Berrigan Speaks to Freshmen

Rev. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., Fordham’s former poet-in-residence and author of the play, “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” speaks to new students at orientation on Sept. 4, 2007. (Meaghan Dillon/The Observer)

By Ashley Tedesco
Contributing Writer
Published: September 27, 2007

FCLC—Fordham’s former poet-in-residence, the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., and author of the play, “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” spoke to new Fordham students at the final day of orientation on Sept. 4. The event began with a performance by orientation leaders in the center aisle; one which Megan Branch, FCLC ’11, called “memorable and effective.”

The director of the performance and orientation coordinator, Morgan Gould, FCLC ’08, followed the orientation leaders’ presentation with a scene from Berrigan’s play, which was the required summer reading for all freshmen. The scene featured actors Steve Trollinger, FCLC ’08, Marjuan Canady, FCLC ’08, and orientation coordinator Jeremiah Hernandez, FCLC ’08. The performance was one Berrigan himself called a “beautiful, really electric job.”

The play is an account of nine Catholics who burned draft files in Vietnam in 1968 to protest the war. Berrigan and his brother, the Rev. Philip Berrigan, S.J., were two of the nine involved. “Having the students perform a scene from the play helped me appreciate it more… it was more fulfilling,” Marc Valentin, FCLC ’11, said.

Many students had similar reactions to the performance, both those who were in the audience and on stage. Hernandez said, “there’s a fine line between state laws and moral values; reading and performing ‘Catonsville Nine’ made it more apparent.”

Following the performance, Berrigan and the Rev. George Drance, S.J., artist-in-residence, opened up the floor to questions from students. Gould said the greatest thing about directing the performance was “the truly insightful, passionate discussion that it sparked.”

When one student asked Berrigan how to get over her own fear of protesting the war, he replied, “let’s acknowledge our own fear and walk with it,” adding later, in response to another student question, that, “I’m not here to outline tactics for you—that’s your job.”

Branch said that talking to Berrigan “added another dimension to the reading and made it more personal than just words on a page.”

She wasn’t the only freshman who was inspired by the end of the presentation. “I thought Fr. Berrigan’s presentation was awesome—definitely the best part of orientation,” Jennifer Pelly, FCLC ’11, said. “It was so interesting to be able to learn more from someone who literally helped shape the history of our country and wrote such an amazing work. There’s a lot to be learned from what he has done in his life.”

Camille Avena, FCLC ’11, echoed Pelly’s sentiments. “[What Fr. Berrigan had to say] made me wish that our generation was willing to take risks. I admire him for his courage and his willingness to go to jail for what he believed in.” Camille also went on to say that she hopes Berrigan inspired students to “do something to let our voices be heard.”