Anti-War Voices from the Catholic Left

 “How many must die before our voices are heard, how many must be tortured,  dislocated, starved, maddened . . . When, at what point, will you say no to this war?”

– Daniel Berrigan, SJ

Daniel Berrigan, pictured on far right. Photo by Ron Frehm

This week dealt with the complications that occur for Catholic Americans regarding their moral duty against what they perceive as unjust and the idea of patriotism during wartime. When religious identity and national identity are not aligned, Catholics are forced to make political decisions–and the results can be quite radical. Principally, after attending several events at The Hank Center’s Berrigan Week, I found many connections between the speakers and our class reading on Reverend William Au’s article, “American Catholics and the Dilemma of War, 1960-1980.”

The first event that I attended was led by Bill Wylie-Kellerman, who was a personal friend of both William Stringfellow and Dan Berrigan. Knowing very little about Catholic protesters beforehand, his description and personal anecdotes opened my eyes into the community of theologians who advocate for peace during war. In my opinion, many of these scholars and religious people are heavily influenced by the Catholic Workers Movement and Dorothy Day.  Similarly, I learned about Father Daniel Berrigan’s involvement in the Catonsville Nine, which was an act of protest wherein him and 8 others broke into the United States’ draft center and burned the files of the men most vulnerable to be deployed. Symbolically, they scorched these documents with homemade Napalm. But Kellerman mostly discussed the ways in which Berrigan relied on scripture to interpret the lack of ethics within the war. Au’s statement on how the Berrigans saw Vietnam as a representation of “the fruit of what had always been the dominant values of American society,”  (Au 72) became more apparent as Kellerman spoke.  Moreover, Berrigan was critical of both the Republican and Democratic parties because he saw the faults of both political parties as incorrigible. His faith promoted ideas of pacifism, and he was willing to sacrifice his American freedom in the name of his Catholic freedom.

I also viewed the film Seeking Shelter: A Story of Place, Faith, and Resistance‌, directed by Susan Hagedorn. The documentary gave more evidence of Berrigan’s political persona within the small island community. Using the island as a hideaway from the FBI, he often hosted guests and created an environment for him and other Catholics to discuss politics in an open dialogue. Eventually, Berrigan was found and arrested in Block Island and went on to serve two years in prison.  I found it fascinating how Berrigan did not discern faith and politics as separate entities. Rather, he depended on scripture, notably from the book of Revelations, and applied it to the Vietnam War. I thoroughly appreciated the forum afterward, where the audience established the need for community building during this age of political unrest. Following the film, I visited the exhibit on Daniel Berrigan and Catholic protesters, which was informative and summarized Catholic resistance efforts.

Saintly images of Daniel Berrigan, photo by me.
An overview of the Seeking Shelter exhibit, photo by me.

After hearing multiple stories praising Berrigan’s activism, it was refreshing to hear a critical analysis of the Catholic protest movement. Kenneth Woodward, a journalist and former Theology editor for Newsweek during the war, briefly interjected in the middle of the Berrigan Week Symposium. He posed the question of whether or not Berrigan’s efforts enhanced or inhibited the general Protest movement. Clearly, Berrigan is a prominent name in liberal Catholicism; however, he is generally unknown to the American public. I do not think he transcended religious boundaries because his legacy seems concentrated to the Catholic Left. Certainly, not all Catholics opposed the Vietnam War, and there was little said about the majority of Catholic Realists and supporters of the war during Berrigan Week. Essentially, the acts of radicals did not fully represent the way that all Catholics felt. Catholic Realists believed that preserving Western liberal democracy was “wedded to their ecclesiastical priority of preserving Catholicism as a significant part of that society” (Au 61). This explains why President JFK, a Catholic himself, entered the Vietnam War to contain communism.

Time magazine cover, 1971

Au describes how the terminology of ‘the Catholic Left’ was borne out of “the activities of the Berrigans and a growing following of peace activists who engaged in similar acts of civil disobedience” (Au 70). At the Symposium, I listened to two Catholic leftists share the ways in which they protested. First, Fred Marchant revealed that he enlisted in the Marines and opted out after seeing the horrors and mutilation of Vietnamese civilians. As a poet, he resonated with much of Berrigan’s philosophy and recalled reading The National Catholic Reporter denounce the war while he was in Vietnam. The NCR initially supported the war effort, but eventually condemned it in 1967 on the grounds that the war was ruining America as a moral symbol for the world (Au 64). The second story was extremely engaging, as it was a personal account from Kathleen ‘Cookie’ Ridolfi, a member of the Camden 28. She narrated the process of breaking into a federal building to steal draft files and being caught by the FBI. Cookie read a chilling witness testimony by the mother of one of the 28, who lost her son in Vietnam and approved of their actions. Ridolfi and Marchant failed to offer their views on the future of the Catholic Left, but their experiences left an impression on me and my peers nonetheless.

