A Ministry of Risk: The Berrigans in DePaul’s Special Collections and Archives

A new book showcasing the collected works of Philip Berrigan, renowned peace activist and Catholic priest, heavily features material from the DePaul Special Collections and Archives.

Each year, DePaul Special Collections and Archives welcomes visitors of all kinds into our reading room – students, staff, faculty, historians, curious community members, documentary film makers, authors, and more. While staff do not always have the privilege of following our researchers’ journeys to fruition, the final product sometimes ends up back in our hands. Such is the case with author and editor Brad Wolf, who spent time in our reading room with the Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister papers, an experience Wolf said proved “instrumental” in the creation of his new book.

A Ministry of Risk book coverBrad Wolf has made Philip Berrigan’s work available to a new generation of readers through “A Ministry of Risk: Writings on Peace and Nonviolence” published by Fordham University Press in April 2024. Edited by Wolf, with a preface by Frida Berrigan and an afterword by John Dear, A Ministry of Risk is a chronological compilation of Philip Berrigan’s writings. Authorized by the Berrigan family, the book examines Berrigan’s almost 44 years of anti-military, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist work.

Berrigan was born in 1923 to Thomas Berrigan, a socialist and labor organizer, and Frida Fromhardt. Philip was the youngest of six children. Shortly after enrolling in College of the Holy Cross, the United States entered World War II and Philip enlisted, cutting his college career short. He served 3 years in Europe as an infantry platoon officer. Upon his return, and at the urging of his brothers, he finished his degree in 1950 and was ordained into St. Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart in 1955.

Philip BerriganThe unfair treatment of African American soldiers while enlisted had galvanized Philip, and his first position as a new priest in an all-Black parish in Louisiana only furthered his commitment to the civil rights movement. He began participating in protests and following civil rights speakers, which caught the eye of unhappy superiors. Eventually, Berrigan was transferred to New York then Maryland. It was there, in Baltimore, where he would conceptualize and conduct the act that changed antiwar protests forever; the public destruction of draft cards with blood and homemade napalm.

Anti-war activism was a family affair for the Berrigans; Philip’s soon-to-be wife Elizabeth and his brother Daniel were activists in their own rights. Dan famously joined him as part of the Catonsville Nine, a group of Catholic activists who took almost 400 draft cards from a Selective Service office and set them ablaze. Philip and Elizabeth continued to organize and protest, focusing on the Plowshares Movement, an anti-nuclear weapon and pacifist movement started by the Berrigan brothers, until Philip’s death in 2002. A Ministry of Risk puts Philip’s spirit and moral clarity into perspective and solidifies him as a true revolutionary, whose actions defined antiwar protest as we know it.

In alignment with the Vincentian tradition, DePaul Special Collections and Archives maintains a collecting policy that includes peace activism (PDF) and the social justice work of the Catholic Left. Special Collections and Archives hold the collections of Philip Berrigan, his wife and fellow activist Elizabeth McAlister, and his brothers, Daniel Berrigan and Jerome C. Berrigan. Through correspondence, photographs, legal documents, books and other published works, the collections document the Berrigan-McCallister’s life and work. In their honor, DePaul will soon be presenting the Fourth Annual Berrigan-McAlister Award to The Los Angeles Catholic Worker for their efforts providing food and shelter to the unhoused in Los Angeles, as well as their commitment to nonviolence.

Notably, DePaul Special Collections also holds collections documenting the Plowshares movement and holds the papers of Sister Helen Prejean, famed anti-death penalty activist. You can request all the collections mentioned above – including the Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister papers — at DePaul’s Special Collections and Archives, located on the third floor of John T. Richardson Library. For more information on visiting SPCA, please see our hours and policies. You can call us at 773-325-7864, email us, or stop by! We look forward to your visit!

Special Collections and Archives supports the teaching and learning mission of the University by providing course-specific instruction, reference services and individual research consultations, and by ensuring access to the rich primary source materials that inform our understandings of self, University, community, and the global society.

Photo credits:
A Ministry of Risk: Writings on Peace and Nonviolence by Philip Berrigan and Brad Wolf (Fordham University Press, 2024).
Philip Berrigan. Jerome C. Berrigan papers, Box 22, Folder 16, Special Collections and Archives, DePaul University Library, Chicago, Illinois.
Dan and Phil Berrigan with Sister Josephine. Jerome C. Berrigan papers, Box 22, Folder 16, Special Collections and Archives, DePaul University Library, Chicago, Illinois.
Philip and Dan Berrigan. Jerome C. Berrigan papers, Box 22, Folder 16, Special Collections and Archives, DePaul University Library, Chicago, Illinois.
Elizabeth McAlister with her and Phil’s young children, Frida and Jerry, c. 1970s. Jerome C. Berrigan papers, Box 24, Folder 4, Special Collections and Archives, DePaul University Library, Chicago, Illinois.

 

One Reply to “A Ministry of Risk: The Berrigans in DePaul’s Special Collections and Archives”

  1. Emily,

    Excellent write up. Thanks to everyone continuing to highlight this important collection! And nice to see you, however briefly, on Friday.

    Kathryn

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