “New Digital Exhibit – “To Be Free From Fear”: The Berrigan Family’s Call To Action”

  1. What a wonderful exhibit and collaboration! This is the use that helps the collections and develops more student awareness of collections. I am thinking of you all and wish you well in this event today.

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