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

Father Jean-Marie Rocheleau died on May 20, 2019, in the infirmary of Richelieu. He was in his 101st year and in religious life for 84 years. He is known to host the "Radio Sacré-Cœur" programs. He dedicated himself to giving the Spiritual Exercises to religious sisters, especially in Quebec.

May 16, 2019 — This past Saturday, May 11, the Jesuit Province of Canada celebrated the priestly ordination of Adam Douglas Hincks, SJ (Canada) and Edward Dawson Penton, SJ (Canada) and 5 diaconal ordinations at Saint Paul's Basilica in Toronto.

May 16, 2019 — Here is a brief summary of news and events that have happened or will happen in the next few days.

May 16, 2019 — The Jesuit Curia in Rome has just published a set of resources entitled: “Praying with the Preferences”, which provides seven documents to enable the reader not only to pray but to enter more deeply into the journey of renewal and conversion offered by the UAP.

Father Gilles Morissette died in the evening of May 12, 2019, at the infirmary of Richelieu. He was in his 80th year and in religious life for 56 years. He devoted much of his time to spiritually accompanying people "who have been placed on his way".

May 16, 2019 — The magazines Relations and Au cœur du monde have just launched their new editions. These have us travlling to various places leading us to view the world in a critical and contemplative manner.

May 16, 2019 — From May 1 to 3, dozens of Directors of Apostolates gathered at the Villa St. Martin retreat centre in Montreal. They began to reflect about that very same question: how to start appropriating the UAP in our local Canadian contexts.

view all news

Search news


Relations Mai 2019

Canadian Jesuits

Jesuit (Winter 2019)

Manresa Jesuit Renewal Centre
Since 1946, Manresa has welcomed retreatants to grow closer to God on 21 beautiful acres in ...