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A peacemaker’s birthday bash

A renowned poet who was once a fugitive from the FBI and the subject of a Time magazine cover story, Jesuit Fr. Daniel Berrigan isn’t in the news as much as he was in the 1960s when he was a leader of Catholic opposition to the Vietnam War.

However, the elder statesman of the Catholic left keeps busy as a retreat leader and writer, as well as doing volunteer work with New York City AIDS patients.

Berrigan’s friends -- more than 700 are expected -- plan to gather May 6 in Manhattan to fete the eldest Berrigan brother, who turns 80 May 9. The party will be held at St. Paul the Apostle Church auditorium on West 60th Street.

The party will feature music by folksinger Dar Williams and speeches from Detroit Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, author Howard Zinn, brother Jerry Berrigan and Berrigan’s also-famous sister-in-law Elizabeth McAlister. Conspicuously absent from the party will be Dan’s brother and frequent partner-in-crime, Philip Berrigan, The 78-year-old Philip, who is married to McAlister, is serving a one-year prison sentence in an Ohio federal prison for an anti-nuclear weapons protest.

Jesuit Fr. John Dear, who lives in The West Side Jesuit Community on 98th Street where Berrigan resides, will serve as master of ceremonies. Reservations are required to join the celebration for “the greatest living peacemaker in the country,” Dear said.

Organizers, who started planning the event in February, hope to avoid the overflow of revelers that showed for Berrigan’s 75th birthday party in 1996. A smaller New York City church was used for that event, and scores of people had to be turned away at the door.

As at all of Berrigan’s parties, attendees will be treated to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. The company agreed to provide free ice cream for Berrigan events in exchange for a Berrigan’s appearance in a national ad for the company in 1994.

Money raised at the party -- suggested donation is $20 --will be donated to the New York City-based peace group Kairos, which, among other things, provides support to “peace prisoners.”

-- Patrick O’Neill

National Catholic Reporter, May 4, 2001