Shared from the 5/10/2017 Philadelphia Inquirer - Philly Edition eEdition

Thomas R. Melville, 86, peace activist

Thomas R. Melville, 86, a former Maryknoll priest and social justice activist who in 1968 participated in a high-profile act of civil disobedience against the Vietnam War, the burning of military draft records in Catonsville, Md., died May 1 at a nursing home in San Diego.

The cause was complications from back injuries in a fall, said his wife, Marjorie Melville, a former Catholic nun who also participated in the raid.

On May 17, 1968, the Melvilles were among nine Catholic activists who stormed a draft board office in Catonsville, a suburb of Baltimore, seized 378 draft records, and burned them in a parking lot outside in a homemade concoction of napalm.

They distributed a statement to bystanders, including many reporters who had been tipped off in advance of the burning. “We destroyed these draft records because they exploit our young men and represent misplaced power concentrated in the ruling class of America,” the statement read in part. “We confront the Catholic Church, other Christian bodies, and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country’s crimes.”

The group included two other Catholic priests, brothers Daniel and Philip Berrigan, probably the best known of the nine.

Found guilty of destruction of government property, all received federal prison sentences ranging from 24 to 42 months.

The day before they reported to authorities to begin serving their sentences in 1969, the Melvilles received master’s degrees from American University, submitting a joint thesis, “Guatemala: the Politics of Land Ownership.” Thomas Melville received a doctorate in anthropology in 1976, also from American University.

Since 1995, they had lived in San Quintin on the west coast of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

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