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Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister papers

Identifier: MSS0097

Scope and Contents

The Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister papers document the work of social activists, peace protestors, and authors Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister, spanning the 1960s to 2000s. Materials in this collection have been created or collected by Phil and Liz. Biographical materials include newspaper and magazine articles about Phil, Liz, and Daniel Berrigan, awards, Bibles, photographs, and files about their children Frida, Jerry, and Kate. Most of these materials are from the 1990s to 2000s. Phil’s writings are also represented in the collection, including various drafts of Disciples and Dissidents and Fighting the Lamb’s War. A large portion of material in the collection is correspondence written to Phil and Liz from 1997 to 2002. In the Berrigan family correspondence there are letters written from Liz and Phil to their children Frida and Jerry in 1977 during their incarceration for D.C. peace actions. The bulk of the peace action series, dated from 1980 to 2002, contains information on Plowshares actions, including legal documents, newspaper articles, photographs, and writings. The Prince of Peace Plowshares (February 12, 1997) and Plowshares vs. Depleted Uranium (December 19, 1999) are heavily represented in this series. Catholic and activist publications collected by Phil and Liz are gathered together in a series. The collection also includes topic files most likely generated by Phil and Liz. Phil’s funeral and memorial services are documented by newspaper articles, programs, and condolence letters to Liz. Memorial books signed by friends and family at Phil’s memorial service also contain condolence letters. Because Phil Berrigan devoted his life’s work to the disarmament of nuclear weapons, materials on depleted uranium can be found in Phil’s writings, topic files, the peace action series, and in correspondence from individuals. Of the other formats found in this collection, photographs are found in the biographical series and the peace action series. Memorabilia, artwork and drawings, and audio-visual materials each have their own series. Materials were collected by Phil and Liz at their Jonah House residence in Baltimore, Maryland.


  • 1930-2012
  • Majority of material found within 1970-2008


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Biographical / Historical

Philip Berrigan was born on October 5, 1923 in Two Harbors, Minnesota. He was the sixth and youngest son born to Thomas Berrigan, radical socialist and labor organizer, and Frida Fromhardt, a German immigrant. Tom and Frida were devout Catholics who read America, Commonweal, and Catholic Worker. In 1926, the Berrigan family moved to Syracuse, New York. Phil had barely begun his college career when the United States entered World War II. He served from 1943 to 1946 as an infantry platoon officer in Europe and went to Infantry Officer Candidate School in Fontainebleau, Paris. When war in Europe ended in May 1945, Berrigan was ordered back to the United States to begin training for a Japanese invasion. Berrigan was spared from fighting in the Pacific Theater when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Phil describes how, at the time, he was “grateful to Harry Truman for dropping the atomic bomb” in his 1996 book, Fighting the Lamb’s War.

At the urging of his brothers Daniel and Jerome (“Jerry"), Phil returned to college in 1946. He finished his education at College of the Holy Cross, graduating in 1950. Phil also received a Bachelor of Science in Education from Loyola University in 1959 and a Masters in Liberal Arts from Xavier University in 1962. Partially because he witnessed discrimination against African American soldiers during the war, Phil decided to join the Josephite order, whose primary mission was to serve African Americans. Phil was ordained into St. Joseph’s Society of the Sacred Heart in 1955. As a newly ordained priest, Phil was assigned to teach at the all-black St. Augustine’s High School in New Orleans. He worked in New Orleans from 1955 to 1962. While in New Orleans, he organized the speaking tour for a staff member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), where he learned more about civil rights and was introduced to concepts of peacemaking. He also became involved in the civil rights movement by participating in protests, boycotts, and writing about racism in the South. In Fighting the Lamb’s War, Phil recounts that an article he published in the Catholic Worker was critical of the Josephite order and the “racist hierarchy of the Deep South.” His superiors were displeased with the article and transferred him to Newburgh, New York in 1963. There he taught English and Theology at a Josephite seminary and continued his work on the civil rights movement. In 1966 he was transferred to St. Peter Claver parish in Baltimore, Maryland.

