Memories of Jerry Berrigan (1919-2015)

From the November-December 2015 PNL #847

By Carol Berrigan, daughter


Jerry Berrigan, age 95. Photo courtesy of the Berrigan family

peaceful, patient nonviolent warrior
whose Catholic faith
runs deep

sharing arrests with Jerry:
an energizing, humble moment,

at Hancock, Griffiss, the Intrepid,
the federal building

Jerry: speaking truth to power
without blinking

his carefully chosen words
to explain Dorothy Day
(notes written out on index cards—
always the prepared teacher)

the steady hand of a painter

the greatest double take i ever saw:
Carol walking past Jerry,
crossing the line at Griffiss-
his look of shock and delight

a garlic grower
a smile extended
when you brought him
a few buckets
of
manure
for next year’s crop

carefully hanging trowels
in his garden shed
and
brown rosary beads
peaceful, patient nonviolent warrior
whose Catholic faith
runs deep

sharing arrests with Jerry:
an energizing, humble moment,

at Hancock, Griffiss, the Intrepid,
the federal building

Jerry: speaking truth to power
without blinking

his carefully chosen words
to explain Dorothy Day
(notes written out on index cards—
always the prepared teacher)

the steady hand of a painter

the greatest double take i ever saw:
Carol walking past Jerry,
crossing the line at Griffiss-
his look of shock and delight

a garlic grower
a smile extended
when you brought him
a few buckets
of
manure
for next year’s crop

carefully hanging trowels
in his garden shed
and
brown rosary beads

a Jail Ministry visitor-advocate
a profound source of support
for Slocum House

to remember Jerry
voids the occasional hopeless
thoughts as we continue
to struggle against evil
with his faith and his Irish smile

—Paul Frazier, CNY activist
a Jail Ministry visitor-advocate
a profound source of support
for Slocum House

to remember Jerry
voids the occasional hopeless
thoughts as we continue
to struggle against evil
with his faith and his Irish smile

—Paul Frazier, CNY activist

 

 

Memories of Jerry Berrigan (1919-2015)
Syracuse native and long time peace and social justice activist Jerry Berrigan passed away on July 26. Papers from the Post-Standard to the New York Times published obituaries. Here are a few local remembrances compiled by Brian Escobar.

Since 2010 Jerry, a frail nonagenarian, was among the most steadfast participants in our twice-monthly “street heat” demonstrations across the road from the main gate of Hancock Air Base—our local hunter/killer Reaper drone hub.
Despite severe mobility issues and except during wet or chilly weather when Carol—his devoted partner of 60-some years—and their very caring kids discouraged him from doing so, Jerry would join us trying to prick the conscience of drivers-by and Hancock personnel.
Quietly and serenely sitting in his lawn chair, Jerry would hold his anti-drone/anti-war sign facing the 4:30 pm base traffic going off shift. Like each of us, Jerry was there to change hearts and minds.
—Ann Tiffany and Ed Kinane

Jerry’s Eulogy
I cannot wrap my head around a world without Jerry Berrigan. It doesn’t make sense. There is no envisioning such a scenario.
Yet here it is, and here he is in the faces and in the hearts of everyone who loved him. Dad has the most beautiful circle of friends, and indeed that circle is massive. To meet him, to experience those blue eyes seemingly looking into your soul, to spend a few personal moments, is enough to leave you wanting more. He had a way of making people want to be more.  More aware, more generous, more global. When I sat and thought about what I wanted to say today, I realized that there are so many parts to him that I would try to just focus on a few.
Jerry the giver.  There was no limit to his generosity, yet he always felt he could be giving more. I recall the countless visits in the county nursing home as a small child when we would visit the forgotten, the broken, the lonely. I accompanied him delivering meals that my mother lovingly cooked for the elderly shut-ins who so desperately wanted to stay in their homes. I helped him bag up vegetables from his beloved organic garden that he proudly handed out to the neighbors. His monthly check writing left even his tax man baffled. How could people give so much away? His dedication to Unity Acres from inception was unwavering as was his support to countless Catholic Worker houses across the country.
Jerry the teacher. My father’s long teaching career in Syracuse began at Valley High School where (as the story goes) he went suited up tie and all to teach English. He refers to that time as his strict, straight days. From there he went on to newly built Corcoran High School for a few years, then again to the brand new OCC downtown and subsequently Onondaga Hill where he taught for over 40 years. Dad was popular with many of the students who would pick him up as he hitchhiked home because he insisted we were a “one car family.” While teaching, he often invited them to join him in actions around Syracuse to protest the war machine. One semester was particularly eventful as the US Marshalls appeared at his door at the college to escort him to Fonda Jail where he would join Bill Cuddy for a month long stint for refusing to leave Griffiss Air Force during a peaceful protest marking the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.
Jerry the resister. How to capture “Jerry the Resister”? I think it makes most sense to tie it in with Jerry the man of faith because indeed you cannot separate the two. His faith wouldn’t allow him NOT to work for peace and justice. He knew he had to put himself “on the line” because to not do so was not an option. He believed with his whole heart and soul that he WAS his brothers’ and sisters’ keeper and demonstrated that time and time again with his witnesses and arrests at the Pentagon, the School of the Americas, Griffiss Air force Base, the Federal Building in downtown Syracuse, and the courtrooms to support his brothers Dan and Phil along with the wider peace community.
Jerry the husband, father, brother, and friend. My father loved my mother fiercely! As he described to Sean Kirst she was Heart! Heart! Heart! The love and respect they showed each other for our entire lives was always present. In later years they didn’t pass each other without a kiss, an embrace, a wink. Every day for the last year or so, my mother would ask what song he would like her to play on the piano and sing to him. Inevitably he would choose “Because,” a love song—their song. They would sing it together with such joy, even when my father’s voice became no more than a whisper.
As a friend, he held dear such a wide circle of people whose ages span generations. Many of you here have witnessed with him, worked for peace and justice, and worshipped with him for those decades and have been a constant presence in his life.
So here we are, and here he is, as much a part of Saint Lucy’s as the bricks in the wall. Dad never feared this day.  He lived his life knowing that it was temporary and that the real reward came with eternal life. He was indeed a living testament to faith, love, and charity. Yes?
—Carla Berrigan, daughter.
The eulogy has been abridged.

Close