Our friend, Ralph McInerny, has slipped away, dying at 7:45 this morning. I have no voice or words to speak our loss. Not yet. Not today.
Where are words when not yet spoken:
on the tongue,
in the mind,
perhaps in air,
Their meanings, more elusive
still, unbreathed await
though I have heard
in the beginning was the word.
One of his many students. Dr. Christopher Kaczor at Loyola Marymount, sent along this note:
Ralph McInerny retired from the University of Notre Dame as the Michael P. Grace Professor of Medieval Studies, after serving in the philosophy department since 1955. He wrote wrote more than 40 books in philosophy and other disciplines (including poetry), authored thousands of scholarly and general audience articles, edited three national magazines, authored more than 80 mystery novels (including the Father Dowling Mysteries), and I’m confident directed more dissertations than anyone in the history of Notre Dame.
One might think such a person would neglect his students, au contraire (a McInerny habit was to end sentences in lectures in Latin or French.) He was my dissertation advisor and at the time he had around 7 other students as well. He was available for us virtually every afternoon in his 7th floor office of Hesburgh Library. If we gave him a dissertation chapter, he’d have it back to us like a serve in tennis. He gave us laptops. He arranged for extra funding (many of us had two or three kids, and none of us made more than $10,000 a year). He took us out to lunch (The Great Wall of China and the University Club were favorites). He’d give us copies of his scholarly books and novels. He helped get us jobs.
After graduation, he’d gather us back together for Summer Thomistic Institutes at Notre Dame featuring an international cast of senior scholars. He called forth the best from us by seeing it in us before we did. Most of all perhaps he provided a living model of a philosopher, a mentor, and a man who embodied virtues and commitments that inspired us all.
He was so extraordinarily kind to me that I told my wife he must be the uncle of my Minneapolis born birth mother whom I had not yet met. He invited me to work with him on various projects, to edit his work, and to see up close the life of a professor. When I think about how I hope to live the rest of my life, he is the model : Scholar, teacher, writer, family man, person of faith. No doubt he is enjoying his reward, meeting his Maker and, as an incidental benefit, his own model of the intellectual life, Thomas Aquinas.
In the coming days, we’ll have more on what Ralph did for us, for the world, for the faith. The heart is too hurt to comprehend it now.