The International Catholic University Solution

I had the pleasure and privilege of teaching a course this summer using lectures by the man who gave me instruction in the Catholic faith during my senior year in college. His name was Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P., and he was one of the last of the famous “River Forest School” Dominicans.

Ashley had gone off to the University of Chicago in the 1930s when, by his own admission, he was a “dedicated Trotskyite.” After time spent studying there luminaries such as Mortimer Adler, Robert Hutchins, and Yves Simon, as well as time spent talking to the university’s communists, most of whom, although they liked to talk about “the workers,” never did any actual manual labor themselves, he emerged not only a Catholic, but a Dominican friar.

At the time, Dominicans around Chicago were sent to the Dominican House of Studies in River Forest, Illinois, and there he studied with the famous Fr. William Humbert Kane, O.P. Kane and Ashley, with fellow friars Frs. Raymond Nogar, James Weisheipl, and William Wallace, all of whom spent time at River Forest, became the core of the River Forest School of Thomism. I’ll not go into the details of their approach to the study of Thomas Aquinas other than to say it put more emphasis than many others on the philosophy of nature and the history and philosophy of science.

All of these great men have now, sadly for us but happily for them, moved on to greet the Unmoved Mover face to face and to enjoy His loving embrace. So how was I able to use lectures given by Fr. Ashley himself, as later this year I hope to use lectures delivered by Fr. Wallace himself? These courses, and many others, exist as part of an initiative begun in the 1990s by another of my mentors, one of the founders of The Catholic Thing, the great Ralph McInerny. Dr. McInerny was the sort of man who, to quote his late wife Connie, “woke up every morning with another plan to save Western Civilization,” and he decided in the late 90s that if Catholic colleges and universities weren’t providing the first-rate Catholic education today’s adults needed, especially in philosophy and theology, then he would. And since Ralph had many smart friends, he decided that all he would have to do was ask his friends to record courses for him, and “in a trice” (as McInerny put it), they’d have enough to supply a whole university curriculum in philosophy and theology. Thus began “The International Catholic University.”

Ralph McInerny
Ralph McInerny

Do yourself a favor and take a moment to look at the web site ( There you will find audio and video lectures by such distinguished Catholic scholars as Fr. Roman Cessario, Fr. James Schall (well known to the readers of this site), Fr. Kenneth Baker (former editor of Homiletic and Pastoral Review), Fr. Joseph Koterski, Otto Bird (founder of Notre Dame’s Program of Liberal Studies), Gerry Bradley (Professor of Law, Notre Dame Law School), and Jude Dougherty (Dean Emeritus of Catholic University’s School of Philosophy) as well as by Janet Smith, Msgr. William Smith, James Hitchcock, Thomas Hibbs, and Charles Rice. The list goes on and on. There is a reason the sub-title of the web site is: “Great Catholic Minds All in One Place.”

In one of the first articles I ever did for this site back in 2010 entitled “Studying With Ralph McInerny,” I described the mother of a Notre Dame student who asked me shortly after Ralph’s death: “Did you ever study with Ralph McInerny?” “Yes, ma’am,” I replied. “He was my dissertation director.” “Oh my, that’s wonderful; I wanted my son to study with Dr. McInerny, but now. . . .” Not knowing what else to say, I blurted out: “Read his books!” That, I argued, was a way she or her son could still “study” with Ralph McInerny. And it’s still true. Ralph left behind a tremendous legacy of writing, especially books that help make the thought of Thomas Aquinas more accessible to the non-specialist.

But what I also should have mentioned is that he recorded five separate courses for the International Catholic University: one an introduction to his beloved Thomas Aquinas, which begins with a delightful account of how difficult it was to find Thomas’s birthplace, Roccasecca; another on those two great lights of the nineteenth century, John Henry Newman and Soren Kierkegaard; and three other “introductions”: first, to “Ancient and Medieval Philosophy;” second, to “Moral Philosophy;” and third, on that most sublime and arduous of the subjects in philosophy, “Metaphysics.” I don’t suppose I would give away any company secrets to say that Ralph’s courses are our best sellers.

But giving him some competition recently has been the indefatigable Fr. Schall, who has been recording audio lectures for us at a furious pace over the past couple of years. And just last year we added two more courses in a full series we hope to complete soon on the great encyclicals of John St. Paul II: one by John Hittinger on Redemptor Hominis, the other by Fr. Joseph Koterski on Veritatis Splendor. (Know anyone who wants to donate to a worthy cause?)

What else can I tell you? There are courses on Christology, the Trinity, Freedom of Religion, Catholic Modernism, Biomedical Ethics, Political Philosophy, and the Spiritual Life: the list goes on and on. We also have short hour-long lectures on various important topics by top scholars. All at a very modest price. You’d pay more to take yourself and one other person out to a movie.

There aren’t as many car chases, exploding buildings, or knife fights in our videos (none, in fact), but you’ll learn a lot more. Feed your mind and nourish your faith by letting some amazing teachers open up Wisdom’s treasures for you.

Randall B. Smith is a Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. His latest book is From Here to Eternity: Reflections on Death, Immortality, and the Resurrection of the Body.