Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Ralph McInerny, RIP

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 29, 2010

Ralph McInerny, one of the most memorable figures on the American Catholic scene, died this morning in South Bend at the age of 80, after a long illness. He will be sorely missed.

For more than 50 years he taught philosophy at Notre Dame, and he ranked among the world's leading Thomists. (It is fitting that he was able to celebrate the feast of St. Thomas, to whom he was so devoted, once last time on the day before his death.) But anyone who expected Ralph to be a dry, detached, ivory-tower scholar was due for a surprise upon meeting him. He was friendly, urbane, and gracious. He moved easily across international boundaries, spending vacations in Italy and giving speeches all across Europe. And he moved with equal ease into the spheres of politics and polemics, literature and the arts. A genuine renaissance man. 

My own personal acquaintance with Ralph began in the 1980s, during the heated debate about the US bishops' "peace pastoral." I was immediately impressed by his calm confidence in dealing with the media frenzy in Washington, his keen analysis of both public issues and public responses, and above all his quick wit. Not long thereafter he joined with Michael Novak to found Crisis magazine-- showing more than a little expertise in fundraising, too. When they hired me as the first full-time editor, I had the opportunity to see Ralph regularly in his native habitat, at the Medieval Institute in Notre Dame. 

In his home in South Bend, Ralph showed me the little basement office where he had faithfully spent an hour a day writing for years, churning out fiction-- both for fun and to generate extra income to support his family. Therein lies another surprise: the world-class Thomist was also a famous author of mystery stories. The Father Dowling series made him financially secure; other novels gave him greater literary satisfaction. 

After the death of his beloved Connie (whom he usually introduced as "my first wife"), Ralph seemed to age quickly. His written output was still prolific, but his work expressed an uneasiness: an elegaic quality, yearning for more lasting peace. I pray that he has found it now. 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Feb. 02, 2010 9:35 PM ET USA

    I have just learned about Ralph McInerny with his departure from this Earth. What I have learned is of a man who justified his life in this world. I will certainly learn more of him from now on. You have but to listen to his remarks about the Notre Dame debacle and the real Catholic faith to know where he came from. Rest in Peace, faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

  • Posted by: Joseph Paul - Feb. 02, 2010 6:16 AM ET USA

    I agree Pseudo. One of McInerny's last accomplishments in his work Preambula Fidei was to show that Henri de Lubac's charges against Cardinal Cajetan were without any actual factual basis in his works.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 30, 2010 3:31 PM ET USA

    I continue to learn a great deal from his last works - Preambula Fidei, among others, and from some of his former students - Christopher Kaczor being but one. I am sorry to see him leave this Earth but sensed, as you did, that he believed the end was drawing near. Requiescat in pace. Farewell, but not forever! Brother dear, Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow; Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here, And I will come and wake thee on the morrow.