This is an article from the spring 2015 issue of LSA Magazine. Read more stories from the magazine.
Many of us spend our workdays poring over important documents, crafting messages, maybe even sending a tweet or two. So does Monsignor Daniel Gallagher (’93), only he does all of those things for the Pope.
Yes, that Pope.
Gallagher is one of seven language specialists at the Office of Latin Letters in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. He’s also the only American. Gallagher helps translate the Pope’s official business into Latin, which is still the official language of the Catholic Church. Just don’t say it’s a dead language.
“Anything can be said in Latin,” Gallagher says, and his tweets for the Pope, from Bible passages to nuggets of wisdom and inspiration, show that.
Gallagher, who holds a microbiology degree from LSA, was raised Catholic and spent his senior year at U-M deliberating between medical school and the seminary. Over time, he realized he felt a special calling toward religious studies. Coincidentally, a good friend he’d met in the men’s glee club had been considering his own spiritual journey—to rabbinical school.
“It was a tribute to Michigan that I was forced to think and question my values and learn to articulate them, which helped strengthen my convictions,” Gallagher says. “It gave me the freedom to choose the path to ministry.”
From Michigan, Gallagher eventually landed at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. That’s where he met a priest in the Office of Latin Letters, and one of the top Latinists in the world, Father Reginald Foster of Milwaukee. Although Gallagher had some familiarity with Latin, he hadn’t really felt any spark about it until he met Foster. Foster had a legendary way of teaching Latin, breaking it down into its simplest elements and emphasizing speaking and preciseness.
“I was struck by how beautiful it sounded in music and in classes,” Gallagher says. “Probably what I enjoy most is the thought process it requires. It takes a certain kind of discipline, but when you master it, you can create some wonderful things.”
After the seminary, Gallagher returned to U-M for a master’s degree and began teaching Latin at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary. His talent—and passion—for the language did not go unnoticed. In 2007, Gallagher was assigned to the Vatican to help translate documents from Latin into English. Then, in 2009, his old mentor Father Foster retired from his position in the Office of Latin Letters. To Gallagher’s surprise and honor he was named as Foster’s successor.
These days, Gallagher happily spends his time translating the Vatican’s many requests, including anything from penning a document appointing a new bishop to tweeting to more than 300,000 people who are following the Pope’s Latin Twitter feed (@Pontifex_ln).
On a day in mid-September, Gallagher spent his morning toiling over a beautiful calligraphic version of a letter to canonize Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be made a saint. From that tradition, steeped in thousands of years of church doctrine, he then moved on to sending out a “Breviloquium”—Gallagher’s Latin word for “tweet.”
“We have found a resurgence in the interest in Latin, and new media helps connect the younger generation to the language and to the church,” Gallagher says. “You can read the history of the Western world in the Latin language. Social media helps to show that there’s no conflict between Virgil and the modern world, and gives a sense of continuity of being a part of the human family over time.”
Despite Pope Francis’s success at reaching out to the world’s Catholics in new ways, the majority of Gallagher’s time is still spent on more traditional forms of communication.
“Only a small part of my time is spent tweeting,” Gallagher says. “Most of the time, it focuses on what the Pope needs translated or proofread. Other things we prefer to write from scratch, to allow us to use a style of Latin that is very pure.”
Asked about the future, Gallagher says he’s honored to go wherever the Church and the Pope call him. But for now, he’s enjoying his time as the Vatican’s go-to guy for communications in Latin.
“If I’m here for the rest of my life, wonderful,” Gallagher says. “But the priesthood is an abandonment to the needs of the Church and the world, and I’m ready to change gears if necessary.”
In the meantime, he signs off with a cheerful phrase: “Pergite Veneti!”: Go Blue.