Fostering Latin studies

Most of you have heard the news that the in/famous Fr. Reginald Foster will not be allowed to teach his Latin "Experiences" at the Gregorian University.  Various reasons are being offered about this.  I have known Fr. Foster since the early ’80s when I was in his first summer Latin experience, long before the days were divided into the Iuniores and Seniores.  Talk about high impact!  I did several of the summer Latin experiences, as a matter of fact.   I also wound up frequenting the Fifth Experience for several years, simply because there was nothing beyond Fifth Experience.  I had already had lots of Latin through grad school (major: Classical Studies), and it was interesting, but with Foster it started to turn into something else completely.

Fr. Foster is likely to say some rather shocking things.  He likes to say shocking things and get reactions out of people.  This is clearly not the thing to do in the environment he moves in, but he is simply too good to get rid of completely.  He has experienced great pain at what he has seen in the Church over the last decades and in his own religious order. 

I also recall one summer when I was laid up with a badly injured ankle and could not make it up the hill to the Teresianum for classes.  He came to see me nearly every day and bring me ludi domestici (homework sheets).  I have seen him sit down in a gutter and share his lunch with a beggar.  I have seen him find rooms for people who came to Rome without a clue.  This is a man with an admirable spirit.

Here is a Reggie story: As you know, Fr. Foster wears very simple blue work clothes (jacket and pants) and carries a briefcase or plastic sac everywhere. He looks like he could be something like a bus driver.  When I was working in the Pont. Comm. "Ecclesia Dei", he stopped in for a visit.   Our receptionist, a very nice lady, answered the door when he rang and, seeing him, welcomed him in and immediately lead him through the long hallway to the back of the office and into the bathroom.  There she began to explain the problems we were having with the toilet, as she would have to any plumber who came to the door.  He fairly exploded and made it very clear that he was not the plumber and why he was there.  We laughed about that for years and still chuckle over it when I stop in to visit my old haunts.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Tim Ferguson says:

    At the suggestion of a Latin professor (Dr. George Rochefort, a superb teacher at St. Catherine’s College in St. Paul, MN), I and a classmate took Fr. Foster’s summer Latin course in 87. Frankly, it was way over my head at the time (I had just finished my first year of Latin studies), but I still learned a great deal – absorbing from the other students and from Fr. Foster. What I “learned” most of all was an infectuous love of the language – and the joy of being able to decipher the inscriptions on a bridge or over the door of a Church, of trying to “think Latinly”. When I got back to Minnesota, one of the first things I did was to add Classical Languages to my major (originally simply History). Foster’s eccentric, can be brash, and has some wild ideas, but Fr. Foster is a true treasure in the Church and the world, which all too often seems to reward mediocrity, as long as it doesn’t ruffle feathers. Reggie will ruffle feathers, certainly, but the Greg was just made that much poorer by dismissing him. Here’s an ad multos annos to Fr. Foster’s new institute!

    One bright, shining memory of that summer was the Sunday trip to Fossanova, where Aquinas died. There we read Aquinas in Latin, visited the chapel in the room in which he died, heard some delightful stories about his faithful secretary, Reginaldus de Piperno. And afterwards, a smaller group of us, not including Fr. Foster, unfortunately, made a trek to Rocca Secca, to the ruins of the Aquinas family castle. After climbing up the hill (made a bit difficult because of a skittish African Dominican nun who was scared of heights, and the fact that the host of this blog had sprained his ankle quite badly – perhaps the same injury he speaks of above?) we sat around in the ruins, translated, then sang the hymns from the Office of Corpus Christi which Aquinas wrote. When people talk about “going to their happy place,” that’s the scene which immediately springs to my mind.

  2. RBrown says:

    Good stuff on our Magister.

    1. My almost six years of Latin Experiences were as memorable as anything during my Roman years (during the 6th I had to pull back because of the demands of the doctoral dissertation).

    2. Did RF say some outrageous things that offend pious ears? Perhaps. But he is a bit of a contrarian: During class translations of bawdy texts almost always went to pious sisters, and texts of St Augustine and Pope St Leo the Great to Jews and atheists.

    But, as I used to tell people, what you get from Foster’s classes are superb (almost Divine) instruction in Latin combined with direct exposure to more than 2000 years of Latin texts. What more could anyone want? If someone wants catechesis or theology, there are other classes and teachers available.

