Daniel I. Moga, a former Roman Catholic priest, psychologist and longtime peace activist whose repeated acts of civil disobedience emboldened others to speak out against U.S. military involvement overseas, died June 10 at a senior home in North Oaks. He was 87.
Family members said he died of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a chronic neuromuscular disease.
Moga and his wife, Moira, who died early this year, emerged as intellectual leaders of the local antiwar movement during the political ferment of the 1960s and beyond, helping to organize dozens of demonstrations against U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and the developing world. They also took the struggle to American corporations that manufactured bombs and other weapons.
Time and again, the Mogas were arrested and jailed for their acts of nonviolent resistance. In one memorable action in the early 1970s, the Mogas and dozens of other protesters attempted to block a U.S. Navy ship from docking on the Mississippi during the Minneapolis Aquatennial by surrounding the ship with canoes chained together.
As a young priest, Moga became a vocal critic of the Vietnam War and provided spiritual support and counseling to students seeking to avoid compulsory military service.
“Dan was a father figure, in more ways than one, to many of us,” said Douglas Johnson, a longtime friend and public policy lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
Moga grew up on Turtle Lake in Shoreview, the oldest of five children. He attended Cretin High School in St. Paul when it was still a military institute and excelled in the regimented environment, where he was a star hockey player and was awarded the honor of cadet colonel. He studied for the priesthood, first at Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary in Roseville, and then at St. Paul Seminary, where he was ordained in 1957. As a priest, he taught Latin and theology and was spiritual director at Nazareth Hall before becoming chaplain at the University of Minnesota’s Newman Center, a campus ministry for Catholic students.
At the time, the Newman Center was a hotbed of political opposition to the Vietnam War and an incubator for young activists. Students who had just received draft notices, or who were unsure of how to respond to the war, would seek Moga’s advice. On occasion, Moga helped craft letters on behalf of students seeking military exemptions as conscientious objectors.
“Dan was a safe harbor during a time of turmoil,” said Ed Flahavan, a former priest who taught with Moga at Nazareth Hall.
In February 1972, Moga notified the Internal Revenue Service that he was withholding 66% of his federal income taxes, which, he maintained, was the share of the national budget that went toward “war related purposes.” He donated the withheld funds to the Catholic Church’s Maryknoll missions in Southeast Asia.
In his early 40s, Moga left the priesthood, married a fellow activist (Moira Delaney), and earned a doctoral degree in psychology, which he put to use as a family therapist.
Moga would remain a lifelong pacifist; and after the Vietnam War ended, he dedicated much of his energy toward raising awareness about poverty and violence in Central America. He helped create a Third World Institute at the Newman Center, and organized a series of consciousness-raising trips to Guatemala and Honduras. Later, Moga also became active in the Honeywell Project, a decadeslong campaign to stop the research and production of anti-personnel weapons by Honeywell Corp.
Over the years, the Moga household in south Minneapolis became a popular stopping point for prominent peace activists — including actor Martin Sheen and the Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan — as they came through the Twin Cities.
Moga’s survivors include his brothers, Dick and Dave Moga; stepchildren Susan, Denis and Kevin Hartigan and Ann McGinn; and three grandchildren.