Concluding Berrigan Week, I listened to a selection of songs and poems of protesters following the Symposium. The peace songs and poems illustrated the individual turmoil that war leaves behind. Chiefly, Fred Marchant recited poems that showed how his transition out of the war was an internal battle. Peace hymns were another component that unified protesters, and I felt a spirit of solidarity when the room sang “Down by the Riverside”. In addition, Berrigan used poetry as an extension of his activism, as seen through the poem, “Children in the Shelter”:

Photo from the Songs and Poetry reception. Photo by me.

I picked up the littlest

a boy, his face

breaded with rice (His sister calmly feeding him

as we climbed down)

In my arms, fathered

in a moment’s grace, the messiah

of all my tears. I bore, reborn

a Hiroshima child from hell.


In summary, this week solidified my suspicions on the division of Catholics surrounding the Vietnam War. Radical Catholic peace activists, like Daniel Berrigan, deserve more recognition for their powerful acts of civil disobedience. At the same time, there are many Catholics that do not endorse these actions. If I were to walk into my local parish, I could spot several Vietnam War Veterans that would defend their service for the United States. I guess the question is whether they are considered more Catholic or more American.


Au, William A. “American Catholics and the Dilemma of War 1960-1980.” U.S. Catholic Historian, vol. 4, no. 1, 1984, pp. 49–79. JSTOR.
Carroll, James. “Daniel Berrigan, My Dangerous Friend.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017,

Catholics and their Fight for Citizenship in America

What I discovered this week is that for many Catholics, citizenship was not granted to them automatically upon arriving in the United States.

Primarily, immigrant Catholics were denied citizenship because of their categorization as ‘the white ethnic,’ which inhibited cultural integration and Americanization. I was unaware of how Catholics were not considered as whites and rejected so much that they were often compared to slaves, as James Barret explains in his masterful work The Irish Way. According to Barret, Irish Catholics were labeled as savages, and there is evidence of propaganda against the Irish Catholics within political cartoons, as pictured on the left.photo_slideshow_max

Effectively, Irish Catholics had no political power upon first arriving in the United States because of the cultural barriers between them and the existing Presbyterian majority.  Barret tells how the label of ‘white ethnic’ eventually shifts due to the fact that Americanization “occurred in settlement houses, night school classes, and corporate programs, where middle-class elites pressed WASP values on working-class immigrants” (Barret 3). Largely, these patronizing elites facilitated the process of assimilation for immigrants. Jane Addams’ Hull House here in Chicago, for example, was a place where isolated Catholics new to America could interact with one another outside of their strenuous work days. Settlement houses were charitable havens where one entered as a Catholic (or Jew) and gained skills that made them more American through various community programs for both adults and children.

Another source of citizenship for Catholics were unions because they extended liberties into the workday with the improvement of wages and conditions. The right to work, in combination with protections that unions provided to hardworking immigrants, allowed lower-class immigrants to no longer identify as sub-citizens. Labor gave Catholic immigrants the chance to move away from the ‘white ethnic’ and into the white working class, therefore completing their transition into citizenship. The New Deal, too, opened opportunities for the white working class with various social programs aimed to stimulate the economy during the Great Depression.

Fundamentally, social programs and unions paved the way for Catholics to become less foreign and more American.  There has been progress for European Catholic immigrants over the years, yet the way we define citizenship has not remained the same. Citizenship is not just limited to the right to work, but also to social and cultural acceptance. Even today, not all Catholics are treated as full citizens. As mentioned in my last post, Hispanic Catholics are the new enemies to American society. Furthermore, James McMartin suggests that the increase of Latino Catholics may lead to the revival of the “Catholic Other” in his article entitled “The Waning of the “Catholic Other” and Catholicism in American Life after 1965.”


Exploring Chicago’s Historical Sites

In relation to this week’s topic, I took to the ‘L’ and investigated various Chicago sites where Catholics worked to become Americans. Visiting Union Park, Plumbers Union Hall, and the Haymarket Affair Memorial gave me a sense of the atmosphere that many of these immigrant Catholics lived in. At Union Park, I wandered into the Field House and was impressed by the preservation of the building. I did not necessarily see much evidence of Catholicism, but it was clear to me that the site was crucial to the integration of African Americans. Several plaques illustrated various social groups of African Americans and their families at community events. Today it remains an important community hub, offering recreational activities for those in the surrounding area.

