Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 12, 2009
Priest's illness leaves hole in Vatican Latin Office
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY - The Vatican's Latin letters office has been struggling lately with a big hole in its roster - U.S. Father Reginald Foster, considered by many the world's finest Latinist, has been away for more than a year.
Foster, a 69-year-old Carmelite, is recuperating from health issues in his native Milwaukee.
For now, the baton has been provisionally passed to another American, Father Daniel Gallagher, who was once one of Foster's best students.
"Of course, I'm not anywhere near worthy to stand in for him. But then again, nobody is," Gallagher said.
When Gallagher began filling in for Foster, he found his office furnished as sparsely as a monastic cell - a phone on the floor, a photo of the pope on the wall and a Latin dictionary on the desk.
Foster came to Rome to study in the 1960s and was summoned to the Vatican in 1969 when word of his academic achievement spread.
Over the last four decades, even as Latin declined as the language of the Church, the Latin section has continued to translate and publish virtually everything that comes off the pen of the pope and more too.
Foster did much of the heavy lifting, but he never adopted the Roman Curia style. For one thing, he showed up for work in a blue workman's outfit, purchased annually at J.C. Penney.
Pope Benedict has spoken about the importance of Latin in the Church, and the Vatican is committed to keeping its Latin letters section. But Church officials know that a renaissance in Latin depends largely on teachers, and that's where Foster has been especially missed in Rome.
Foster began teaching in 1973, and his were not ordinary classes. His approach was to throw them into the language and let them swim, disdaining grammatical textbooks, tests and rote memorization.
He reminded anyone within earshot: "Latin is not reserved for experts! Every bum and prostitute in ancient Rome spoke Latin!"
Foster was not bothered that many of his students were not paying for his classes at the Gregorian University. That led the Gregorian to bid goodbye to Foster and his small army of students in 2006.
The Carmelite found a benefactor and headquarters for a new Latin academy. Meanwhile, his summer classes held "sub arboribus" (under the trees) drew Latin teachers from all over the world.
Foster has been out of commission for more than a year. His students have suffered his absence and pine for his return.
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