Carmelite Reginald Foster, born in 1939 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and considered one of the greatest Latinists of the Catholic Church, died on Christmas Day 2020.
This news grieved me personally because I was linked to Professor Foster, as we called him, by a relationship of friendship and familiarity in the true sense of the word. He was a person who deeply loved the Latin language, who taught for free, without asking anything from his students. When he was at the Gregorian University, he experienced problems with the Jesuits (who also had a reason) as many students who attended his courses did not pay anything either to the teacher and not even to the University. I also attended a few lessons at the university with him, and I remember that there were really many people who were certainly not attracted by the fact of not having to pay but rather by the teacher’s reputation. In fact, Professor Foster was known as “the Pope’s Latinist,” as he worked in the secretariat of state for the translation of the official documents of the pontiff and the Holy See. He told us about this experience and how Latin was disappearing in the life of the Church. To those who gained his confidence, he revealed anecdotes and behind the scenes that were always very interesting.
Professor Foster was a genius of Latin, he had also devised a method of teaching Latin that required the experience of the language as a living language. Some of his former students have tried to put this method into a book form. The pupils loved him, and rightly so. The Americans called him ‘Reggie’ with confidence, but we Europeans are a little frightened. For us, he was ‘Professor Foster,’ that’s all. But he was not a person who inspired fear, he liked to play with Latin, as all the students knew when at this time of Christmas sang Jingle Bells with these words: “consulis manu / mappa decidit, / acer cum curru / equus exsilit./ poses nos sonant / carcerum valvae, / quam Circenses delectant! / quam gaudent aurigae!: / tinniunt, tinniunt / usque phalerae; / quam libenter audiunt / in cursu aurigae! ” (try it!).
He was certainly one of a kind, a man of great kindness and with a big heart, from which a sincere love for what he did shone. Sit tibi terra levis, Professor Foster! He holds a special place in the hearts of many people whom he taught.