Friday, January 29, 2010

Ralph McInerney and the Undiscovered Thomist

In the reformed Roman calendar, the Feast of St Thomas Aquinas is celebrated on January 28, the date of the transfer of his relics to Toulouse.* It was on the following day this year, that we lost one of the giants of Thomism, Professor Ralph McInerney, a philosopher, novelist, and founder of the Jacques Maritain Center at the University of Notre Dame. He was only a few weeks shy of his eighty-first birthday.

A biography can be found at

Thomism -- the theology and philosophy of the saint known as “The Angelic Doctor” -- was something I learned as a boy at the dinner table. It is natural for children to question certain assumptions about the world, especially as it affects them, and they begin to develop opinions and outlooks apart from the world of their parents. It was while breaking bread as a family, amidst the wave of libertine sentiment that was emerging in popular culture of the 1960s, that we learned of man as “a reasoning animal.” Further, if nature abhors a vacuum, and if the nature of the universe is held together by an “uncreated Creator” who lent order to what would otherwise be chaos, then it followed that “everything you do in life is either a plus or a minus.” We also learned the value of a sound premise in any form of debate.

Early in the decade, I had the opportunity to hear Dr McInerney speak at Christendom College. It was only then that I learned that I was a Thomist the entire time, and didn't even know it. It was also in speaking with him afterwords, as I shared my childhood experience with him, that I learned of how my father's seminary training was among the best in the nation in the 1940s.

Many will remember Dr McInerney for his astute scholarship, his writing of The Father Dowling Mysteries, and his other great literary works. I remember him as the man who gave meaning to one part of my sojourn in life.

May he rest in peace. Amen.

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* In the traditional Roman calendar, the feast was on March 7, the date of his death. As it was a significant saint's day that often fell during Lent, a case was made for its transfer to another suitable date.

1 comment:

Celia said...

I had not discovered Mr. McInerney by the time of his death, but since then have been devouring his books. His Father Dowling is so much more than the simple priest of TV. he is a man of deep faith and great wisdom.
How I wish I could have met his creator. What a man Mr. McInerney must have been.
How did he survive at the new Notre Dame and how did he ever write so many great books in 80 years!
Thanks for your thoughtful memoire about this great man. Celia Wendel