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 other
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.