Reginald Foster (Latinist)

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Father Reginald Foster gives a lesson on the ablative absolute in Arpinum, Summer 2004

Reginald Foster O.C.D. (born November 14, 1939 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin) is an American Catholic priest and friar of the Order of Discalced Carmelites. He formerly worked in the "Latin Letters" section of the Secretariat of State in the Vatican. This section is the successor to the historical Briefs to Princes. Father Foster became one of the Pope's Latinists in the late 1960s.[1][2] After spending many years in Rome, he returned to Milwaukee in 2009.[3][4]

Foster is an expert in Latin literature, especially Cicero, and is an internationally recognized authority on the Latin language.[5]

Biography[edit]

Foster has stated that since the age of 13 he has desired three things: 1) to be a monk, 2) to be a priest, and 3) to work with Latin. Foster grew up in a family of plumbers (his father, brothers, and uncles are plumbers). He went to junior seminary in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where he fell in love with Latin. He would sit in the library with Lewis and Short's Latin Dictionary, fascinated by the entries.

Foster went to Rome in the early 1960s to study. He also taught German. He is fluent in Latin, German, Italian, and his native English.

Foster continues to suffer serious health complications resulting from a fall in June 2008, and was admitted on January 17, 2009, into the Fate Bene Fratelli Hospital on the Tiber Island.[6] After a grueling several months spent mostly in intensive care, Foster narrowly avoided death. He finally recovered enough to be taken to the United States where has lived to recuperate and receive physical therapy at Clement Manor.[7][8] Due to his injuries, Foster canceled his Summer Latin program for 2009, but now intends to resume classes in the USA in 2010 (see below). In 2010 he joined the Board of Visitors of Ralston College, a start-up liberal arts college in Savannah, Georgia the president of which, Stephen Blackwood, is a former Aestiva Romae Latinitas student.[9] He currently lives in Greenfield, WI.

Latin classes[edit]

Since the early 1970s Foster had taught during the regular academic year in the Gregorian University in Rome. These classes at the Gregorian were populated almost exclusively by Catholic clergy, seminarians, nuns, etc., and by a very small number of laymen. The fifth experience, however, tended to attract mostly laymen. In 2004, he was no longer allowed to teach at the Gregorian University because of the too-high humber of non-paying students.[2] His immediate reaction was to start up new classes immediately in another locality close by. But after a series of health problems, Foster went home in 2009, recovered in 2010 and has stayed States-side, still giving his classes for free at the University at Milwaukee. Former students of his, Daniel P McCarthy and James Leachman, continue to teach Latin in the style of Reginaldus Foster in London and in Rome.[10] (NB. No connection with the Pontifical Academy for Latin, established in 2012 in Rome.)

Foster's classes consist of five "experiences," broken down such that the first, third, and fourth experiences cover basic grammar and practice readings. The second experience is a conversational practice class, and is open to students of all levels. The fifth class is the most advanced class, and is taught at a higher level (much of it in Latin) than just about any other Latin class in the world. Foster's summer course, "Aestiva Romae Latinitas", or Summer Latin in Rome, has been held every summer since 1985 at the Janiculum Hill in Rome. He does not charge anything, only requiring students to possess a basic knowledge of Latin, love of the language, and the will to learn more, making the course very popular. He likes the students to have the Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary (which he strongly prefers to the more modern, but less complete Oxford Latin Dictionary) and the Gildersleeve and Lodge Latin Grammar in class at all times. Class is taught not from a textbook but from his "sheets," which are oversized mimeographs of Latin literature ranging from the earliest texts, ca. 200 B.C., to the latest Papal documents.

Homework is what Foster terms "Ludi Domestici", homeplay rather than homework. These are again oversized mimeographs in Foster's typewritten characters—large and small capitals. Students are to complete these Ludi on their own using their dictionaries and notes from class.

Foster's summer courses consist of two "tracks"—the "iuniores" and the "seniores." Each day (six days a week, Sundays off), his classes meet, beginning around 2:00 p.m. A typical class day consists of three 90-minute sections separated by short breaks: one session for the iuniores; a joint session for both levels; then a seniores section.

After class Foster also holds informal meetings "sub arboribus" (under the trees) in the early evenings for more practice in Latin. Two nights a week are dedicated to conversational Latin, two to reading Latin texts by sight.

When still living and working in Rome, Foster used to spend his Sundays during the summer guiding his students around city sights such as Pompeii, the Roman Forum, and the Castelli Romani. For these gatherings, Foster used to provide booklets full of Latin texts, maps, and pictures pertaining to that day's trip. Everyone took public transportation, and these outings almost invariably ended up with dinner at a small Italian restaurant near each locale. Other outings were half-day affairs inside the city of Rome. Tours of the Roman Forum and Capitoline as well as an Ides of March tour were popular. Upon request, Foster also used to lead "Inscription Reading" tours around Rome before his regularly scheduled tours.

Entry to the summer course was provisional upon completion of a written test, which Foster provided upon request by either email or fax. These classes were generally populated by Latin teachers, professors, graduate students, and undergradate students from around the world, as well as a small number of priests, seminarians, and nuns. On January 12, 2010 Foster circulated a flier over email announcing his intention to hold his Latin classes in Milwaukee (where he now resides permanently), both during the regular year and during the summer.

The full details for the Summer School in Milwaukee can be obtained on request.[11]

Latin liturgy[edit]

Despite Foster's condemnation over what he sees as a decline in Latin teaching, he is a critic of a return to Latin liturgy, commenting that it "makes the Vatican look a bit medieval". He believes that a better example would be for Benedict XVI to announce that he will read Latin in his Vatican quarters.[12]

Media reception[edit]

Foster's teaching style has made him the subject of BBC documentaries and a chapter in Alexander Stille's book The Future of the Past. It is characterized by a gruff style that feigns anger, disappointment, and a sense of despair for the future of Latin studies. Yet most students see that the demeanor is merely part of his style, and consider his "tough love" approach a refreshing contrast to the coddling of undergraduate American curricula. His pedagogy often can be a bit contrarian: In terms of his teaching, the task of translating any bawdy Latin text might, for example, go to a pious sister, and a text from St. Augustine or Pope St. Leo the Great to an atheist or a Jew.[13][14]

On October 17, 2006, according to the Catholic News Agency, Foster announced to a group of about 100 students that he had been fired from his teaching position at the Gregorian University by the Society of Jesus, on grounds that too many students were taking his classes without paying tuition. As a result, on November 2, 2006, according to CNA, Foster founded the new "Academia Romae Latinitatis", a free Latin Academy for all interested English speakers interested in learning or brushing up on their Latin. The Academia, also known as the Istituto Ganganelli, is currently being housed near Piazza Venezia in Rome.[1]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • A. Stille: "The Future of the Past: How the Information Age Threatens to Destroy our Cultural Heritage" ISBN 0-330-37534-2

External links[edit]

Newspaper articles[edit]

Preceded by
Antonio Bacci
Papal Latinist
1969-present
Succeeded by
Incumbent