Daniel Berrigan Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Daniel Berrigan was born the fifth of six sons to Thomas Berrigan and Frieda Fromhart Berrigan, who were married in northern Minnesota by a priest who had served Native Americans. Berrigan described his Irish father as an “extraordinary conglomerate of passion and illusion,” whereas his German-born mother was practical and deeply devout. When Daniel was five, the family moved to a farm near Syracuse, New York, where he was educated at St. John the Baptist, a schooling that he felt was a “mitigated catastrophe,” since most of the nuns, “ignorant and unhappy,” made sure that these traits flourished in their charges. His father, a poet manqué, familiarized his son with such Romantics as Lord Byron, but his son preferred the poets of his own time. In high school, a nun who manifested a humanitarianism and holiness that he found attractive saw him as a potential priest, as did a friend and classmate. After graduation, he decided to enter the Society of Jesus because of this religious order’s “revolutionary history.”

His life as a Jesuit began on August 14, 1939, when he entered the novitiate at St.-Andrew-on-Hudson near Poughkeepsie, New York. After two years of ascetical and spiritual training, he took his perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. This was followed by two years of literary studies in the Latin and Greek classics. During this time, he published his first poem, which he later described as a postadolescent “Marian effusion,” in the Jesuit magazine America. The next phase of his Jesuit training occurred at Woodstock in the Maryland countryside, where he studied Scholastic philosophy. He experienced World War II vicariously through his brothers, who fought in Africa and Europe, and he learned of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima while he was a patient in a Baltimore hospital. The horrors of this war helped to solidify his growing pacifist outlook.

From 1946 to 1949, he taught at St. Peter’s Preparatory School in Jersey City, New Jersey. He also met Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker, who encouraged him to minister to the poor. After returning to Woodstock to pursue his theological studies, he was ordained a priest on June 19, 1952, and was soon sent to France. The time Berrigan spent in France, where he met men who had been engaged in the...

(The entire section is 954 words.)