Steps away from Union Park is where I encountered Plumber’s Union Hall. Although I was unable to access the inside, the surrounding area seemed heavily influenced by unions. I peered into the neighboring bar, which was filled with unionized plumbers, and I passed by a couple of other unions, including the Fraternal Order of Police. Last week we read that Chicago’s Cardinal Cupich recently made a political announcement at Plumber’s Union Hall that both Catholicism and Pope Francis stand with workers. It was rather exciting to be near these places where many Catholics began receiving rights that are now broadly accepted across the nation.

I then circled back into the West Loop to view the Haymarket Affair Memorial site. Many business professionals on their lunch breaks passed by the towering statue without even glancing at what was once the site of an anarchist bombing that killed 7 police officers. The memorial is adorned with plaques from a variety of Chicago unions that declare their support of the 8-hour work day. The main plaques give very little background into the poor conditions that workers were under. On my way there, I spotted an Irish flag on the corner of a nearby building, which seemed to be a tribute to the area’s former residents.

My final stop on my day of adventures was the Chicago Cultural Center. From what I understand after speaking with a tour guide and doing individual research, the Cultural Center began as a library and was mainly used as a way to showcase Chicago as a metropolis through the ornate architecture and breathtaking stained-glass domes. Since the 1990s, it was renamed as the Cultural Center and has become a place where young Chicago artists can showcase their art to the city. I toured various exhibits and noticed that there are quite a few programs available for Chicago youth. The need for libraries has changed over the years, and the Chicago Cultural Center offers programs that facilitate the community to come together as the settlement houses once did.

In this slideshow you can follow my journey throughout Chicago:

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Barrett, James R. The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City. Viking, 2014.
McMartin, James P. “The Waning of the ‘Catholic Other’ and Catholicism in American Life after 1965.” Revue Française D’études Américaines, no. 95, Feb. 2003, pp. 7–29. JSTOR.
Cartoon: Resnick, Brian. “Racist Anti-Immigrant Cartoons From the Turn of the 20th Century.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 27 Nov. 2014,
“The People’s Palace: The Story of the Chicago Cultural Center.” City of Chicago,
Slideshow photos by Allison Lapinski


From Yesterday to Today: The Shift in Political Interest within Catholicism


Two political issues that are central to ongoing debates in the United States are immigration and participation in democracy. With the 2018 election merely months away and the 2020 election nearing, these issues have become even more polarized and divisive among Americans.

Undoubtedly, immigration has become a battleground for both parties as politicians and voters make sense of Trump-era policies and executive orders, such as family separation or the “Muslim ban”.  Chiefly, Hispanic populations have been targeted by the Trump administration since his candidacy, where his campaign speeches referred to Latinos as “rapists” and fervent crowds chanted back “build that wall”. Hispanic culture is overwhelmingly Catholic, and I find that immigrants from Mexico and other Hispanic countries are being marginalized by the immigration policies that have been introduced since 2016. But Latinos are not the only group of immigrants with a Catholic heritage, Asian and African populations are a growing force within the church. If there is ever a time for a ‘Catholic vote’, then it is essential for minorities who identify as Catholic to unite and vote for the interest of their families, parishes, and fellow immigrants.

Participation in democracy is another key issue, and as discussed in class, there are still ways in which minorities are disadvantaged on election day which perhaps inhibits the minority Catholic vote from making an impact on the political system. Strict voter identification laws, inaccessibility to transportation, and restrictive voting hours that conflict with the work day are just a few of the reasons why turnout is so low compared to the electorate.

Catholics remain a politically active group of voters, yet the Catholic institution in America and American democracy has changed vastly over time. The political issues that were important in the early 1900s, for example, were religious tolerance and welfare for the poor. Irish and Italian Catholic immigrants were unaccepted by the Protestant majority for years, and while there were religious freedoms granted to Catholics by the Constitution, religious intolerance created a separate society for them. They dwelled in industrialized cities like Chicago and New York, where the communities were ostracized for their differences and circulating images of Catholics in political propaganda were dehumanizing and oppressive. I think that once Catholics finally used their power in numbers to help elect President John F Kennedy,  the Catholic stigma began to fade out of American mainstream culture. This is also back when the Catholics voted as a bloc, whereas today they are divided by party.

Similarly, Catholics played a large role in initial welfare programs that are now in place across the nation. Catholic charities were among the first institutions to address poverty in their community through the use of public housing and hunger relief shelters. Catholics voted for welfare systems to be put into place federally when they supported FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society.

There has been a monumental shift in how Catholics identify themselves in America and which issues they choose to vote for. In some ways, the formerly disenfranchised Catholics have found themselves in a position of power over today’s Catholic immigrants.  There is still much to uncover about Catholics as a political force historically that can be applied to modern times as the nation gears up for changes in the House of Representatives in November and I look forward to researching and learning more as the semester progresses.


Photo courtesy of Fibonacci Blue