    And no one ever left a Foster class (90 minutes long) saying that he had trouble staying awake.

    3. A friend in the 5th Experience with many years spent as a professor of art history told me that RF gives more of himself as a teacher than anyone she had ever seen. And his generosity extends beyond teaching. When I told him after at least 4 years of Latin that I almost was able to buy a used Lewis and Short, he said that he had an extra that someone gave him and would bring it. My impression was that he had simply bought it himself and gave it to me.

    4. His garb is interesting. He told me that others at the Teresianum would wear their habits to class and chapel but take them off to go to restaurants. His plumber’s outfit was worn everywhere.

    I once told him that coming from a family of plumbers, he became world famous as a Latinist and pedagogue. Then he regressed to wear the family uniform. A friend (also of Fr Z) told him that he had seen the grey plumber’s outfit in the window at Gammarelli’s.

    5. A superb teacher and a great guy.

  3. RBrown says:

    One other point: During my Roman years I lived at the Convitto San Tommaso, whose capacity was c. 55 men. During one year almost a third of the Convittori were taking Latin with Foster–I think it was more than any other Roman residence. There was never an effort by any of us at recruiting students for him, but our enthusiastic stories at table about his class influenced others to give it a try.

  4. Robert: I have little doubt that Foster bought that L&S. That is typical of him. About the “plumbers” uniform. There were terrible wars in his order over the habit. He adopted this version and it is indeed a habit in more ways than the decorative garb his confreres occasionally and serlf-consciously trot out now and then. It is always clean and in good repair, even when it is becoming very worn. His colleagues get together to buy him a new one occasionally and leave it at his door. His odd ideas aside, you are never left in any doubt as to where he stands and what he thinks and his acts of charity are many and performed discreetly. Can we say the same for most prelates?

  5. My goal is to one day get into one of his classes. Time is usually the problem. I hope he can continue these classes somewhere. I have several friends who have taken his classes and just love him. I have listened to his radio show on Vatican radio and usually come away with something I never knew, either about Latin or the internal workings of the Curia.
    Keep us updated on what he ends up doing, Fr. Z.

  6. I have been dreaming and planning on taking Fr. Foster’s summer course for about six years now, and a few months ago finally found a time — next summer! Now I’m just hoping that there will be a spot for me.

  7. This recent development at the Greg won’t affect his summer course, I think. The summer course was never at the Greg. However, put your bid in now.

  8. Thomas says:

    Never use lead in the plumbing!

  9. RBrown says:

    The situation at the Greg isn’t really a surprise. RF never had much use for the by the numbers approach of the SJ’s. In my first or second year, we were talking outside the classroom before class started. He began a diatribe against the SJ’s, obviously, not in sotto voce, “Did you ever meet one you liked? They all think no one knows anything but them.”

    And, if I remember correctly, some years ago an alternative Latin course was set up at the Greg by the SJ’s. Of course, there was little interest in it.

    The truth is that the Greg has been having problems for some time with staffing. There are SJ vocations, they are not producing professorial quality priests. And many students, especially from South America, have chosen Santa Croce (Opus Dei) over the Greg.

  10. RBrown: Yes, while the SJ’s still have some real stars who are young (I know a few who impress me enormously), they are not what they used to be. I recall meeting a fully professed Spanish SJ who had never studied Latin. Is that even possible?

  11. Fr. Z: I’ve got a letter in the mail to Fr. Foster, and am eagerly awaiting his response. :) I believe he will send a few diagnostic exercises to see if I’m up to snuff?

  12. Quantitative: He will want to know what your Latin experience is, yes.

  13. RBrown says:

    RBrown: Yes, while the SJ’s still have some real stars who are young (I know a few who impress me enormously), they are not what they used to be. I recall meeting a fully professed Spanish SJ who had never studied Latin. Is that even possible?


    In my 3rd experience class (90-91), we had an American SJ priest, who was then at the Augustinianum, surely no place for someone not proficient in Latin. Two things were obvious: First, he was ill prepared to study Patristics, and, second, he was oblivious to that fact.

    He left the Augustianum after a year.

    BTW, our mutual friend from Latin (SJ, MD, STD) was not optimistic about the future of the Society.

  14. RBrown says:

    He left the Augusti(ni)anum after a year.

  15. Martha Foster says:

    I just have a quick question if you’ll be able to answer it for me.

    Do you happen to know when the next time he’s visiting wisconsin?

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