Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ralph McInerny RIP

Ralph McInerny (1929-2010) died after a battle with esophageal cancer on January 29, 2010. I was surprised to find that he received his PhD from Laval University in Quebec (who even knew he had been to Canada?). He is best known in academic circles for his years as philosophy professor at Notre Dame University. He wrote more than two dozen scholarly books, as well as translating the texts of St. Thomas Aquinas for Penguin Classics. With Michael Novak, he founded Crisis, a journal of lay Catholic opinion now known as Inside Catholic. As if that wasn't enough, he also wrote 80 novels, most of the mystery genre, and under various pen names including Monica Quill, Harry Austin amongst others. His most famous novels were the Father Dowling mysteries which became a television series.

I have loved these novels of Ralph McInerny's. As my daughter emailed me this morning: "Every time I think of him I get a warm and nostalgic feeling ... I always feel so safe when I read his books." Precisely - warm and safe.

This was a man who loved his Catholic faith and salted his writing liberally with his beliefs. I was intrigued to find that his initial efforts at writing were rejected; I also read somewhere that he wrote novels and short stories after work hours to make more money to support his large family of seven children. Facing this rejection, he decided to be serious about writing and he wrote for four hours per day for a year (10 pm - 2 am). The result was his first novel The Priest which became a best seller. I read that novel about two years ago and was captivated by it; it was a current relating of the crisis in the Catholic Church brought about by the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, in which Pope Paul VI stunned the Catholic clergy of America by standing firm against artificial contraception.

Ralph writes further about this theme of the Church's stand on marriage, children, and contraception in some of his other novels and one gets the feeling that he wants to convey the rightness of the Church teaching in this area. I guess that should be obvious given the size of his own family.

I didn't know that Ralph was pre-deceased by his wife Connie and it is touching to read that he felt after she died, that his life was posthumous. They must have been close friends, the secret of a happy marriage.

In recent news, Ralph's name came up as opposing the invitation of President Obama to Notre Dame University and the conferring of an honorary law degree upon him. I can't find it now, but I recall that McInerny said that Our Lady, whose statue adorned the top of the dome, was weeping over this. He mourned the loss of faith at Notre Dame University as the emphasis on the academic credentials of staff took precedence over their authentic Catholic faith. Something that many of us can agree with, as the President of Notre Dame, Father Jenkins, refuses to drop the charges against the 88 pro-life protestors who objected to Obama's speech there.

All of this would make him sound like rather a serious fellow, but he was known for his wit and charm and his love of puns, as witnessed by the titles of many of his books. Apparently he once introduced his wife by saying "have you met my first wife, Connie?" He was also known to be "remarkably generous with his time and his help, especially for his students, in whose families he expressed an avid interest." - Thomas Hibbs

A wonderful scholar, a wonderful writer, and it seems a wonderful man. He will be missed. God rest his soul.

1 comment:

Jenna said...

Patrick told me of his passing the other night, and he was visibly saddened by the news; being an aspiring philosophy professor, Ralph McInerny was an inspiration to Patrick.

You've made me want to go out and read his novels. Thanks for the lovely tribute to a wonderful man.