Catholic writer George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center takes Notre Dame to task for failing to acknowledge adequately the recent death of Ralph McInerny, arguably one of the greatest men of letters to spend his professional career in the shadow of that school’s “Touchdown Jesus.”
Notre Dame did publish a respectful obituary at the Jacques Maritain Center webpage, but that’s the only obituary I could locate at the university’s extensive website. I stumbled upon it through Google, searching specifically for “Notre Dame Ralph McInerny Obituary.” Trying to find it from the school’s homepage is frustrating to say the least.
Back to Weigel’s take on Notre Dame’s response to this great man’s passing:
The university Web site posted a nicely written obituary three days after his death, but there was little sense in the university’s official recognition of its loss that a gigantic figure had left the scene.
One cannot help suspect that this has something to do with the fact that Ralph thought Notre Dame had gone off the rails in its dogged and relentlessly self-promoting attempts to measure itself against what it likes to term “peer schools,” such as Dartmouth and Yale. What Ralph understood, and what the man who brought him to Notre Dame, the legendary Father Theodore Hesburgh, has never seemed to understand, is that that’s the wrong plumb-line by which to measure a Catholic university’s accomplishment. Or indeed any university’s accomplishment, given the intellectual chaos, political correctness, decadence, and madcap trendiness that has afflicted those “peer schools” since the late Sixties.
Ralph McInerny knew, and could demonstrate with acute philosophical rigor, that there are truths built into the world and into us: truths we can know by exercising the arts of reason; truths that, known, lay certain moral obligations on us, personally and in our civic lives. With the rarest of exceptions, they don’t know that, and in fact they deny that, at the “peer schools” to which Notre Dame is addicted to comparing itself. And therein lay the tragedy of Notre Dame and Catholic institutions of higher education of a similar cast of mind, as Ralph saw it: they had sold their intellectual and moral birthright — the true excellence that comes from an immersion in the Great Tradition of western higher learning — for a mess of pottage.
Notre Dame’s failure to give due appreciation to McInerny’s legacy tells us that devoting 54 years of one’s life to a single institution “emphasizing a demanding liberal arts education while bringing the best of the mid-20th century Catholic philosophical, theological, and literary renaissance to bear in the U.S.” doesn’t count for much these days. At least, not when said institution is trying to remain popular among the politically correct academic elite.