Phil’s activism included opposition to the Vietnam War, which he regarded as “a racist attack on poor people of color.” On October 27, 1967, he and three others poured blood on draft files at the U.S. Customs House in Baltimore. For this action, he, Tom Lewis-Borberly, David Eberhardt, and Rev. James L. Mengel were called the “Baltimore Four.” On April 1, 1968, the trial of the Baltimore Four opened in federal court. The co-defendants were found guilty of the destruction of government property on April 16, 1968, but were released on recognizance. While Phil and Tom awaited sentencing for the Baltimore action, they and seven others destroyed draft records using homemade napalm at the Catonsville offices in Maryland on May 17, 1968. On May 24, 1968, Phil and Tom received six-year prison terms for the Baltimore action. The attorney for the Baltimore Four announced he would appeal the cases and asked that the defendants be released without bail pending the appeal. The judge denied this request, holding Phil and Tom in jail without bail.

Phil and Tom stayed in Baltimore County jail for six weeks after the Catonsville action. In July 1968, Phil was moved to the Federal Correctional Complex in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, where he remained until early September. He was then moved to Baltimore County jail to prepare for the October 5th Catonsville Nine federal trial, which lasted four days. In December 1968, Phil was released on bail and began his appeals for the Catonsville and Baltimore trials. The Baltimore County Circuit Judge ruled in March 1969 that the state of Maryland had the right to prosecute the Catonsville Nine, and this trial occurred that June. Phil was given three and a half years for the Catonsville action, to run concurrently with his six-year sentence for the Baltimore action. In April 1970, the Catonsville appeal was denied. Instead of cooperating with authorities, the defendants went into hiding, although Phil was found by the FBI two weeks later. In May 1970, Phil again found himself in the Lewisburg prison serving time for his peace actions. On August 26, Phil was moved to Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Danbury, Connecticut. During his months at Lewisburg, he sent letters to Elizabeth “Liz” McAlister through a fellow inmate who was allowed out of the prison on a work-release program. This inmate, named Boyd Douglas, became an FBI informant and in August 1970 alerted the authorities that Phil, Liz, and others were planning to kidnap Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and bomb heat tunnels. As a result of these allegations, the United States government prosecuted Phil, Liz, and five other peace activists for conspiracy charges at a trial that began on February 21, 1972. The Harrisburg Seven, as they were called, were not guilty of conspiracy, although Phil and Liz were charged with smuggling letters. Phil was released on parole from Danbury prison in December 1972.

Through his work in the peace movement, Phil had met Elizabeth “Liz” McAlister (b. November 17, 1939), an Order of the Sacred Heart nun, in Tarrytown, New York in 1965. Liz studied art at Hunter College and taught art history at Marymount College. Like Phil, Liz was an Irish-American Catholic that opposed the Vietnam War. While awaiting sentencing for the Baltimore Four action in spring of 1969, Phil and Liz married by “mutual consent.” They formalized their union in January 1972 while Phil was at Danbury. On May 28, 1973, they legalized their marital status and were excommunicated by the Catholic Church.

After his release from Danbury prison in December 1972, Phil continued his resistance efforts. From 1973 to 1974 he traveled around the U.S. giving talks, attending meetings, and discussing strategy with his fellow peace protestors. In 1973, Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister founded Jonah House in inner city Baltimore. Jonah House is a nonviolent resistance community that is part of a network of individuals and communities along the East Coast of the United States that calls itself “The Atlantic Life Community.” Through retreats, peace actions, and friendships, the Jonah House community maintains connections to the Catholic Worker Movement, a group of lay Catholics following the tradition of Dorothy Day. In the November 27, 2002 article “Philip Berrigan—¬An Unyielding Force For Justice,” Max Obuszewski describes Jonah House as a “faith-based community” that “engages in acts of nonviolent resistance, does house painting to provide for its subsistence existence, and shares all its resources.” Jonah House’s main goal from 1973 to 1975 was to resist the Vietnam War. In the mid-1970s, they began to focus on nuclear arms resistance, which eventually led to the foundation of the Plowshares Movement. Originally in a row house in West Baltimore, in 1996 Jonah House moved to a new location overlooking St. Peter’s Cemetery, where the residents also care for the grounds. Phil and Liz began living in Jonah House at its founding and raised their three children, Frida (b. 1974), Jerry (b. 1975), and Kate (b. 1981), in the community.

