In memoriam James P. Reilly (1921–2012)
James P. Reilly Jr. passed from this life on Sunday, 17 June of this year, surrounded on Father's Day by his large and loving family. Jim was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and when the War broke out, signed on as a US Marine. He met his amazing wife Terry, also a Marine, while war waged in the Pacific, and their marriage became a model of deep and faithful and fruitful love. A veteran of a string of battles in the Pacific theater, Jim found himself in China after the articles of surrender were signed, on the leading edge of yet another brewing conflict. When he was finally mustered out, Jim attended college on the GI Bill, then did graduate studies at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, receiving his licentiate in 1950, and then at the University of Toronto, from which he was awarded the PhD the following year.
His teaching career began in California, continued at the University of Detroit, during which time he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the University of Louvain (1962–1963). On his return he was appointed editor of Franciscan Studies, moving his family to Olean, NY. Three years later he moved his family again, having been appointed a member and subsequently director of the American section of the Leonine Commission, housed at Yale University, the first layperson to serve in that capacity. In 1976, having spent a decade editing St Thomas, he was invited to return to Toronto, where he was elected Senior Fellow at the Pontifical Institute and cross-appointed professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University. He also assumed the responsibilities of Secretary at the Institute, where he continued to teach Philosophy until his retirement in 1989.
Jim Reilly was a careful and productive scholar, his work focused on the technical aspects of textual criticism, and particularly the writings of St Thomas. He was fond of saying that the years of meticulous examination of the manuscripts of Aquinas's Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics uncovered only one significant variant from the Marietti edition, and yet the work needed to be done. When a new general director of the Leonine made the decision to change the orthography of the text to “medieval spelling,” he conformed, though it cost him more time. His misfortune, finally, was not to have lived long enough to see the fruits of his many long years of research on the text of the Metaphysics commentary with the publication of the critical edition. Before he died, he was working on an English translation of book alpha minor for the Institute's Mediaeval Sources in Translation.
But this is but the bare bones of the man's academic career and does not begin to capture the unique qualities of the Jim Reilly we his friends remember and whose passing we mourn. He was to be sure a faithful Catholic, but his religion was tempered by the Scotch-Presbyterian side of his family. He shared with his maternal grandmother a disdain for a certain class of “wee priesties,” and always insisted on the centrality of the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist. He had a refreshingly skeptical view of university life, remaining all the while dedicated to the highest ideals of scholarship. But he retained, very possibly owing to the perspective provided by facing death in combat, a bemused scorn for the pomposity of many in the academic profession. His military experience was also the source of his very close friendship with Monsignor Edward Synan, who shared a similar history.
Jim Reilly was a refuge and shelter for many a beleagured graduate student, and each of them has a story to tell. This is Tim Noone's, Ordinary Professor of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America. Noone had lost two dissertation directors to early deaths, Fathers James Weisheipl and Osmund Lewry, both Dominicans. The task of directing the work, already in progress, fell to Professor Reilly. On entering his office Noone could not help but notice parts of the Rufus text, which formed the textual underpinning of his dissertation spread out on a table. Reilly, after an initial greeting, turned his back on the nervous candidate and when he turned back, he was holding two tumblers of bourbon. Handing one to Noone, he nodded in the direction of the scattered text, saying: “Before we get to that, young man, let's have something to drink and get something straight: you may have killed those two priests, but I am a United States Marine, and you can't kill me!” Thus began a very fruitful process.
To those of us who knew him he was the wisest and wittiest and most faithful of friends, and his passing leaves a void which can never be filled. May the choirs of angels carry this old soldier to his rest. Requiescat in pace.
R. JAMES LONG
Professor of Philosophy