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Remembering Berrigan, Penniless Priest

Portrait Of Daniel Berrigan

Portrait of poet and peace activist Daniel Berrigan, New York, New York, 1995. (Photo by Chris Felver/Getty Images)

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 05/05/16

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The funeral Mass for Father Daniel Berrigan will be celebrated Friday morning. Here’s a personal look at how the celebrated pacifist lived, from the great Jim Dwyer of The New York Times:

On his last day alive, the Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan wore pajama bottoms that had belonged to an older brother who died last year. In Father Berrigan’s closet was a thin navy blue backpack, “light as a feather,” his niece Frida Berrigan said. He brought it everywhere.

“Dan owned nothing,” Ms. Berrigan said on Thursday. “He carried nothing. Whenever I traveled with him, to conferences, speaking engagements, retreats, family occasions, he’d bring that little backpack of nothing. I’d pick him up and ask, ‘Is that all you have?’ He’d say: ‘Yes, that’s it. Let’s go.’”

Father Berrigan, a Jesuit priest who died last week at 94 and whose funeral will be held on Friday in New York, filled his life to the brim with poetry and protest, preaching and witness.

Deeds, not things, made Father Berrigan one of the best-known Roman Catholic priests of the 20th century: His physical possessions barely filled the modest room in the Jesuit infirmary at Fordham University in the Bronx where he spent his final years. He departed indifferently penniless from a world that often seems to keep score in gilded ink.

“My cousin Carla and I got married 15 years apart,” Ms. Berrigan said. “He wore the same shirt to both weddings.” Last week, five years after the second of those weddings, it was still hanging in the closet.

“He had two kinds of clothes: threadbare, translucent from wear, and things that he had never worn,” she said. “He had a shiny old black raincoat that he wore to every demonstration. Just Google the images of him.”

And there’s this detail at the end, describing part of his funeral Mass:

During the offertory, which is part of every Catholic Mass, gifts of bread and wine are brought to the altar…

At the Mass for Father Berrigan, in addition to bread and wine, other gifts will be brought to the altar. A plowshare. A hammer.

“And that shirt,” Ms. Berrigan said. “The one he wore to the weddings.”

Photo: Getty Images

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