Writing with Reggie

Fr. Daniel McCarthy & Fr. Reginald Foster’s book on the Latin language, OSSA Latintatis Sola, is flying off the shelves (hint…get yours here), we present this article by Fr. Daniel discussing his Latin work with his friend (and past Papal Latinist) “Reggie” Foster.

Reggie & Fr. Daniel McCarthy, OSB

Reggie & Fr. Daniel McCarthy, OSB

As the sixth of seven children, I have seen my brothers and sisters develop in their vocation of marriage, first as spouse, then as parent, next as professional, then as grandparent; our eldest is a widow now sharing loving memories of her husband with their adoring grandchildren, and we all have survived the passing of our parents. In each stage of life my siblings have come into a new identity to share in a fuller communion, ever generative, ever nurturing new life in all their developing capacities, while remaining true to one another and to their own vocations in marriage.

It is curious then when people view the monastic vocation simply as becoming a member of a community. After the novelty wears off, the further question of what I shall do arises anew at different times in life. Like the marriages of my siblings, my monastic vocation also evolves in each stage of life.

When I went to Rome to pursue advanced studies in liturgy, I had already studied the Latin language, but my proficiency exam did not go as well as hoped, so I decided to start over with the teacher I had just met, Father Reginald Foster, OCD, the papal Latinist who taught for free at the Gregorian University.

Reggie was formidable, the lion king of Latin with a roar that demanded I acquiesce to a written contract issuing the conditions he required of me. I stuck with Reggie over the years, because he could lead me far into the understanding of language.

After years of studying with Reggie, he took ill and lay in the Intensive Care Unit on Tiber Island, Rome. My colleague Father James Leachman, OSB, watched as the doctors applied electric shock to resuscitate him – twice. Life is precious, so I went daily and held up before him my translations of prayer texts, and from his limp body he groaned until I corrected them. We were both aware of his fragility, so we worked while he had yet life. We were becoming colleagues then, for our translations would be published weekly in The Tablet of London.

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When poor health eventually required him to return to Milwaukee, and I was planning my departure from Rome, I knew that the sadness of leaving such a beautiful, historic city of international reference would best be calmed by creating new contributions, so we decided to write together his method for teaching Latin.

Reggie’s life-long work was to develop his own method of teaching the Latin language, which I could help preserve for future generations of students. Reggie’s gift lies in the immediate encounter with students and texts of Latin authors of every age, whereas my gift lies in an ability to explain things clearly in writing, preserving Reggie’s voice so personal, so fresh. I have been privileged to study with Reggie for years, to get to know him and let his voice sink in, and now to spend my energies presenting his life’s contribution to further generations of Latin students.

Now that the first of five books is available, I have been asked the difficult question: why? Why did I spend the past six years of sustained consideration to bring this book to publication, spending nearly a year and a half in Milwaukee working with Reggie in person and more time from afar? The only answer, really, is my vocation, my calling.

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One element of monastic life set me apart among Reggie’s students: leisure. I do not mean lounging around during spring break or a life of luxury. Rather, leisure is the root of personal freedom to pursue the love of learning and the desire for God.

Monastic life in Atchison is busied by many different commitments to serve the students in the schools we sponsor together with Mount St. Scholastica Monastery. Monks serving in the parishes dedicate themselves to caring for people in their pastoral needs. While these more pastoral and evangelical commitments to the local church occupy much of the time and energy of my confréres, I have been afforded a different monastic path.

My path was trod previously by Father Timothy Fry of the abbey. He was a scholar whose lasting contribution is RB 1980, an edition of the Rule of St. Benedict with commentary produced for the 1,500th anniversary of the birth of the holy twins: St. Benedict & St. Scholastica.

Like him, I have taken encouragement to pursue studies and to conduct my own research for years on end, which is now bearing fruit in books and many articles on Latin, liturgy, and architecture. Like the gift I have received, I have begun nurturing others by moderating my master’s and doctoral students’ own research. I realize that I do not teach Latin; rather I teach people the Latin language, and this personal encounter makes all the difference.

I have chosen to simplify my life and rely upon the community so that my prayer may not be preoccupied by daily needs, but can move on to contemplative appreciation. Freedom from struggling with daily needs is the basis of leisure that allows me to contribute in different ways proper to monastic life.

Such freedom from distraction coupled with monastic awareness of mind and simplicity of life provide the leisure to pursue and offer my contribution with dedicated focus, while letting all else go by the wayside. I am writing this while a guest at Keizersberg Abbey, Belgium, where there is no phone, no television, no hot water in the sink. Shaving with cold water is an apt metaphor: the skin braces, the blade cuts; I am focused.

Monastic leisure has afforded me the freedom of mind to apply myself in a focused way over an extended period of time to allow a discourse to emerge and expand and to produce what may be a lasting contribution to the teaching of the Latin language for the good of the world and of the church. This is why I have taken to writing with Reggie.

Exercising personal freedom in communion with others to offer my unique contribution is to be a human person fully alive, a human way of being a person in communion proper to the Divine. I see this reflected in Reggie and discover it unfolding within myself.

One of the highest recognitions I have received from Reggie was that he could see in my translations that I had been meditating on the prayers. I like to think that this, too, is due to monastic leisure.

I have been privileged by my monastic community with the time and resources necessary to pursue these contributions at length. In return I offer to my community the gratitude of a monastic life well spent and words of heartfelt appreciation. I hope that others recognize the monastic character and way of life that makes my contribution possible.