Upper Michigan school teaches Latin as part of Classical Catholic Liberal Arts curriculum

As part of the Classical Catholic Liberal Arts curriculum at Holy Name Catholic School in Escanaba, Michigan, students are learning Latin for the first time this school year.

By Victoria R. LaFave

As HNCS Latin teacher Anne Carlson enters their classroom every Tuesday morning, students can be heard excitedly calling out “Salve, magistra!” This Latin greeting, meaning “Hello, teacher!” is just one of many new phrases students are learning in their weekly Latin lessons. According to HNCS third-grade teacher Mrs. Debra Casey, Latin is piquing her students’ interest in the English language. “Latin is their favorite class,” she smiled. “They just love it!”

Why are students so intrigued?

With approximately 60 percent of all English words having Latin roots, this language is proving to be relevant to students in their everyday speech. This school year, HNCS is one of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Marquette that is now incorporating Latin into the school’s Catholic Liberal Arts curriculum.

According to Carlson, learning Latin will also help students to grow in their Catholic faith. “Latin is the official language of the Church,” she said. “This makes it particularly important for us as Catholics to hand down this language to our children so they can immerse themselves in the beauty, truth, and heritage of our Catholic faith and experience the universality of the faith. No matter what country our students travel to in their future, they can participate in a Latin Mass and see the unity of the Roman Catholic Church. As Pope Pius XI stated,

‘For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure until the end of time … of its very nature, requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular.’”

This year, HNCS students in third, fourth, and fifth grades are learning Latin; next year, students in other grades will also learn the language. Carlson has seen for herself that students are eager to learn Latin. “At this young age, students are like sponges,” Carlson said. “They soak up new information and love learning new words and phrases.”

Carlson starts her weekly lessons by reinforcing the definitions of nouns and verbs. She also includes explanations of derivatives of new Latin words to incorporate meanings that students can relate to their everyday lives. In their Latin classes, the students are not just memorizing
words; they are learning their meanings — and their connection to their Catholic faith and the English language.

For instance, when teaching the new Latin word vita, which means “life,” Carlson explains that vital is a derivative of vita, and she gives
practical examples the students can understand in their own lives. She explains that when the doctor listens to their vital signs or their
heartbeat, he or she is checking to make sure they are alive and healthy.

When introducing the new vocabulary words of the week, students are first asked to listen to the words. Then, after Carlson gives the proper pronunciation, the students repeat the words back to her — both out loud and through their “phones.” According to the students, this is one of their favorite parts of the Latin lessons. Carlson passes around curve-shaped “phones” (new PVC pipe elbows) and asks students to hold
them up to their ears. She holds hers to her ear, as well, and has the students whisper the new vocabulary words of the week into one end of their “phones” so they can hear themselves speak the new words through the other end. She does this for each word — not once, but five times each.

This repetition of hearing and speaking, according to Carlson, helps the students to both speak and hear the new words, leading to greater reinforcement of the pronunciation of the root words. “By speaking the words several times,” Carlson explained, “and learning the meanings of the root words, students are more apt to remember these new words.”

Carlson incorporates singing into the students’ lessons, as well. To end their lessons, she has students sing along with her the beautiful
traditional Latin hymn “Dona Nobis Pacem” (“Grant Us Peace”). Carlson explains that this shows students the beauty of Latin, and allows them to put their new knowledge of Latin to practical use.

“Some of the most beautiful hymns and chants written for worship are still sung in Latin throughout the Church today. This can awaken the soul to beauty, wisdom, and depth. Not to mention, it builds character in our students. Latin is often challenging and takes perseverance and dedication, helping our students to grow in virtue.”

As Mrs. Carlson ends her lessons and prepares to leave the classroom, students can be heard calling out to her, “Vale, magistra!”
(“Good-bye, teacher!”).

HNCS is one of nine Catholic schools in the Diocese of Marquette. These nine schools are the first in the nation to fully introduce the
Classical Catholic Liberal Arts curriculum as an entire diocese.

For more information on Holy Name Catholic School, you can call (906) 786-7550, search Holy Name Catholic School on Facebook, or
visit HolyNameCrusaders.com.

VICTORIA R. LAFAVE has had several of her stories published in four different Chicken Soup for the Soul books and in several national magazines, including Parents, Family Fun, and Woman’s Day.