A recent painful loss to our profession came with the death of John Rettig. He was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated magna cum laude from the Honors A.B. Program at Xavier University in 1953 and was awarded the M.A. in Classics the following year. The next two years were given to military duties, which he fulfilled while stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco. After separation from the army, he returned home and taught English and Latin for four years in the Cincinnati public school system, but then returned to formal studies at The Ohio State University, where he earned the Ph D. in 1963. His work on his dissertation, “The Latinity of Martin of Braga”, under the direction of Professor Clarence Forbes, seems to have set the stage for his future primary research interest, the Church Fathers.
John began his college teaching career as an instructor in Greek and Latin at Catholic University of America. After three years he became assistant professor of classics at Duquesne University. In 1968 he had the opportunity to return to Xavier and his home town. He remained at Xavier until his retirement in 1996. He became an invaluable colleague as he took on a wide variety of courses in the Latin and Greek authors as well as courses in English, especially his Introduction to the Church Fathers. He also showed a willingness to share the burdens of administration, most obviously in his ten years as department chair and director of the Honors A. B. Program. In his dealings with students, parents, colleagues, and the general public, he remained an active and effective champion of the educational value of the liberal arts and sciences and especially of the classics.
A continuing project over much of his career was his work on the translation of the St. Augustine’s 124 sermons commenting on the Gospel of St. John. This work came to fruition between 1988 and 1995 with In Joannis evangelium tractatus, published in five volumes with introduction and explanatory notes in the Fathers of the Church series. The fifth and final volume added ten sermons on St. John’s first epistle to the last thirteen tractates. His broad knowledge of Augustine’s thought, his deep understanding of his Latin, and the ability to represent clearly the sometimes difficult passages in the text made these volumes a most welcome contribution to the study of this influential Church Father.
Although John was indeed highly respected because of his research activity, his students will tell you that they first think of him as an excellent teacher. He had the most welcome ability to be kind, thoughtful, and entertaining in the classroom, while at the same time imparting a clear understanding of the subtleties of the Latin and Greek languages, thereby providing a deeper insight into the words of the great classical authors. The students worked hard in his classes, but the majority enjoyed doing so. We all hope that our brighter students, when we guide them through the writings of the Greeks and Romans, will develop a great love and appreciation for the ancient masters. Those who enjoyed the guidance of John Rettig were fortunate indeed.
The John W. Rettig Lecture, which brings internationally known scholars to Xavier’s campus each fall, is held in honor of John Rettig’s contribution to classics and to Xavier.
Robert J. Murray