From 1975 to 1977, Phil and Liz frequently participated in peace actions at the Pentagon and the White House to protest the development and stockpile of nuclear weapons. They dug graves and poured blood to represent the bloodshed spilled and lives lost because of the Pentagon. As a founder of the Plowshares movement, Phil symbolically disarmed nuclear missiles at six Plowshares actions. Inspired by a verse from the Book of Isaiah 2:3-4 (“they shall beat their swords into plowshares”), Phil Berrigan and other peace activists poured blood and hammered on government property. Phil and the other members of the Plowshares Eight chose the General Electric Nuclear Missile facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania as the site of the first Plowshares action in 1980. Phil also participated in the 1988 Nuclear Navy Plowshares, the 1991 Aegis Plowshares, the 1993 Pax Christi-Spirit of Life Plowshares, the 1997 Prince of Peace Plowshares, and the 1999 Plowshares vs. Depleted Uranium. Liz participated in the 1983 Griffiss Plowshares action. Due to Phil’s active involvement in the Plowshares movement, he served multiple jail sentences totaling ten years.

The Prince of Peace Plowshares action occurred on February 12, 1997 in Bath Iron Works Bath, Maine. Phil, Steve Baggarly, Mark Colville, Susan Crane, Steve Kelly, and Tom Lewis-Borberly hammered and poured blood on the USS Sullivan, an Aegis destroyer. For this action, Phil served time in jail and was released on November 20, 1998. When he participated in the December 19, 1999 Plowshares vs. Depleted Uranium action, Phil violated his probation for the February 1997 action. Phil, Susan Crane, Steve Kelly, and Elizabeth Walz were arrested when they broke into the Warfield Air National Guard Base in Middle River, Maryland to disarm two A-10 Thunderbolt planes. The 1999 Plowshares vs. Depleted Uranium action would be Phil’s last. He was sentenced to prison for the action in 2000. When he was released in 2001, Phil faced various health issues. After hip surgery in 2002, Phil was diagnosed with liver and kidney cancer. He died of liver failure on December 6, 2002 at Jonah House.

During his life, Phil worked for peace and justice by leading faith retreats, speaking across the country, writing, and participating in peace actions. He authored six books, including Prison Journals of a Priest Revolutionary (1970), Widen the Prison Gate: Writing From Jails, April, 1970-December, 1972 (1973), and Fighting the Lamb’s War: Skirmishes with the American Empire (1996). His actions were guided by his faith, his belief in nonviolence, and his commitment to the eradication of nuclear weapons. He is considered to be one of the primary leaders of the Catholic Left in the 20th century. Phil’s work was supported by his family, friends, and a large network of peace activists throughout the country. His brothers Dan and Jerry, his wife Liz, and his children Frida, Jerry, and Kate continue his legacy by participating in peace protests and living in peace communities.


30 Linear Feet (80 boxes)

Language of Materials



The Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister papers are arranged into fifteen series: 1. Biographical Files; 2. Speeches and Retreats; 3. Writings; 4. Correspondence; 5. Peace Actions; 6. Publications; 7. Topic Files; 8. Artwork and Drawings; 9. Audio-Visual; 10. Memorabilia; 11. Funeral and Memorial Services; 12. May 2012 Addition; 13. September 2012 Addition; 14. April 2013 Addition; 15. September 2013 Addition.

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Acquired from Loome Theological Booksellers, Accession 2000.05; Donated by Liz McAlisterAccession 2001.14; 2002.13; 2002.49; 2003.01; 2006.11; 2009.10; 2013.47; 2013.107; Donated by Frida Berrigan, Accession 2005.05; Donated by Walter Hooke, Accession 2005.09

Related Materials

Daniel Berrigan papers; Jerome C. Berrigan papers; The Berrigan Library; Elmer Maas Plowshares collection; Rev. John McNamee papers; Murray Polner papers; Hit & Stay (documentary) SpC. 959.7043 H674t2014.; Collection on Peace Activism

Processing Information

M. Sitar, K. Laroche, K. Causier 2000-2005; C. Faison 2013; K. Wolfe 2014; D. Potts 2014; revised by P. Chavez 2018

Guide to Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister papers
M. Sitar, K. Laroche, K. Causier 2000-2005; C. Faison 2013; K. Wolfe 2014; D. Potts 2014; revised by P. Chavez 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the DePaul Special Collections and Archives Repository

John T. Richardson Library
2350 N. Kenmore Ave.
Room 314
Chicago Illinois 60614