Brian Tierney
1922 - 2019
Bangs Funeral Home, Inc. - Ithaca
209 W Green St.
Ithaca, NY
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 by Ithaca Journal from Dec. 2 to Dec. 3, 2019.
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Calling hours
3:00p.m. - 5:00p.m.
Bangs Funeral Home, Inc. - Ithaca
209 W Green St., Ithaca, NY
Mass of Christian Burial
St. Catherine of Siena Church
Funeral services provided by:
Bangs Funeral Home, Inc. - Ithaca
Sponsored by The Ithaca Journal.
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13 Entries
As a student of medieval history, natural law, and natural rights, Brian Tierney was a rare find. His work combined my three research passions. Although I never met him, I still consider myself a student of his scholarship. Brian Tierney has had an enormous impact on the lives of the students whom he never met. As a history instructor at a community college in California, I now share my passion for medieval history, natural law, and natural rights with my students. Brian Tierney, your work continues and we are forever grateful.
Joseph Pulido
May 28, 2020
I was fortunate to take three of Brian's classes and to be his TA for Medieval History in the 1980s. He was so intelligent, and kind. He made us feel that we were capable of tremendous work: he always challenged us. And he always treated both his undergraduate and graduate students with great respect. I will never forget his Conciliarism Seminar: it was brilliant to read Jean Gerson with him. Constitutional government--both medieval and contemporary--meant so much to him, and he shared his views on it and his personal values in every class he taught. Vale.
Nancy Spatz Lucid
December 29, 2019
Brian Tierney was one of the most remarkable persons I ever met in my life. I will always remember him and I am grateful for all that he did for me and meant to me in the years since I first began as his graduate student at Cornell in 1968. May God bless and console his family in their loss. tom morrissey
December 26, 2019
Brian Tierney was one of the most remarkable persons I have met in my life and i am deeply grateful for all that he did for me and what he has meant to me over these many years since I first became one of his grad students at Cornell in 1968. I will always remember him.
December 26, 2019
I was Brians first graduate student at Cornell. We arrived together in 1959, and he had probably not read my application before I was admitted. I wanted to work in a field that was entirely different from his, but he always encouraged me to pursue my own interests. Brian helped me to find a dissertation mentor in the U.K. and worked patiently with me throughout the long writing period. I remember the wonderful dinner parties that he and Theresa threw for his graduate students and the great love he had for his family.
Del Sweeney
December 26, 2019
Brian Tierney was a superb scholar, teacher, and mentor. Every time I encountered him I went away rewarded. While studying with him I thought I was developing research and writing skills, but I ended learning as much about teaching and advising. He had an easy way of letting you know when you were wrong, as when he pushed me from an overambitious thesis topic, saying, I can think of only three people in the world who know anything about that: ones dead, ones crazy, and Ive forgotten most of what I knew about it. That was as important as letting you know when you were right. One of my fondest memories is the time we graduate students surprised (ambushed?) him and hauled him to a posh restaurant to celebrate his fiftieth birthday. Tired and perhaps a bit cranky from a long day, he perked up instantly and took over the festivities. We closed the place. He was a man who cared deeply not only about what he studied, but whom he taught. That was what made him so good at doing both. May he rest in peace.
Thomas Turley
December 6, 2019
Brian was my father-in-law for the past thirty years. I knew him personally, not professionally. I much enjoyed talking, walking, dining, camping, swimming, traveling, and even once sailing with him. He was always a willing, wise, and warm conversationalist; he did not care one iota about the sports we sometimes discussed, yet he responded with understanding and empathy. His keen intellect lended valuable analysis to current national and world events, as well. He was the unquestioned head of a household of terrific people, from his beloved wife to his four children, in-laws, and grandchildren. To know and reflect upon him has been a delight. May Brian rest in peace.
James Wallace
December 3, 2019
Brian was my graduate mentor. I think it fair to say for a couple of years I was not his favorite student nor he my favorite professor. Only when I was writing my dissertation did I come to love him and understand what mentoring meant. Many years later I presented him a copy of a book I wrote about Franciscan art. He told me that there was a time when he wanted to write such a book. Thank God he didn't because I doubt there would have been much left to say. In the last decade or so, we became friends and colleagues in new ways. Just before Christmas, I cooked a big Italian lunch in my home and drove to Ithaca. We ate well, and I made enough leftovers for a week; i doubt if culinary arts were his forte. The conversations were wonderful as we talked about medieval history, the Catholic Church, and friends we had in common. One year I drove away, surprised how much we agreed on things. Then I slapped my forehead and realized that he taught me to to approach the subjects we discussed, and he was still my guide. I learned of Brian's death when I wrote to schedule the 2019 luncheon. I will miss those annual banquets of food and friendship. I imagine Brian in Paradiso's Circle of the Sun, where he gets to listen directly to Bonaventure, Aquinas, Gratian and others. He will learn a lot, and so will they.
William Cook
December 2, 2019
Brian Tierney was my senior honors thesis advisor in 1959-1960, his first year at Cornell (the date, "1961" in the obituary must be incorrect). The research and writing of my thesis (on the basis in canon law of Pope Innocent III's actions regarding Magna Carta) under his direction was a memorable experience and led me to become a professional historian. My undergraduate study with Brian Tierney was one of the intellectual high points of my life.
Seymour Mauskopf
December 2, 2019

When I was a lowly undergraduate at Princeton, and Professor Tierney was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study about 1960 or 1961, he very graciously took time to sit down with me for a wide ranging discussion about 'going to graduate school'. Thanks to his excellent information and advice, his candor and his patience, he helped me discover the right path for my graduate studies, in medieval art history as it turned out. I am so grateful to him for his mentorship, and I would like you the family to know about this encounter.
Jaroslav Folda
December 2, 2019
Brian Tierney was a brilliant scholar, whose influence on medieval studies in the United States can scarcely be mesasured. I have learned so much from his books, which I have also recommended to my students. Despite all his learning, he was also a kind and pleasant man who will be much missed.
Anders Winroth
December 1, 2019
The life of a person is judged on his achievements and his legacy for future generations, and Mr Brian Terney is the model of scholars who contributed by their books, reflections and academic achievements to the study of the medieval world. indeed, although I do not know him personally and I never had the honor of meeting him, it is enough to take a look at his biography, his publications and the honors he has received to understand the severity of the loss that the academic world has conceded, that's why as an aspiring historian, I dream of realizing the same impact as him and being also rembebered for such rewarding contributions
May he rest in peace
Abdellah Trabelssi
December 1, 2019
Brian Tierney was a splendid Doktor vater, a brilliant scholar who wrote crisp, lucid, and jargon free prose. After serving in the RAF he went to Pembroke College at Cambridge. He studied with Walter Ullmann and received his Ph.D in 1951. He was hired by The Catholic University of America where in joined Stephan Kuttner on the faculty. In 1959 he moved to Cornell University where he remained until he retired in 1992. Those of us who studied with him owe him a great debt. We also learned how to teach by watching him deliver pellucid lectures. One of his favorite lecture lines when talking about the Celtics was "if you are curious about what a Celt looked like, just look at me!" Requiescat in pace, magister meus.
Ken Pennington
December 1, 2019
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