Published on
the Baltimore Sun

Catonsville Nine Protester Dies

Julie Scharper

John Hogan had just returned after 15 years helping the poor in a tiny Guatemalan village when he learned about a protest against the Vietnam War planned by a group of Catholic activists.

Forty years ago last spring, Mr. Hogan and eight others seized hundreds of draft records from the Catonsville U.S. Selective Service office, doused them with homemade napalm in a parking lot and set them ablaze. The actions of the protesters, known as the Catonsville Nine, sparked a dramatic trial, inspired generations of activists and is remembered as one of the country's most famous acts of civil disobedience.

After being released from prison for his actions, Mr. Hogan worked as a carpenter and devoted himself to a life of quiet service. He died Friday of complications from a stroke at Yale New Haven Hospital near his home in Hamden, Conn. He was 73.

"John was a very quiet person, but when he spoke he was extremely profound," said Willa Bickham, a longtime friend and one of the founders of Baltimore's Viva House. "He always talked about what he did in Catonsville was as if you saw a car careening toward a group of children - wouldn't you stop the car?"

Mr. Hogan, the middle of five children, joined the Roman Catholic Maryknoll order shortly after graduating from a Catholic high school in New Haven. In 1953, he was assigned to work with indigenous villagers in Guatemala, where he supervised the construction of a hospital and a water system. He organized a co-operative and taught carpentry.

For 15 years he worked with villagers until Guatemalan officials and Maryknoll leaders grew concerned about his work with radical Christian groups and ordered him back to this country. He left the order soon after.

It was about this time that Thomas and Marjorie Melville, Catholic activists whom he had met in Guatemala, introduced Mr. Hogan to brothers Philip and Daniel Berrigan, Baltimore priests who considered opposition to the war crucial to their faith.

On May 17, 1968, the Berrigans led Mr. Hogan and six others into the draft office. After burning the draft records, the group prayed together and waited to be arrested.

"He helped to make the napalm that they used to burn the files. He was active in carrying them out of the office and he made sure that every last one of them got burned. He and Tom Melville were the most active of doing that of the whole group," said Elizabeth McAlister, the widow of Philip Berrigan and a longtime friend. "And he was doing it with the understanding that these pieces of paper were hunting licenses that made killers out of young men."

In 1993, at an event marking the 25th anniversary of the protest, Mr. Hogan told The Sun, "It didn't stop the war, but it contributed to [stopping] it. I felt like that time in Baltimore called for a drastic response."

The trial of the Catonsville Nine began 40 years ago today. Hundreds of police in riot gear surrounded the federal courthouse in Baltimore and more than 1,500 war protesters filled the War Memorial Plaza. Journalists from around the world flocked to the city to cover the trial.

Mr. Hogan spoke "gently and clearly and forcefully" about his actions, Ms. McAlister said. Like the other members of the Nine, he freely admitted what he had done and said that he had acted in accordance with the dictates of his conscience.

All nine were found guilty and received two- or three-year sentences.

After he was released, Mr. Hogan lived for a year with Ms. Bickham and her husband, Brendan Walsh, at Viva House, a Catholic worker community and soup kitchen. Then he moved back to New Haven, where he met his future wife, Joan Henrickson.

Mr. Hogan avoided the limelight in his later years, though he remained committed to working for peace and social justice, Mrs. Hogan said.

He worked as a carpenter and was co-owner of Oyster Point Construction in Connecticut. Until he retired three years ago, he spent a decade repairing and inspecting public housing in New Haven. He considered his work with the residents of public housing part of his lifelong commitment to the poor, his wife said.

"It wasn't per se the formal actions that he was in, like Catonsville, but for him what was most important was helping people on a daily basis and being present for them," Mrs. Hogan said. "When it comes down to it, sometimes the most important thing to do is to be there for others."

Mr. Hogan frequently visited his friends in Baltimore and attended events at Viva House. His absence was keenly felt as people gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Viva House yesterday, Ms. Bickham said.

"He was a very gentle and committed human being," Ms. McAlister said. "There was a humility to him that was astounding and yet not servile."

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at St. Joseph's Church in New Haven.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Hogan is survived by two brothers, Robert Hogan of Wallingford, Conn., and Thomas Hogan of Hamden, Conn.; a sister, Patricia Hogan of Wallingford; a daughter, Jennifer Henrickson-Hogan of Meriden, Conn.; and two grandsons.

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