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Our Fr Foster

The following article is contributed by Dr Benjamin Lau, President, SLOBA in Sydney

I first knew Fr. Foster in the mid-1960's when I was in the Secondary School of St. Louis. He presented to me then as quite a strict person. Most students at that time did not hear him speak any Cantonese and presumed that he did not know. On retrospect, this worked towards students' advantage. Firstly, we had to speak English to Fr. Foster when we communicated with him. This means that we had chances to practice and improve our English. Secondly, if we said anything about Fr. Foster or the school in Cantonese, he would have understood and taken into consideration what we said. I guess what we said in Cantonese, thinking that he did not understand it, was a truer reflection of what we thought. This provided Father a greater chance to understand us, students, better.

Fr. Foster has two features that really impressed me in the past and even now. The first is his foresight. In the sixties, it was a time of changing (Bob Dylan, flower in the hair, flair pants). We questioned the  authority (Vietnam War, long hair, the Beatles). Young people were generally starting to be rebellious if not already. Yet Fr. Foster came from an Irish background, one that was not famous for change. However, a couple of things told me that he was accepting changes and even instituted a few. He came to the Far East and had to learn a new language. He instituted a new marking system, the normalisation, in St Louis, and that was later adopted by the Hong Kong Education Department and the University of Hong Kong. He had great connections with other schools, and especially some girls' school like St. Clare. When either school was in difficulty in the staffing, he pulled the resources together and create a combined effort between schools in the educating of the students, especially the matriculation classes. So in the late sixties, we had girls  from St Clare's attending some of our matriculation classes and some of the St Louis' boys studying matriculation at St Clare. I am sure, he had created many chances for the boys to meet the girls. In fact I do know  of a few couples (now married) who met that way. This told me that Fr. Foster had shone through his reserved Irish background to become a freethinker and one who thinks well ahead of time. He also founded the St.  Louis night school and kindergarten. We all know how that night school had helped a lot of other students besides St. Louis'.

In fact, in the sixties, we enjoyed one of the periods when St. Louis achieved great heights in academic results in Secondary School Examination, and Matriculation. Records were created in the results and the number of entrants into the university. Not only that, St Louis had provided a solid base for other students, like myself, to further their studies abroad. So we have a great network of St. Louis Old Boys in North America, and now in Australia as well.

In the early 1970's, when he saw that his work in Hong Kong was accomplished, he could take another quantum leap to return to Ireland to serve the people there. He was in a local parish initially. Then in the 1980's when one of the Salesian Colleges in Ireland was in difficulty, Fr. Foster was called upon to run that college, and therefore, fix the problem. After six hard years, Fr. Foster had managed to get the college onto a  good track and other people could take over the management. In the 1990's, he then returned to the Crumlin parish where he is still serving the parishioners very well.

The second of Fr. Foster's qualities that impressed me is his capacity to forgive. I suppose he learned this from Christ who said: "Forgive others as the Father has forgiven you." I remember when I told Fr.  Foster that I was leaving for Australia half-way through the year in my Lower Six study, he was not very pleased at all as I took up a place which could have given another boy a chance to further his study in Hong  Kong. Yet, Fr. Foster showed later on that he did forgive me for creating so much trouble for him. He visited me when he came to Australia two years after I said good-bye to him. He showed no sign of any ill feeling  about my premature leaving of St. Louis. In fact, he showed that he was pleased to meet me again. His acceptance of me gave me a big boost in confidence. This confidence has carried me through difficult times again and again. We have come into contact again more frequently in the early 1980's and have managed to continue our contact since. Whenever we talked, he always mentioned the things and people that he was so fond of,  especially about St. Louis: the place, the staff, the students and what happened. At no time did he show any bitterness and complaint about people and incidents.

Fr. Foster had truly contributed much to St. Louis. He is one of my mentors. I know I cannot have the foresight that Father has. It is not something that one can learn or imitate. However, I know that I can follow  his shining example of forgiving others as God does to us. At times when I feel bitter and depressed about what other people did to me, I remember Fr. Foster as an example of how to forgive. This, I am forever grateful to Fr. Foster.

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