Fr. Jeffrey Burwell, SJ, teaches young students in Winnipeg the meaning of Carpe Diem

March 7, 2016 — With just a tiny bit of prompting, six-year-old Thomas LaFrance can rattle off an ancient blessing for a meal in perfectly pronounced Latin.

Technically a dead language, Latin is alive and well in Room 225 at St. Paul’s College at the University of Manitoba, where Thomas, his older sister, and two dozen other home schooled Catholic children decline nouns, conjugate verbs and build simple sentences.

"They’re picking up patterns and learning higher-level reasoning skills I’ve never seen in students of that age," explains education professor and Latin teacher Jeffrey Burwell, director of the Jesuit Centre for Catholic Studies at St. Paul’s.

Children from 10 home-schooling Catholic families attend the Friday afternoon classes, which open in the college chapel with a prayer and short meditation by Burwell, a Jesuit priest. Then the students, grouped by age, alternate between Burwell’s Latin class and one taught by piano teacher and musician Ljiljana Farkas, where they learn how to read music, sing Gregorian chants and compose music of their own.

"It’s not as common in North America, but we’d like to reintroduce our children to their Latin roots," explains home-schooling parent Maria Cotter, who organized the Latin program, which runs from September through May.


Latin is often referred to as a "dead language" because the patterns and rules don’t change, but for centuries it was the language of literature, the church, and the people, says Burwell, who teaches his students the Lord’s Prayer and table blessings in Latin, in addition to vocabulary and grammar.

"The textbook teaches the prayers in Latin and there’s a strong ecclesiastical component to it," he says, referring to how the Catholic Church still includes some Latin in its liturgy.

And his students continually surprise him with their eagerness to learn the language and to make connections between Latin and English.

"One of the six-year-old kids came into class and said ‘Submarine. Sub means under and marine means water,’" explains Burwell, who drills students on nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions throughout the class.

After only half a year of study, those lessons are already hitting home in practical ways for the students, who range from six to 17.

"What really surprised me in Latin was how many English words were derived from Latin," says 17-year-old Gloria Nikolic, the oldest of four sisters studying Latin.

"We’ve been incorporating it in our prayer time (at home) when we say grace or night prayers."

"I go to a Latin mass and I serve there, so I have to know the language to respond to all the prayers," adds Tomas Pena, 13, who attends Winnipeg’s only weekly Latin mass at St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church.


And beyond that, the Latin lessons help students in their study of other disciplines, such as biology or anatomy, says Rosalie Madden, who has three of her seven children enrolled in Latin.

"It stretches their brain and it is so connected," says the Ste. Anne resident, whose family has French and German roots.

"We’re already making the connection between Latin and French."

Those weekly drills of sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt (the conjugation of the verb "to be") are making an impact beyond the students, says Burwell, who notices the mothers in the back of the room taking notes and listening attentively to the lessons.

"This could continue to grow. I know lots of adults who would be interested in taking a class," says Burwell, who studied Latin as an undergraduate.

"The motivations are interesting. You want to understand the language, you want to understand the motivation of the church."

[Source: Winnipeg Free Press]

Recent News

September 11, 2019 — Over the past year, Fridays for Future, a global student movement started by Swedish student Greta Thunberg, has grown to include hundreds of thousands of students around the globe. Now, the movement is inviting others to join with them.

September 12, 2019 — In recent days, the fires burning in the Amazon have moved to the front page of our concerns. But the crisis facing the Amazon has existed for a long time and affects us all.

September 12, 2019 — The Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, is currently planning the renewal of its formation process. Young Jesuits in the new province will be formed in such a way that the different learning components will be even more integrated.

September 5, 2019 — The Province of the Jesuits of Canada just celebrated its first year. Three people graciously agreed to share their experience of this new province: Father Earl Smith, SJ, scholastic Marc-André Veselovsky, SJ, and Norbert Piché. The three testimonies echo each other.

September 1, 2019 — Last month, Fr. Michael Czerny, recently named cardinal, published a text on the upcoming Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region. "We cannot separate the social and the natural, we must not separate the environmental from the pastoral," writes Fr. Czerny.

September 1, 2019 — Pope Francis has named Father Michael Czerny SJ, of the Jesuits of Canada, one of 13 new cardinals to be installed in October.

Father Doug McCarthy died suddenly on the afternoon of August 24 at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Toronto. He was in his 75th year and in religious life for 57 years. He was respected and loved by the Indigenous people, that they gave him an Indian name – Minowadjmod, “the carrier of the message, always a good message”.

view all news

Search news


Campion's Brag

Relations Mai 2019

Canadian Jesuits

Loyola House / Ignatius Jesuit Centre
Built in 1964, Loyola House in Guelph, ON has welcomed over 60,000 people of all faiths to deepen ...