Kate and Frida's Eulogy
We did an anointing of Dad last Saturday, and we joked with him that
he was one of the few people who had now received all seven sacraments
(and being good Catholics all three of us Berrigan kids were hard pressed to name even five sacraments). But that made us think about what a gift it is to have a father who had been a priest (although it should have followed that we would all ace Latin in high school- only Kate did, and know the seven holy sacraments).
As Dad was dying, there were many opportunities, like this one, to
celebrate who he was and reflect on what he meant to us. One of the
thoughts that resonated the most with us in the last days of Dad's life… was that he showed us all what it means to be free.
We have visited our dad in many prisons-- Danbury, Allentown, Elkton, Lorton, Peterson, Hagerstown, Cumberland County, Baltimore County. We have spent time with him in all these dead spaces: spaces meant to intimidate, and cow and beat down; spaces that repel and resist children, laughter, loving and family; spaces meant to communicate a clear message of who is in charge; spaces with stupid rules about how and when and for how long to touch and hold; spaces where you talk into a phone and look through smudged plastic.
Some families would sit silently in the visiting rooms, some would
play cards, some would fight. It seemed like those families (and the
loved ones they were visiting in jail) were burdened by the thought
and the experience was that in jail everything is different; life does
not go on as usual. You are not free to do as you please or be who you
But our Dad never seemed touched by that weight. Even in prison, even in those awful spaces, he was free. In prison, as in the outside world, his work and life were to resist violence and oppression, to understand and try to live by God's word, to build community and help people learn to love one another.
When we visited our dad in prison we paid no heed to those spoken and unspoken rules, we filled those places with love, with family, with
stories, and laughter and strategizing. He was free in prison and he
showed us that freedom has nothing to do with where your body is, and
who holds the keys and who makes the rules. It has everything to do
with where your heart is, and being fearless and full of hope.
When he died, after a long week of struggle and pain and silence, he
was completely free from discomfort and pain, free from a body that
no longer worked, and free to live on in us, in all of you.
He is still very present to us... and the work we do (all of us), today and tomorrow and for the rest of our lives, will keep our Dad close to us...
He is here with us every time a hammer strikes on killing metal, transforming it from a tool of death to a productive, life-giving, life-affirming implement.
He is here with us every time a member of the church communicates the central message of the gospel (thou shalt not kill) and acts to oppose killing, rather than providing the church seal of approval on war.
He is here whenever joy and irreverent laughter and kindness and hard work are present.
He is here every time we reach across color and class lines and embrace each other as brother and sister.
He is here every time we risk our freedom in an effort to secure justice and peace for all.
He is here where ever children are loved and respected and listened
to, but not idolized, or sheltered from truth, or used as an excuse
for not doing what is right.
He is here when we challenge comfort, silence, complicity, the easy
He is here when we believe in every person's potential for good, regardless of background or labels.
He is here when we unlearn the violence and greed we are inculcated
with as Americans, and practice peace making and reconciliation.
He is here when we engage in serious study of the gospels, mining their wisdom for tools to dismantle injustice.
He is here when we live in community, live simply and share.
Thanks Dad, for lessons in freedom, inside and outside of prison. And thanks to all of you for struggling towards freedom and working to build a just and peaceful world. Our dad lives on in you.