His funeral is probably going on this minute. Although I was never one of his disciples, his influence has been greater on me that one might think. I can't wax poetic about him as Thomas Hibbs did on First Things, but I can echo the idea that he was a " a model of the intellectual life in the pursuit of sanctity."
McInerny first came to my attention when I was a senior at Notre Dame. I was just discovering for the first time genuine orthodox Catholicism. He was the first intellectual and scholar in the post Vatican II era I became aware of that embraced classical orthodoxy, and wasn't bowing to the zeitgeist as so many of the other active Catholics were. In the bookstore there were two pamphlets by McInerny for sale. The first was called something like "Why is masturbation wrong?" It was a simple and clear restatement of the Church's teaching on the matter. It was the first time I had ever heard that teaching from anyone.
The second was a called "The Man who would be Küng." It was a fanciful retrospective report from the year 2050 on the Küng case. I remember specifically that the introduction mentioned that the author had to get extraordinary permission to write a theological text in the vernacular rather than Latin. McInerny clearly had no sympathy for the disingenious attempt of Küng to pass off as Catholic what was for all intents and purposes a Protestant ecclesiology (I believe even Rahner consider it to be such). This was about the time I went to the inaugural talk by Fr. Richard McBrien, who had just been appointed the chair of the theology department. In that talk Fr. McBrien tried to be "balanced," but clearly believed Küng had been treated unfairly by the CDF.
It was about this time that McInerny was helping found the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, which I am most grateful to belong to.
I first saw McInerny in person at my 10th college reunion. He was giving a talk about writing mystery stories to alumni in the Continuing Education Center. While I never cared that much for his mysteries, I was impressed to a deep degree by the self-possession with which he carried himself. He was sure, but not arrogant.
I was also, and continued to be bowled over by the broadness of his learning. He wasn't just a philosopher, but also a master of literature and of Catholic thought, clearly a man with a genuine Catholic liberal education, a type of education that has been lost at most Catholic schools, including the Notre Dame that he loved. At least I was able to get a taste of what was left of that type of education in the (General) Program of Liberal Studies at Notre Dame.
What McInerny has done for me is given me for emulation a model of the saintly scholar-gentleman. Intelligent, witty, calm in the face of controversy, clear-headed, careful, gentle, fair, charitable . And a real university scholar. That is most important to me. I'd say that he and J.R.R. Tolkien are the two men who have contributed most to the ideal I have for myself and what I strive to be. This is odd, since, as I said, I am not someone who has explored his thought, as I have Tolkien's.