December, 6, 2002
Phil Berrigan died December 6, 2002 at about 9:30 PM, at Jonah House, a community he co-founded in 1973, surrounded by family and friends. He died two months after being diagnosed with liver and kidney cancer, and one month after deciding to discontinue chemotherapy. Approximately thirty close friends and fellow peace activists gathered for the ceremony of last rites on November 30, to celebrate his life and anoint him for the next part of his journey. Berrigan's brother and co-felon, Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan officiated.
During his nearly 40 years of resistance to war and violence, Berrigan focused on living and working in community as a way to model the nonviolent, sustainable world he was working to create. Jonah House members live simply, pray together, share duties, and attempt to expose the violence of militarism and consumerism. The community was born out of resistance to the Vietnam War, including high-profile draft card burning actions; later the focus became ongoing resistance to U.S. nuclear policy, including Plowshares actions that aim to enact Isaiah's biblical prophecy of a disarmed world. Because of these efforts Berrigan spent about 11 years in prison. He wrote, lectured, and taught extensively, publishing six books, including an autobiography, Fighting the Lamb's War.
In his last weeks, Berrigan was surrounded by his family, including his wife Elizabeth McAlister, with whom he founded Jonah House; his children Frida, 28, Jerry, 27, and Kate, 21; community members Susan Crane, Gary Ashbeck, and David Arthur; and extended family and community. Community members Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert, Dominican sisters, were unable to be physically present at Jonah House; they are currently in jail in Colorado awaiting trial for a disarmament action at a missile silo, the 79th international Plowshares action. One of Berrigan's last actions was to bless the upcoming marriage of Frida to Ian Marvy.
Berrigan wrote a final statement in the days before his death. His final comments included this: "I die with the conviction, held since 1968 and Catonsville, that nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself."