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Former University professor dies at 80

Joseph McMahon | Monday, February 1, 2010

Former Notre Dame professor and renowned author Ralph McInerny, who taught at the University from 1955 until his retirement this past June, passed away Friday morning at the age of 80.

McInerny was a professor of philosophy and Medieval Studies and, for many years, directed Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute. He held degrees from the St. Paul Seminary, the University of Minnesota and Laval University.

Shortly after beginning his career at Notre Dame, McInerny began to write fiction, and after at first receiving numerous rejections, he eventually published his breakthrough work, “The Priest,” in 1969, which would go on to become a bestseller.

The fiction work for which he was best known, however, was his Father Dowling series, which is composed of 29 books and was adopted by NBC as a television mystery series.

McInerny also wrote several murder mysteries which took place on Notre Dame’s campus, and in total penned over 80 novels.

McInerny was also well known for his nonfiction work, which included translations of Thomas Aquinas’ commentaries for Penguin Classics, and was regarded my many as one of the top experts on Aquinas’ work.

In addition to his written work, McInerny was a public intellectual who appeared on William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line” and was a member of President George W. Bush’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

A devout Catholic, McInerny’s works always contained strong religious overtones. Along with Michael Novak, McInerny founded “Crisis,” a journal of lay Catholic opinion that he hoped to use to reach a wide audience.

Towards the end of his career, McInerny was very critical of some University policies he felt devalued Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. A strong pro-life advocate, McInerny wrote an essay criticizing the University’s decision to invite President Barack Obama to be last year’s Commencement speaker in the online forum “The Catholic Thing.” McInerny was also critical of the decision to allow the “Vagina Monologues” to be performed on campus and of the firing of former Irish football coach Tyrone Willingham.

The Mass of Christian Burial will be held for McInerny today at 9:30 a.m. at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.