Louis J. Swift

Monday 1st of August 1932 - Saturday 30th of January 2021

Louis J. Swift

Louis J. Swift, 88, Professor of Classics, emeritus at the University of Kentucky, died on Saturday, January 30, 2021 after a short illness.


He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Jodaniel; daughter Genevieve (husband Brent Owens) of Williamsburg, VA, son Dan (wife Julie Kohn) of New York, NY, daughter Polly of Lexington; and his grandchildren Ethan Swift, Joanne Owens (husband Tyler Shaw), and Aidan Swift.


Born August 1, 1932 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Lou grew up in Dover, Delaware.  He was predeceased by his parents, John Edward and Gertrude McCusker Swift, and his siblings John Brennan Swift, Jeanne Martin, and Ann Swift.


Lou became a Roman Catholic seminarian at the age of fourteen and went on to receive degrees from Saint Mary’s University in Baltimore and Gregorian University in Rome.  He left the seminary before ordination and earned his Ph.D. in Classics from John’s Hopkins University in 1963.  He began his career at SUNY Buffalo and joined UK’s faculty as the Chair of the Department of Classics in 1970.  His research interests focused on the study of early Christianity and the relationship between religion and politics in America.  He was a founding member of the North American Patristics Society.


In addition to his teaching duties at UK, Lou also served as the Associate Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs from 1996-1998, the Dean of Undergraduate Studies from 1990-1999, and the Director of the University Studies Program from 1986-1999.  In 2012, he was inducted into UK’s Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.  He leaves a legacy of intellectual curiosity, creative teaching, and rigorous scholarship--the fundamental qualities of academic life. 


Lou’s Catholic faith informed, enriched, and strengthened every aspect of his long life. He was an active member of the Holy Spirit Parish Newman Center for almost 50 years, singing in its choir, leading as a cantor, presenting at adult education forums, and serving on numerous committees. Lou was exceptionally open-minded and loved to learn from others.  He was equally a quiet leader with a strong moral compass.  He gave generously of his time and resources both to the Church and numerous other causes in which he believed.


A lifelong baseball fan, Lou was delighted when his beloved Dodgers won the 2020 World Series.  Before his retirement, he enjoyed maintaining his family’s home, making it a place of comfort for everyone. He especially loved puttering in his basement workshop for hours on end (though Jodaniel suspects he was watching or listening to baseball more than he was working there).  His kindness, patience, warmth, and gentle sense of humor endeared him to so many.


Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Father Steve Roberts will conduct a private graveside service at Calvary Cemetery.  A Mass of Resurrection will be held at Holy Spirit Parish Newman Center at a later date.


In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Newman Center, 320 Rose Lane, Lexington, KY 40508 or UK’s Swift/Longacre/Scaife Fellowship, College of Arts & Sciences, 2020 Patterson Office Tower, Lexington, KY 40506.

Guest Book

Laurie MacKellar


I found out about Dr. Swift's passing very late and I apologize. I remember Dr. Swift very well. I majored in Greek and Latin during my time at UK. I took a class from Dr. Swift my very first semester - the Annals of Tacitus. He was a wonderful instructor. I also took a class on Ovid from Dr. Swift. I loved his teaching style, his willingness to listen, to talk, to provide advice and feedback. Although I only took two classes with him, I encountered him regularly through my four years, on the 13th floor of Patterson Office Tower. He was an exceptionally kind and personable individual, as well as very knowledgeable and curious. He took the position of Director of UG Studies right after I graduated so I always knew him as one of the classics professor. He still recognized me years later when I was on campus. He was a major reason why I had fond memories of my time at UK. I am proud and fortunate to have been one of his students. I hope his family knows how much he touched the lives of students.

5 months ago

Charles M. Czarski


Prof. Swift was one of the hardest and most critical professors I have ever had so I learned a lot from him esp. in regard to understanding ancient and Medieval Latin authors.

6 months ago

Fr. John List


I was privileged to have had Dr. Swift as one of my professors while working on my MA in Classics at UK, specifically in the study of Vergil's Aeneid. I had prior exposure to this work in high school, but under Dr. Swift's tutelage it opened up like an orchid, beautiful and sweet. His perceptive spirit made itself present again, years later, when we came in touch through our shared efforts in BUILD. And, of course, our shared faith provided a meeting place of understanding. I am sure that in his passing, he heard the Lord say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

8 months ago

Lynn Guindon


Lou Swift was one of the two reasons I majored in Classics. Unlike many university faculty and administrators, he truly valued teaching, and considered his responsibilities as an educator to be of paramount importance in his life. He was a genuinely GOOD man. As I see more of academia in its various aspects, I realize how very fortunate I was to know him. Under his guidance, the Department of Classics was a very fine collection of talented educators. The world was a better place with him in it.

9 months ago

Sue Allen


To all the Swift children - your father shines brightly in you. May the sadness of your loss be tempered with the blessings of his memory.

9 months ago

Carolyn Hale Cubbedge


So very sorry for your loss. I worked with Polly at Quest Farm many years ago. Hope she is doing well.

9 months ago