Ralph M. McInerny, philosopher and novelist, was born in Minnesota on 24 February 1929. He received his secondary education at Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary in St. Paul. After a short stint in the U.S. Marine Corps (1946–1947), McInerny entered St. Paul Seminary, graduating BA in 1951. He then completed his postgraduate degrees in philosophy with astonishingly speed: MA from the University of Minnesota in 1952, and PhL and PhD (summa cum laude) from Université Laval, Quebec, in 1953 and 1954 respectively.
After teaching philosophy briefly at Creighton University (1954–1955), McInerny joined the philosophy faculty at the University of Notre Dame in 1955. He was made assistant professor in 1957, associate professor in 1963 and full professor in 1969. He went to Belgium as a Fulbright Research Fellow in 1959–1960 and was awarded another Fulbright Fellowship in 1985–1986 to undertake research in Argentina.
In 1978 McInerny became the Michael P. Grace Professor of Medieval Studies at Notre Dame. He directed the Medieval Institute from 1978 to 1985, and from 1979 served as the director of the Jacques Maritain Center. He was a Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1977–1978 and of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1983. Professor McInerny was also been a visiting professor at several institutions, including Catholic University of America and Cornell University in New York.
His additional distinctions include six honorary doctorates from St. Benedict College (1978), University of Steubenville (1984), St. Francis College, Joliet, Illinois (1986), St. John Fisher College (1994), St. Anselm College (1995) and Our Lady of Holy Cross College, New Orleans (2002). In 2001 McInerny was appointed to President George W. Bush's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. He was also a Fellow of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas.
McInerny is also well known as a mystery writer, the pen behind the Andrew Broome series and the popular Father Dowling mysteries, which were adapted for television. In 1993 he was awarded the Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement Award for his fiction. He also helped found the magazine Crisis: Culture, Politics and the Church, to which he regularly contributed, and the now-defunct Catholic Dossier: Issues in the Round, on which he served as general editor.
Until his death on 29 January 2010 Professor McInerny lived in South Bend, Indiana, working as a scholar and writer. His wife, Connie, died in 2002; their marriage produced six children.
In addition to literally hundreds of articles and book chapters, McInerny published more than fifty works of fiction and dozens of scholarly books, especially on St. Thomas Aquinas, including The Logic of Analogy: An Interpretation of St. Thomas (1961), A History of Western Philosophy, vol. 1, From the Beginnings of Philosophy to Plotinus (1963), Thomism in an Age of Renewal (1966), Studies in Analogy (1968), A History of Western Philosophy, vol. 2, Philosophy from Augustine to Ockham (1970), Rhyme and Reason: St. Thomas and Modes of Discourse (1981), St. Thomas Aquinas (1982), Ethica Thomistica: The Moral Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas (1982), Being and Predication: Thomistic Interpretations (1986), Miracles: A Catholic View (1986), Art and Prudence: Studies in the Thought of Jacques Maritain (1988), Boethius and Aquinas (1990), Aquinas on Human Action: A Theory of Practice (1992), The Question of Christian Ethics (1993), Aquinas Against the Averroists: On There Being Only One Intellect (1993), Aquinas and Analogy (1996), Thomas Aquinas (1998), Characters in Search of Their Author: The Gifford Lectures, Glasgow, 1999-2000 (2001), Very Rich Hours of Jacques Maritain: A Spiritual Life (2003), and Aquinas (2003).
A festschrift in his honour, Recovering Nature: Essays in Natural Philosophy, Ethics, and Metaphysics in Honor of Ralph McInerny (1999), was coedited by John O’Callaghan and Professor McInerny, and includes essays by Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas, among others.