January 29, 2010

THE BOOKS ARE BETTER THAN THE TV SERIES WOULD LEAD ONE TO EXPECT:

-OBIT: Ralph McInerny Dies at Age 80 (Zenit.org, 1/29/10)

Ralph McInerny was a professor of philosophy and the Michael P. Grace Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

He held degrees from St. Paul Seminary, University of Minnesota and Laval University, and had taught at the University of Notre Dame since 1955. He directed the Jacques Maritain Center from 1979 to 2006.

He was an acknowledged expert on the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, and a prolific author. He penned over two dozen scholarly books, many more scholarly essays, and over 80 novels.

He wrote the popular book series Father Dowling Mysteries, which became a successful television program starring Tom Bosley and Tracy Nelson.

The Writing Life (Ralph McInerny, March 2006, First Things)

In my early teens I saw myself as a writer. I became fascinated with biographies of authors, and I idolized the upperclassmen who produced the poems and stories and articles for the school magazine. Throughout my nonhazardous hitch in the Marine Corps I thought of myself as prepping for the commencement of my writing career. My return to the seminary did not really alter this. In my seminary years I wrote a verse play and even began a novel. With my veteran's allowance I bought a box full of past numbers of the Partisan Review, and in poring over them I came upon J.F. Powers' story “St. Paul Home of the Saints.”

Powers was a layman, but he was a legend among the priests I had known in Minnesota. His Prince of Darkness and Other Stories showed such an uncanny knowledge of the trivia of local clerical life that it was presumed he had some priestly informant who fed him gossip for his stories. His portrait of Archbishop John Gregory Murray in the title story of that collection seemed drawn from life. What the significance was for me that this layman wrote about priests I could not then guess, but it was as if some barrier had been removed.

When I left the seminary for the second time, certain now that the priesthood was not my vocation, I was not the same man who entered. I began graduate studies in philosophy. Philosophical prose is for the most part as distant from the imaginative use of language as one can get. Dullness is all. Dullness and clarity, that is. At the age of twenty-two, any literary ambitions of mine were going to have to be compatible with my academic involvement. Among the books I bought in the summer before graduate school were W.H. Auden's Collected Poetry and his more recent Nones. They are still on my shelves. Writing in the fullest sense meant poetry, and everything else declined from that like cases of a noun. And so, working nights in the bottle house of the Grain Belt beer company, I would wake in the attic bedroom of my grandmother's house in Minnesota and try to write poetry. When graduate school began and I spent a couple of months working nights on a punch press, I found myself surrounded by people who considered themselves artists. One of them confided to me that his ambition was to write pornographic novels. He mentioned an author whose descriptions of mating were so metaphorically sedate that they would have sailed over innocent heads. So he had a mission. If you're going to write a dirty book, make it dirty. I have often thought of that fellow.

At the University of Minnesota and at Laval, at first single and then married, I continued to write. I sent a Christmas poem to fellow students and to some of the faculty, and Charles De Koninck was impressed all out of proportion to the value of the poems I showed him. (Later I would discover that he had attempted to write a novel.) During the months that I was writing my dissertation I was also at work on a novel. It is penitential for me to even page through those early efforts. There was another novel written in Omaha, and yet another when we moved to South Bend in August 1955. I sat at the dining room table in my bathing trunks because of the ungodly heat and wrote. Over the years I would occasionally write a short story and mail it in, my preferred target being the New Yorker. It would come back (in Thurber's phrase) like a serve in tennis. What I remember about those years was how episodic my efforts were. After I sent off a story, I would wait as if for news of the Nobel Prize. Rejection was cushioned by no work in progress. I was not serious.

On January 16, 1964, I decided to get serious. We had moved into the house on Portage Avenue and were overextended. Getting through the month was depressingly reminiscent of days we thought we had left behind forever. I took on teaching a couple courses at the branch of Indiana University in South Bend, adding those to my daily chores at Notre Dame, but this was peanuts. I remembered the copy of Writer's Digest I had bought in the Los Angeles train station in 1946. I decided that I would write for commercial markets, not just sporadically, but determinedly, every day, and keep at it for a year, after which if I had not sold anything I would admit to myself that I was not really a writer.

And so it began.


MORE:
-WIKIPEDIA: Ralph McInerny
-Ralph McInerny: Curriculum Vitae (University of Notre Dame)
-ESSAY: Is Obama Worth a Mass? (Ralph McInerny, 3/23/09, Catholic Thing)
-POEM: Effable (Ralph McInerny, 12/2008, First Things)
-ESSAY: Memento Mortimer (Ralph McInerny, November 2001, First Things)
-REVIEW: of Catholicism and the Renewal of American Democracy by George Weigel (Ralph McInerny, March 1990, First Things)


Posted by Orrin Judd at January 29, 2010 9:55 PM
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