Born in the city of Virginia in Minnesota, Fr Berrigan was the fifth child in a German-Irish Catholic family. Fr Berrigan was the first priest to ever be placed on the FBI's most wanted list and the first US priest ever arrested at a war protest.
Fellow activist Sheen described it as the “happiest day of my life” when he was arrested alongside the priest in New York City in 1986.
“It was my first arrest for a noble cause, and it was the happiest day of my life,” he said. Sheen is believed to have been arrested as many as 66 times for protesting and taking part in acts of civil disobedience. Human rights activist Craig Kielburger has described the “Apocalypse Now” star as having "a rap sheet almost as long as his list of film credits.”
Sheen had become close to the priest after playing the part of the trial judge in the film “In the King of Prussia,” which chronicles how Berrigan and his brother Philip, along with six others, began the Plowshares Movement when they broke into the General Electric nuclear missile facility in King of Prussia, PA in 1980.
A radical Catholic priest and a leader of the protests against the Vietnam War, the American Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan and his younger brother Philip were believed to be the brains and heart, respectively, behind the movement against the Vietnam war in the 1960s. The brothers created a culture of pacifist activism that lasted a generation and between them they spent many years in prison for their activism.
While his brother quit his Josephite order, Dan remained a Jesuit throughout. Dan also served less time than his brother in prison.
The brothers both became famous in May 1968 when they publicly burned Vietnam draft records at a recruitment station in Catonsville, MD and were sentenced to jail terms. Dan would later write a play about their experience entitled “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine” which was performed off-Broadway in 1971 and later turned into a 1972 film by Gregory Peck.
Despite remaining underground – apart from appearing at protests and engaging in several speaking engagements – the brothers’ notoriety had grown so much by this time that they had already been placed on the cover of Time magazine.
Berrigan was always willing to put himself in the line of fire in order to save others during the Vietnam War. In 1968 he flew to Hanoi with activist Howard Zinn to secure the release of three American pilots. While there he experienced bombing raids on the North Vietnam capital carried out by the US Air Force which led to his book “Night Flight to Hanoi: War Diary with 11 Poems.”
It was after the part he played in the protests in Catonsville that Berrigan first went missing for four months and was placed on the FBI’s most wanted list. He was discovered by authorities in Rhode Island in August 1970 and rearrested.
He was apprehended again many times after this, but it wasn't until 1981 that his next long stretch in prison was threatened as part of the “Plowshares Eight” who took hammers to nuclear warheads at a General Electric site. Although originally sentenced to five to ten years, it was eventually overturned.
Martin Sheen was just one of the many who Dan Berrigan inspired to his cause of nonviolent resistance, encouraging them to stand beside him in his fight against war.
“The world has lost a great peacemaker and humanitarian and poet and such an inspiration,” Sheen said.
“It’s like you’re describing someone that could not possibly have lived, and yet we knew him and loved him and worked with him and celebrated with him.”
Although ill health may have kept Berrigan from being physically present at many protests in later years, he was still arrested as recently as 2006, while already in his 80s, for taking part in a demonstration at a naval museum in New York. He also continued to teach at Fordham University in New York City and was a supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The poet, priest and campaigner Daniel Berrigan died April 30, 2016, aged 94.