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Brian Tierney


1922 - 2019
Brian Tierney Obituary
Brian Tierney

Brian Tierney, 97, the Cornell University Emeritus Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor in Humanistic Studies, died peacefully in his sleep on November 30, 2019, after spending the day surrounded by his family. He was an internationally renowned scholar and widely recognized as a leading authority on medieval church law and political thought.

Tierney was born in Scunthorpe, England on May 7, 1922, son of the late John Patrick Tierney and Helena McGuire Tierney.

During World War II, Tierney served in the Royal Air Force as a navigator. He initially flew 29 missions in Wellington bombers as part of Bomber Command and then completed a second operational tour of 60 missions in Mosquitoes with the 105 Squadron of the elite Pathfinder Force. Flight Lieutenant Tierney was recognized by King George VI with the prestigious Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar for his RAF service.

Following WWII, Tierney attended Pembroke College at Cambridge University, graduating in 1948 with first class honors, and went on, also at Cambridge, to complete a PhD in Medieval History in 1951. Offered a position as an assistant professor at Catholic University in Washington, DC, he and his wife, Theresa, emigrated to America in 1951. They traveled on the famous ocean liner Queen Mary and were among the last cohorts of immigrants to be processed through Ellis Island.

Tierney taught at Catholic University until 1961 when he moved to Ithaca, NY to become professor of Medieval History at Cornell University, becoming the Goldwin Smith Professor of Medieval History in 1969, and the first Bowmar Professor of Humanistic Studies in 1977. He retired in 1992 but continued extensive academic work. Throughout his career he published extensively with his most recent book Liberty and Law: The Idea of Permissive Natural Law, 1100-1800, being published in 2014.

Tierney was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Theology by Uppsala University, Sweden, and Doctor of Humane Letters by Catholic University. He was a Member of the American Philosophical Society, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Tierney was a past president of the American Catholic Historical Association. Other honors include the Award for Scholarly Distinction of the American Historical Association, the Haskins Medal of the Medieval Academy, and the Quasten Medal of Catholic University.

Along with his academic work, Tierney was an avid sailor and skier and enjoyed swimming, snorkeling, fishing, camping. Tierney was predeceased by his beloved wife, Theresa Tierney (nee O'Dowd). He is survived by a brother, Michael; four children: John, Helen, Christopher and Ann Jane; and eight grandchildren: Jordan, Katherine, Christina, Brian, Catherine, James, Jasmine and Gemma.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated by Fr. Dan McMullen on Saturday, December 07, 2019 at 11 am at St. Catherine of Siena Church. Friends may call on Friday, December 06, 2019 from 3 to 5 pm at the Bangs Funeral Home in Ithaca, NY.
Published in Ithaca Journal from Dec. 2 to Dec. 3, 2019
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