Ralph Matthew McInerny was born on February 24, 1929, in Minneapolis, the son of Austin Clifford McInerny, a mechanical engineer, and Vivian Rush McInerny. He was heir to a midwestern directness and an Irish Catholic sense of wit and humor. He served in the United States Marine Corps from 1946 to 1947 and then returned to school to continue his education. He received a bachelor of arts degree from St. Paul Seminary in 1951, a master of arts degree from the University of Minnesota in 1952, and licentiate (1953) and doctoral (summa cum laude, 1954) degrees in philosophy from Laval University in Quebec, Canada.
As McInerny’s schooling suggests, his original goal was the priesthood, but he instead became a philosopher and, thereafter, a teacher. He was married to Constance Terrill Kunert on January 3, 1953, and they had six children: Cathleen, Mary Hosford, Anne Policinski, David, Elizabeth, and Daniel. He taught philosophy at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, during the school year 1954-1955. In 1955, he joined the faculty of the University of Notre Dame, beginning as an instructor in philosophy. He moved up to assistant professor (1957-1963), to associate professor (1963-1969), and to full professor in 1969. In 1978, McInerny was named the Michael P. Grace Professor of Medieval Studies and served as director of the Medieval Institute from 1978 to 1985. In 1979, he became director of the Jacques Maritain Center.
A respected academician, a renowned Thomas Aquinas scholar, a noted philosopher and leader in Catholic thought, McInerny received numerous honors. He conducted research on Fulbright grants in Belgium (1959-1960) and Argentina (1985-1986 and 1986-1987) and was a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow (1977-1978), a National Endowment for the Arts fellow (1983), and a Pontifical Roman Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas fellow (1987). McInerny also frequently served as a visiting professor at such institutions as the Catholic University of America (1971), St. Mary’s College (1976), Senior Scholarship University of Scranton (1977-1978), Katholieke Universitet in Belgium (1982), Cornell University (1988), John Paul II Institute on Marriage and Family (1988), Truman State University (1999), and Fu Jen University in Taiwan (2002). McInerny also received such accolades as the Thomas Aquinas Medal (1990 and 1993), the Maritain Medal (1994), and the Gerhart Niemeyer Award (2002), and collected more than six honorary doctorates.
McInerny was an extremely prolific—with more than one hundred books to his credit—and versatile author and editor of fiction, a translator and writer of nonfiction, poetry, and plays. His initial full-length published work was The Logic of Analogy: An Interpretation of St. Thomas (1961), the first of more than twenty-five nonfictional books that include such titles as Thomism in an Age of Renewal (1966), The Frozen Maid of Calpurnia (1982), Miracles: A Catholic View (1986), and What Went Wrong with Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained (1998).
McInerny debuted as a fiction writer with Jolly Rogerson (1967), the first of more than a dozen nonseries novels. He began his long-running Father Dowling mystery series in 1977 with Her Death of Cold, and since then has introduced four other mystery series: Sister Mary Teresa (as Monica Quill, Not a Blessed Thing! 1981), Andrew Broom (Cause and Effect, 1987), University of Notre Dame (On This Rockne, 1997), and Egidio Manfredi (Still Life, 2000).
McInerny, in addition to his academic work and writing, acted as editor of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly and president of the American Maritain Association. McInerny died after a long illness on January 29, 2010. He was 80.