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Monday, 28 September 2009

Nothing floats in Latin

Many years ago in Rome, I studied Latin with the great Fr Reginald Foster. I have studied under some very fine teachers but Reggie was undoubtedly the best teacher of anything that I ever had. He is not by any means a "traditionalist": for example he never wears his habit, and does not like the extraordinary form of Mass. His love of Latin is entirely based on the beauty of the language itself. His enthusiasm is infectious but enthusiasm is not enough to learn Latin. He demanded hard work and application, but those students who stayed with him (and there were always large numbers) did the work because he communicated his own zeal for the language.

Everyone who studied with Reggie has their own memories from his classes - you need to conjure up the gravelly Milwaukee accent - here is one example.
Foster: What's the dative doing there in that sentence?

Student: Oh Father I thought it was just like, kinda ... floating.

Foster: [with trademark snarl] NOTHING FLOATS IN LATIN!
I remember the mistake on the brass plaque some Bishops sent to the Pope, the tour of the twelve obelisks of Rome, and Latin conversation class in the garden of the English College. One time, he told us that the Curator of Public Works at the Vatican phoned him up about an abbreviation they had found at the top of the obelisk in St Peter's square when it was being cleaned. Would Fr Foster kindly look it up in his reference books and let them know if he could explain it to them?

"What is it? What does it say?"

"P.F.C."

Without any pause, the trademark snarl... "Well it just might be YOUR JOB! Publicae Fabricae Curator"

Father Foster has been ill for a while and recuperating in his native Milwaukee. Please remember him in your prayers - especially pray that he might be able to return to Rome and take up teaching Latin again.

See Fr Zuhlsdorf's Report on Fr. Reginald Foster
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