Heroes for my Daughter: The Catonsville Nine

The Catonsville Nine shortly after the action by Jean Walsh. From L to R (standing) George Mische, Philip Berrigan, Daniel Berrigan, Tom Lewis. From L to R (seated) David Darst, Mary Moylan, John Hogan, Marjorie Melville, Tom Melville.

At the height of the Vietnam War in 1968, seven men and two women walked into a Selective Service office in Catonsville, Maryland. Moving past stunned clerical workers, the activists removed 378 A-1 Draft files from a cabinet, took them outside to a parking lot, poured homemade napalm over them, and set them on fire. While the files burned, the peace activists held hands and recited the Lord’s Prayer.

Shortly afterward, police officers arrived and arrested the Catonsville Nine. The 9 Roman Catholic activists were Philip Berrigan, Daniel Berrigan, David Darst, John Hogan, Tom Lewis, John Melville, Marjorie Melville, George Mische, and Mary Moylan. They did this to stop the flow of soldiers into Vietnam and “because everything else [had] failed.”

Be it your conscience, a Higher Power or some other moral code, I believe we have a responsibility to act in the face of injustice that supersedes the laws of the land. During the trial of the Catonsville Nine, Father Daniel Berrigan read a statement, which read, in part:

Our apologies  good friends

for the fracture of good order  the burning of paper

instead of children  the angering of the orderlies

in the front parlor of the charnel house

We could not  so help us God  do otherwise

For we are sick at heart   our hearts

give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning Children

The Catonsville Nine are heroes for putting what is right above what is easy and doing what is just above what is legal.