Literary Treatment

Frank Zapatka on McInerny’s “The Search Committee”

Here is another post by Frank Zapatka (Emeritus, American U). Here Frank comments on passages in one of Ralph McInerny’s novels.

The late Ralph McInerny (Philosophy, Notre Dame) in “The Writing Life”( First Things, 3.2006:) suggested that mystery novels “function as fictional Kleenex—one use and they’re gone” (p. 26). But, I would suggest that his mysteries needn’t be dismissed so readily because of the commentary on contemporary culture he makes in them. Frequently, such commentary concerns the life issues.

 In The Search Committee (Atheneum, 1991), for example, set on the “Fort Elbow” campus of the University of Ohio, reference to abortion and related matters is made in several passages.  Pro-life, Catholic Matt Rogerson, a senior faculty member in the Philosophy department, is a friend of Sylvia Woods, a junior faculty member in the same department. Sylvia “had battled Right-to-Lifers at abortion clinics, she had fought the prudes who tried to stop Student Health from dispensing contraceptives, she was at least fitfully in favor of unilateral disarmament and to hell with the consequences”(71) Later we read, “Why they [she and Matt] got along so well mystified her. He was a repository of outlandish beliefs and practices” (126). She doesn’t understand his “theological beliefs” in the least; moreover, “his moral philosophy, his politics, his attitude towards everything that really mattered to her, well, he was outrageous all around. And it now turned out that he was actually opposed to contraceptives.” She exclaims, “Matt!”/ “I’ve shocked you.”/ “you’re not serious, are you?”/….”Matt, kids are going to do it.  You claim you’re against abortion.”/“Claim?”/ “Okay, you’re against abortion. So you ought to be against unwanted children.”/“Non sequitur, my dear. I am against sexual activity on the part of those who are   unprepared to accept it for what it is.”/”And what is it?/ A way of making babies. The way the species is preserved.”/My God.”/ That is not a theory, Sylvia it is simple fact” (p.128). (I doubt that Mcinerny would limit “sexual activity” within marriage to procreation or that he would not accept Blessed John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”).

A little later, the narrator, presenting something of Sylvia’s views and understanding of Matt, tells us: “What you had to grant Rogerson was consistency. If extramarital sex was wrong, then it was wrong of Student Health to pass out contraceptives. Only an idiot would deny that was an acceptance of extramarital sex. Do it but don’t get pregnant, that was the message. But kids kept on getting pregnant and Student Health also made abortion referrals. Meaning they did everything but set up the appointment. That way a girl wasn’t trapped by her mistake, by a baby, by her partner of the moment. Rogerson scoffed at calling this responsible”(pp. 128-129).

Although, The Search Committee is an atypical McInerny mystery in the sense that it is not a “Father Dowling mystery,” nor an “Andrew Broom mystery” nor one of the thirteen mysteries “set at the University of Notre Dame,” The passages discussed appear to be typical of McInerny’s commentary on life issues as he embodies them in his mysteries in general.

Frank Zapatka

posted by Richard M.

Richard Myers

Richard S. Myers, the Vice-President of UFL, is Professor of Law at Ave Maria School of Law, where he teaches Antitrust, Civil Procedure, Conflict of Laws, Constitutional Law, and Religious Freedom. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Kenyon College and earned his law degree at Notre Dame, where he won the law school's highest academic prize. He began his legal career by clerking for Judge John F. Kilkenny of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Professor Myers also worked for Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue in Washington, D.C. He taught at Case Western Reserve University School of Law and the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law before joining the Ave Maria faculty. He is a co-editor of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law Tradition: Contemporary Perspectives (Catholic University of American Press, 2004) and a co-editor of Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy (Scarecrow Press, 2007). He has also published extensively on constitutional law in law reviews and also testified before Congressional and state legislative hearings on life issues. Married to Mollie Murphy, who is also on the faculty at Ave Maria School of Law, they are the proud parents of six children - Michael, Patrick, Clare, Kathleen, Matthew, and Andrew.