Tireless, popular teacher and a committed and dignified scholar


James McEvoy:THE REV Prof James McEvoy, who has died aged 66, was among the outstanding philosophers/ medievalists of his generation.

His reputation was established with the publication of The Philosophy of Robert Grosseteste(1982), now the standard reference work to the 13th-century scholar-bishop of Lincoln.

He maintained a lifelong interest in the study and promotion of Grosseteste, the first chancellor of Oxford University, and was president of the International Grosseteste Society.

He held full chairs in Louvain, Maynooth and Queen’s University Belfast.

Dr Michael Dunne of NUI Maynooth said: “Prof McEvoy’s wide-ranging and detailed knowledge of all aspects of philosophy, be it ancient, medieval, modern or contemporary never ceased to impress colleagues as well as his equally profound knowledge of the Fathers of the Church, church history, ancient and contemporary languages and, of course, his knowledge and love of music.”

Prof Dermot Moran of UCD highlighted Prof McEvoy’s deep interest in the Irish mystical Christian philosopher, John Scottus Eriugena.

Born in Larne, Co Antrim, in 1943, he was one of four children of James and Margaret McEvoy. Educated at McKenna Memorial School and St MacNissi’s College, he entered St Malachy’s seminary to prepare for the priesthood. From 1960 to 1964 he undertook philosophical studies at QUB. He commenced theological studies at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, in 1964.

He was awarded a Bachelor of Divinity degree at the Pontifical University, Maynooth, in 1967. That year also he was awarded a master’s in scholastic philosophy at QUB.

He maintained an interest in classical music and the violin, receiving the teaching diploma of the Royal Irish Academy of Music in 1965. In 1968 he was ordained priest for the diocese of Down and Connor. Between 1968 and 1971 he studied philosophy at the Institut Supérieur de Philosophie of the Université Catholique de Louvain, securing a diploma in medieval studies.

He next studied at the Grabmann-Institut of the Ludwig-Austauschdienst-Universität, Munich, and completed a PhD in scholastic philosophy at Louvain in 1974.

On returning to Belfast he took temporary appointments in the parishes of St Paul and St Agnes before joining the staff as a lecturer in the department of scholastic philosophy, QUB.

In 1975 he was appointed to the chair of scholastic philosophy at QUB and to the headship of the department of scholastic philosophy, positions he held for the next 13 years.

From 1988 to 1995 he held a professorial appointment at Louvain, where he edited and published seven volumes of the specialist “philosophes médiévaux” series.

He was appointed to the chair of philosophy at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, with effect from 1995, and in 1998 was appointed dean of the faculty of philosophy and social sciences of the National University of Ireland.

In September 2004 he returned on a part-time basis to QUB as professor of scholastic philosophy until his retirement in 2009. From 2004 to 2009 also he assisted in the formation of seminarians at St Malachy’s seminary.

In addition to his work on Robert Grosseteste, Prof McEvoy’s books include Johannes Scottus Eriugena, The Bible and Hermeneutics(1996), History and Eschatology in Eriugena and His Age(2002) and Thomas Aquinas: Approaches to Truth(2002).

His deep devotion to the Eucharist led him to co-edit The Mystery of Faith: Reflections on the Encyclical Ecclesia De Eucharistia(2005). The themes of “friendship” and “love”, as they were developed in the scholastic tradition, formed the basis of much of his published work.

It was therefore appropriate that the festschrift published on his 60th birthday was titled, Amor Amicitiae: On the Love that is Friendship – Essays in Medieval Thought and Beyond.

With a keen interest in ecumenism, he was a member of the Ballymascanlon working party on baptism in the context of mixed marriages. He was also a member of the Irish Centre for Faith and Culture in Maynooth.

Elected to membership of the Royal Irish Academy in 1982, he served for many years on its philosophy, and history and philosophy of science, sub-committees. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Leicester in 2004.

He is remembered as a tireless and popular teacher, a dignified and committed scholar and a kind colleague.

His brothers Augustine, Patrick and Peter survive him, as do extended family members and the bishops, priests and seminarians of the Down and Connor diocese.

James Joseph McEvoy: born October 14th, 1943; died October 2nd, 2010