Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | January 29, 2010
Ralph McInerny died in
South Bend this morning. Several of his children were with him. Many friends
knew he was dying.
He was the
best of men. He lived with a light heart and a careful eye.
McInerny introduced many of us to Aquinas. Not that we had not read him before,
but McInerny gave us the greater view. I still recall the sudden realization
that I had on reading something in McInerny about how philosophy and revelation
are related. There were things in revelation that could also be known by
reason, a fact that suggested the sources of reason and revelation knew each
One wonders if
Notre Dame can be Notre Dame without McInerny. He taught so many students
there. Indeed, McInerny saw the world and the Church through the lenses of
Notre Dame, but the place seemed to be drifting. He always thought the idea of
a “research” institution was rather silly. Why would one want to know the
little things without first having the big picture?
McInerny was behind so many good tings. Almost single-handedly he enabled
Catholic intellectual things to be both intellectual and Catholic. He was
behind the old Crisis,
the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, and the Maritain Center and its many works
at Notre Dame. If an institution was not doing what it should, he founded
something that did.
McInerny was a happy, witty man. He had a lovely wife who preceded him to
Paradise. He had children and grandchildren. He was always a pillar of sanity
for us all. His autobiography, I Alone Am Left to Tell You, is most amusing, but its very title
reveals turns in the society, in the university, and yes in the Church that
never should have been taken.
McInerny gave the famous Gifford Lectures in Scotland several years ago. This
is an honor of high rank which he deserved for his philosophical work.
If he could help it, McInerny never missed a football game. If he was at a
conference in some distant city on Saturday during the Fall, he would never be
there during the hours of the game. The recent years, with the losses and
second-ratedness, were agonizing for the true fan he was.
We have the impression that when God called him, he was ready. He had lived a
full life and knew it. What, we might wonder, is his legacy to us? It is that
of intellectual courage, I think. He was not fooled by the temptation of
prestige, of placing the criteria of the world over that of truth. Because of him, I think, many of us
were able to rely on his voice and his courage.
McInerny was born in St. Paul, of which he had many fond memories. He tried the
seminary. He gave it a good shot, but it was not for him. But once he settled
into Notre Dame, he found his place. And yet, this “place” was not always
identical with the place where a man of letters and insight needed to be. The
pursuit of truth can be a lonely task even in the midst of glittering things.
His death assures us that a living voice and a wisdom we relied on is not there
except in memory. Yet, we can read him as long as we wish. He lives on in his
words and, yes, in his children and students.
McInerny was a happy man in a happy marriage. He did not need to count his
blessings. They were simply there before him. McInerny pursued the truth all
his life. He was a true professor who knew his priorities. They were not
himself. He was a generous man who gave us all his most precious gift: a love
of truth, an appreciation of wit, and a delight in our search for what is.