Ralph McInerny

Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

recent articles

End Notes: Man on a Unicycle

Even the old can feel a surge of sap in spring, if not the fever of the young. The season of beginnings comes round again, and it is as if we are all back at Start in the game of life. The cycle of the seasons is part of the vaster clockwork of our galaxy … Read more

End Notes: Reflections in a Golden I

Autobiography is very likely the most various of literary genres. It includes the confessional account—edifying like St. Augustine’s, the opposite in the case of Rousseau’s, corrupt as engaged in by Anais Nin and Henry Miller, incredible in the case of Frank Harris. Chesterton’s seems to be about everyone but himself, as in a way is … Read more

End Notes: Poison Ivy

The joke about the man who offered his body to science and was refused has an odd analogue in the life of John O’Hara. Raised a Catholic, O’Hara seems to have shuffled off his youthful faith without anguish or even regret. His last brush with it was at Niagara Prep, from which, as had become … Read more

End Notes: Lui-même

In the introduction to her translation of the Divine Comedy, Dorothy Sayers felt it was useful to recall for her readers the nature of the human agent as understood by Dante. In dedicating the Paradiso to Can Grande della Scala, Dante said that the literal meaning of his great poem was the state of souls … Read more

End Notes: These Boots Were Made for Walking

In the brochures that bombard one through the years, sleek, silver-haired couples sit on the Florida sands smiling into the sunset as they contemplate the accumulated pile of money on which they sit. They are retired, a condition for which they wisely planned over their working years so now they can enjoy carefree indolence as … Read more

End Notes: Lucky Jim

A long time ago, in June 1949, I visited the Trappist monastery of New Mellary in Iowa, which had been named after the Irish abbey at Mellary that gets glancing mention in James Joyce’s story “The Dead.” In the fall I would enter the major seminary, but I was still vacillating as to what my … Read more

End Notes: Thinking Backward

Of course, you can go home again; it’s just not the same. I recently returned to the scenes of my boyhood in South Minneapolis, drove along the parkway to Minnehaha Falls, past the house my grandfather built from which I set off to kindergarten at John Ericson School. Above the falls—I once wrote a poem … Read more

End Notes: Plumbing the Shallows

Misfortune, the toll of time, and our own sin and folly provide the home school in which we may learn about ourselves. As a literary genre, confessions are defined by St. Augustine’s account of his long road to conversion. Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain had a similar impact when it appeared more than half a … Read more

End Notes: Barkis Is Willin’

Most words are writ in water, some in lemon juice, only a few in indelible ink. The last meet the test for literature suggested by C. S. Lewis: what you will read again. When one reaches the age when buying green bananas smacks of presumption, rereading becomes even more consoling. The tried and the true … Read more

End Notes: Home Thoughts From Abroad

During the war in Iraq, I was in Rome, and I often visited a massive marble memorial in the eucharistic chapel of St. John Lateran. It rises almost to the ceiling and features Christ on the papal throne flanked by two disconsolate figures, one holding the keys, the other the papal tiara. Beneath are battle … Read more

End Notes: The Man on a Donkey

Among the many wise essays C. S. Lewis wrote is one called “Learning in Wartime,” in which he confronted the view that given the then-situation—he was writing at the beginning of World War II—such efforts as teaching and learning should be put in escrow until peace returned. Lewis had served in World War I and … Read more

End Notes: If Winter Comes

We are sometimes surprised by an unimpeded view of the moon in the night sky. The appropriate reaction is to stand and stare. Wonder is the beginning of philosophy, the ancients said, but there are two kinds of wonder. The first kind is replaceable by understanding, as Astronomy 101 can answer questions about the moon. … Read more

End Notes: Talking in Ranks

Kierkegaard tells the story of the raw recruit who is chattering in ranks after his platoon has come to silent attention. The sergeant repeats, “Silence in the ranks.” The recruit continues to babble. The irate sergeant confronts him. “I said, Silence in the ranks!” “Yes, yes, I understand you perfectly. Your point is that I, … Read more

End Notes: In a Minor Key

I took Miss Lonelyhearts with me on a recent trip and enjoyed it even more than I had before. The novella appeared in 1933 under the more than nom de plume Nathanael West. The author was born Nathaniel Weinstein in New York in 1903 into an immigrant Jewish family that embraced the American dream of … Read more

End Notes: Ex Corde Ecclesiae

The long twilight battle to bring estab­lished Catholic insti­tutions of higher learning back to a robust understand­ing of the relevance of the faith for the life of the mind and imagination goes on, and reports of small but real successes come in from almost everywhere. There are indeed encouraging signs that the worm of secularization … Read more

End Notes: An Old Man and the River

Where I grew up, the Mississippi River divides Minneapolis from St. Paul; lower down in Lake City, where my great-grandfather is buried, the river separates Minnesota from Wisconsin; but on a map, it cuts the whole country in two. The Mississippi takes its rise from Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota, an unpromising beginning, and then … Read more

End Notes: Thoughts on an Anniversary

Jody Bottum, books and arts editor for the Weekly Standard, asked me recently what has happened to the Catholic novel in our country. His question came out of the realization that there was a time in the mid-20th century when Catholic novelists seemed about to dominate American fiction, or at least share prominence with Jewish … Read more

End Notes: My Pagan Passion

The hero of Evelyn Waugh’s Scott-King’s Modern Europe is a classics teacher who has lived into a time when classics are regarded as irrelevant and useless. He is told that parents no longer want the school to produce the “complete man” but to qualify their sons to enter the modern world. Can he blame them? … Read more

End Notes: On the Road

When writing a novel, Evelyn Waugh found it useful to go off to a hotel in the provinces and hole up there for the duration. Without intending any exalted comparison, I have in the past 15 years or so followed a similar course, with a difference: Waugh stayed in England; my practice is to fly … Read more

End Notes: The Man and His Work

Samuel Johnson’s Life of Richard Savage is among the most enigmatic of the great man’s accounts of writers. As presented by Johnson, Savage is a man who was subjected to shame and humiliation by his putative mother, wandered the London streets for want of a bed, and lived off the generosity of friends, but, for … Read more

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