End Notes: The Dean Emeritus

This is about my dear friend, Jude Dougherty, who recently stepped down into eminence. I begin with an anecdote. Some years ago, at a meeting in Rome, Jude was called away to Castel Gondalfo for lunch with the pope. I saw him driven off in a car bearing Vatican plates and was waiting for him when he returned. I don’t think I ever imagined anyone I knew would be whisked away to the papal table. And, of course, my first question was the obvious one: “What did he say?”

Jude thought a while and then said, “I did most of the talking.”

That was not his first meeting with Karol Wojtyla. The future pope had been the guest of the Doughertys when he visited Washington while still a cardinal. A photograph of him taken on that occasion was proudly displayed on a wall of the dean’s office. Later when, as pope, he returned to the city and received American academics, John Paul II called Jude up from the audience and embraced him with unfeigned affection before the assembly.

Wojtyla was neither the first nor the last visiting dignitary who sought out Jude Dougherty. Foreigners knew they could take the pulse of American culture by spending a few hours with Dougherty. Jude served as dean of the School of Philosophy for 31 years and his impact on the School, his university, Catholic higher education, American philosophy (both Catholic and secular), and indeed on the Church universal, is impossible to exaggerate.

In May, Jude Dougherty resigned, ostensibly to reassume the title of professor of philosophy. But this was not to be. Fr. O’Connell, the president of the university, conferred on Dougherty the personal title of dean emeritus. His friends and colleagues and former students could never have thought of him other than as dean, and “emeritus” only adds emphasis.

Along with his new title, Dougherty received the President’s Medal and, by command of Pope John Paul II, the title of Knight of the Order of St. Gregory. The latter was announced by the chancellor of the Catholic University of America, James Cardinal Hickey. It is only fitting that Dougherty left the post of dean in a cloud of honors. Throughout his long and unique career in Catholic higher education in general and philosophy in particular, he has been responsible for any number of honorary doctorates conferred by his university on eminent scholars. His loyalty to, and love for, his own university was palpable.

Maybe it was his experience as an orphan that disposed him to pietas. He never forgot his teachers and mentors, those friends who had provided him the classical education of which he was so proud. It was his rock-hard grasp of what the School of Philosophy had been and was that enabled him to steer it through choppy post-Vatican II waters. There were times when the School of Philosophy seemed the only place in the country that had kept its institutional head. The single greatest reason for that was Jude Dougherty.

As the editor of the Review of Metaphysics, Jude has had a tremendous effect on the continuing vigor of metaphysics in this country. At one time or another, he was an officer of every philosophical society to which he belongs. He is a Fellow of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas. His is a household name in philosophy worldwide, and it can be said that he is the more esteemed by his secular colleagues because he is so unequivocally a Catholic philosopher.

No one who ever dined at the Dougherty table could forget the experience. Patricia is a gracious hostess, whose meals are triumphs. And, when the table was cleared, the postprandial seminar began. A list of the dinner guests would reveal the range of their friendships, the variety of backgrounds of those they entertained—the mighty and powerful along with shy academics prompted into loquacity, if not truth, by wine.

It is good to have such a friend. He has been good for all of us. Ad multos annos, Dean Emeritus Dougherty.


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.

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