Reverend Cornelius P. Forster was born October 27, 1919 in New York City, the third of four children of Cornelius A. Forster, Sr., a New York fireman, and Mary Catherine Collins, an accomplished singer and pianist.
Father Forster was educated at Cathedral Boy’s High School where he won numerous academic awards and city-wide recognition in debate, football, baseball, swimming, and other competitive high school sports.
In May 1937 he won a national first place award in the New York Times U.S. Constitution Essay contest. He earned an A.B. at Fordham University under the tutelage of renowned historians Charles C. Tansill and Ross Hoffman. At Fordham he played as a lineman on the Fordham football team and also played semi-professional football in New York City.
Father Forster entered the Dominican Order in August 1941 and was ordained a Dominican Priest on June 3, 1948. With three years of philosophy and four years of theology completed, he earned the S.T.L. (Licentiate) and S.T.Lr. (Lectorate of Sacred Theology) from the Pontifical Faculty of the Dominican College of the Immaculate Conception in 1949. Simultaneously, he completed his master’s degree in history at the Catholic University of America under renowned historian Friedrick Engel-Janosi and also served as chaplain at a Washington prison and at Mt. Alto Naval Hospital.
In 1949 Father Forster was assigned to Providence College and for the next forty-four years he served the college as Dominican Priest, preacher in numerous Rhode Island parishes, educator, author, chairman of the History Department, executive vice president of the college, acting president (1982), and a mentor to hundreds of Rhode Islanders who later entered such professions as teaching, law, medicine, and government. In forty-four years, he taught over 210 courses and at least 6,561 students, approximately 22 percent of Providence College’s 30,000 alumni.
He earned his doctorate in history from Fordham University in 1963 by completing his dissertation, “Charles Townshend: A Study of His Political Conduct.” For the next three decades Father Forster became an internationally recognized authority on the British empire and the coming of the American Revolution.
In 1964 Father Forster became the founding Dean of the graduate school at Providence College and held that position of scholarly leadership for three decades until his death. The highly successful graduate programs in History and Education are solely the result of his initiatives.
Father Forster published scholarly articles, papers, book reviews, and books and contributed over forty publications to historical scholarship. The Council of Trent, Martyrs of The Paris Commune, Dominican figures, Lord Acton, Charles Townshend, and Dominican history were just a few of the topics to which he took pen and, later, his computer. At his death, he was engaged in research and writing for several books and articles, and he was serving as archivist for the Dominican Province of St. Joseph.
For further information, consult the eulogy by Dr. Donna T. McCaffrey “Cornelius P. Forester, O.P. Channel of Grace: The Quintessential Dominican,” published in Patrick T. Conley’s Rhode Island in Rhetoric and Reflection, pp. 614-626.
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