The Vatican’s Latinist

“Sacred language?” he said when asked about Latin as the “sacred language” of the church. “In the first century every prostitute in Rome spoke it fluently—and much better than most people in the Roman Curia.”

.. The Minnesota Star Tribunequoted him as saying “I like to say mass in the nude,”

.. He appeared in Bill Maher’s movie Religulous, which featured him agreeing with the proposition that the Vatican itself was at odds with the message of Jesus, that the pope should not be living in a palace, and that hell and “that Old Catholic stuff” was “finished” and “gone.”

.. “The most influential Latin teacher in the last half-century is Reggie Foster,” says Dr. Nancy Llewellyn, professor of Latin at Wyoming Catholic College. “That’s not just my opinion—that’s a fact. For decades, he had the power to change lives like no other teacher in our field. I saw him for an hour in Rome in 1985 and that one hour completely changed my life. His approach was completely different from every other Latin teacher out there, and it was totally transformative.”

.. . “I don’t care about your garbage literary theory!” he barked at his students one day. “I can tell in about ten seconds if you know the Latin or if you are making it all up.”

.. “Latin is the best thing that ever happened to humanity. It leaves you zero room for nonsense. You don’t have to be a genius. But it requires laser-sharp concentration and total maturity. If you don’t know what time of day it is, or what your name is, or where you are, don’t try Latin because it will smear you on the wall like an oil spot.”

.. He said he wanted only three things in life: to be a priest, to be a Carmelite, and to do Latin.

.. His cell had no mattress: he slept on the tile floor with a thin blanket. His clothes were notorious in Rome: believing that the religious habit no longer reflected the simple garb of the people as it once had, he gave up his cassock and bought his clothes at Sears: blue pants and a blue shirt, with brandless black sneakers. When it was cold he added a zip-up blue polyester jacket. The Vatican’s Swiss guards called him “il benzinaio,” the gas-station attendant.

.. he developed a reputation for being one of the greatest masters of the Latin language since the Renaissance.”

.. “Paul VI’s writing was very concrete, and avoided jargon. John Paul II—not so much. So how are we going to say ‘the economic consequences of globalization’ in Latin?

.. “In those days they would play games where one bishop would recite a line of Vergil and the next guy had to give the next line and on they would go, until someone couldn’t remember a line. That’s all gone now.”

.. During that time he may well have undertaken the most strenuous teaching schedule ever attempted by a university professor. Rising every day at 3:58 A.M., he said mass in Latin, graded papers, and then headed to his full-time job as papal Latin secretary. By 2:oo P.M. he would complete his day’s work at the Vatican and be ready to teach. Every year he taught ten semester-long courses at the Gregorian, from Latin rudiments to the most difficult authors.

.. he hired space at his own expense, and taught six to eight hours every day, seven days a week for eight consecutive weeks. Sundays were not off days but day-long excursions into the countryside with twenty-page packets of Latin texts: to Cicero’s birthplace, Tiberius’s cave at Sperlonga, Horace’s villa in the Sabine mountains, and many other locations.

.. What is most exciting about these developments is these programs are generating the same kind of enthusiasm as the Foster classes that inspired them: “I’ve not looked at Latin the same way since.” “An initiation.” “Without a doubt the most valuable course I have ever attended in my academic career.” “Transformative.” “Mindbending.” “All people that want the classical languages to survive should really be doing these courses.”

.. Paideia last year used six teachers to cover what Reginaldus would do alone

.. “And because of that, things are much better off for Church Latin than they were forty years ago.” Foster confirms this: “I don’t keep up on what’s going on all over the world, but I can go through almost every episcopal see in the Midwest and the bishop now is a former student of mine.”

.. Foster’s method was primarily to be present in the room when exposing students to real Latin. He would settle on one particular thing he wanted students to look for, cold-call, and then correct mistakes publicly. About this method he said, “You don’t need a hydrology course to learn to swim. You don’t point at the water and say, ‘This is water, this is how water works.’ you just throw the babies in.

.. Foster’s method put back together what language courses generally separate: the experience of learning a language and the cultural value of knowing it.