(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In his brief and readable autobiography I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You, Ralph McInerny traces the events that led him away from a life as a priest to the life of a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and a parallel career as the author of more than sixty-five Father Dowling mysteries. Arranged chronologically, the book clusters events around themes expressed in the chapter titles. McInerny traces his growth from his Irish Catholic boyhood and early education through his appointment at Notre Dame. He describes his success as a writer of popular fiction, then addresses more directly the passions of his intellectual and religious life. Two of these are the life and teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas and the erosion of the Catholic Church’s traditional identity through the effects of Vatican II.

McInerny’s family members were firmly and deeply committed to the practice of Catholicism. His parents were strictly observant believers; his mother, in fact, was a lay member of a religious order. McInerny’s studies at a Catholic college-preparatory school were the same as those offered to young men planning to enter the priesthood. McInerny assumed his life would lead to ordination, but before leaving high school, he had turned his sights toward scholarship and university teaching. His undergraduate and graduate work culminated with a Ph.D. in philosophy from Laval University.

At his university, McInerny immersed himself in the study of Aquinas and the foundations of Scholasticism. These interests followed him throughout his career, the entirety of which (except a brief stint at Creighton University) was spent at Notre Dame. The location of many of his mystery stories on campus suggests that for McInerny, Notre Dame made possible a seamless integration of his family, his two careers, and his spiritual life.

A major focus of the later chapters of McInerny’s memoir is the shift at Notre Dame from the sacred toward the secular in education generally, but in the philosophy department specifically. This shift he attributes to the misguided desire of Notre Dame, like the ancient Israelites, to be like its neighbors. To achieve this...

(The entire section is 897 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Gorman, Anita G. “Ralph McInerny.” In American Mystery and Detective Writers. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 2005. An overview of McInerny’s detective fiction with analyses of individual novels and an exhaustive survey of critical reactions to his work in this genre. McInerny’s Father Dowling series draws its vitality from its deft depiction of social mores of Catholic society, according to Gorman.

Hibbs, Thomas, and John O’Callaghan, eds. Recovering Nature: Essays in Natural Philosophy, Ethics, and Metaphysics in Honor of Ralph McInerny. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999. A collection of essays analyzing the leadership of McInerny in opening a dialogue among competing interpreters of the intellectual heritage of Catholicism.

Labrie, Ross. “Ralph McInerny.” In The Catholic Imagination in American Literature. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997. Labrie cites McInerny’s record of creativity, both in fiction and in scholarship, as evidence of a uniquely Catholic sensibility tied to the artist’s self-conscious identification with his religious tradition.