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Activist Jerry Berrigan dies aged 95

St Lucy's Church, Syracuse, where the funeral will take place

Jerome “Jerry” Berrigan, the lesser-known of the three activist Berrigan brothers, died last Sunday at the age of 95.

Jerry participated in many protests against war, the death penalty, homelessness, and he was a prominent civil rights campaigner.

“I take the promise of non-violence seriously as any contributor to turning the world to a Christian way would,” he told the Syracuse Catholic Sun in 2010. “The lesson learned is the need to treat everyone lovingly and equally. Everyone deserves that by reason of their humanity, by reason of their being a child of God.”

Berrigan served in the U.S. Army for three years during World War II. He later attended College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and studied to join the Josephites. He left the seminary and earned his college degree at Le Moyne College in Syracuse.

He retired in 2002 after 35 years of teaching English and writing composition at Onondaga Community College. He was active with Syracuse-area Catholic Worker activities, including jail ministry and Unity Acres, a men’s shelter.

Retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Costello, who met Berrigan in the 1950s, called him a prophet and a peacemaker. “Each time he was arrested was a prophetic statement,” Costello said. “He challenged all of us. I think that was part of his ministry.”

Berrigan’s legacy is simple, Costello said: “God is peace. Peace is God. His acts spoke more loudly than even his words.”

Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest, and the late Philip Berrigan, then a Josephite priest, were prominent anti-war activists during the Vietnam War. In May 1968, they and seven other Catholics used homemade napalm to burn draft files in Catonsville, Maryland, leading each to a three year prison sentence. While his brothers drew national headlines for their activism, Jerry chose to advocate for justice out of the spotlight, said his longtime pastor, Fr. Jim Mathews of St. Lucy’s Church in Syracuse.

“Jerry was the quiet guy doing his own thing,” Mathews said. “In his quiet way, he challenged the powers that be, whether it be war-making or injustice.”