Catholicity · Community in the Latin Classroom · Vocabulary

Prayers: Community, Vocabulary, and Some Ideas for Non-Religious Schools

I want to start this post out by stating two things: 1) I work at a Catholic school, and 2) I am not Catholic. This blog isn’t the place for me to hash out my personal religious beliefs, but I do want to make clear the setting in which I work and my place in it.

Anyway! Despite not being Catholic, I haven’t had a very difficult time working at a Catholic school. True, I did study (because I am a crazy person) for my first ever mass by watching YouTube videos, and I also was a little out of the loop on some of the prayers: Hail Mary, the Memorare, etc. But I love going to work every day, and at least at my school, I don’t particularly feel out of place as a non-Catholic.

One of the requirements of our classes – so much so that it is the first or second item on the sheet for our formal observations – is that we start each class with prayer. We also pray as a school once during second period (morning announcements) and at the end of the day (afternoon announcements). I’ve always thought it would be cool to watch the security cameras during announcements, since you are supposed to stop if you are in the hall during prayer. I like the idea of everyone stopping at the same time to do something together.

But I’m getting off track. We start each class with prayer. In my history class, I lead it, and we switch between Hail Mary and Our Father (the Lord’s prayer). In Latin, until we get to second semester with our aedile election project (to be explained in a future post), I also lead. Here’s how that looks:

  • Discipuli/amici, quis preces habet? Students/friends (depending on my feeling toward them that day :P), who has intentions? (Read about intentions here if you’re unfamiliar, as I was, but the way it’s used in our school is essentially “who are you praying for today?”)
  • Students raise their hands and name their preces. From the very first time we do them, I echo whatever they say in Latin. After a week or so, they have a vocabulary built up to say these in Latin.
  • Then we make the Sign of the Cross (in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti) and recite a prayer in Latin together. For Latin I in the fall, this is either Ave Maria or Gloria Patri. We close with the Sign of the Cross again.

One of the reasons I love that we start with prayer is that it builds community in our classroom. Students hear each other’s prayers – and they are really actually listening. I think they all understand that this time is intended to be a sacred, solemn time, so (most of them) cut out any goofing off. Some students pray for the same thing every day, and their classmates all know their daily intentions. This is not an uncommon occurrence in my class:

  • Me: amici, quis preces habet?
  • Student: quattuor res. Oh, and John isn’t here today, so John’s mater.

This leads me to a more selfish reason that I love starting with prayer: it is a pretty low-stress way for us to build vocabulary. We have a sort of core prayer vocabulary that the students end up acquiring: mater, pater, familia, amicus/a, certamen, athletae, fabula, examen, res, morbus, etc. They also get number practice in, and it’s sometimes an interesting exercise in translating to Latin (“Ms. B., how do you say wildfire in Latin?”). They also hear a lot of vocabulary before we see it in Cambridge: res, quis, etc. It’s pretty cool to watch students see quis in the textbook for the first time and hear “We know this word! Quis preces habet!”

Obviously, for a non-religious school, this short activity (it takes maybe 3 minutes at most) isn’t directly transferable. But there are some ways to adapt it or incorporate mindfulness using Latin into non-religious classrooms. Here are a few ideas:

  • I worked with a teacher once who had a “Let it Go” (Frozen-themed) box, where students wrote anything that was weighing on their mind and threw it in the box, symbolically “letting it go.”
  • You could let students write what’s on their mind on a sticky note and place it in a dedicated place in the room, anonymously or not. Padlet is the same idea, but digital.
  • You could ask students “What’s on your mind?” (maybe Quid est in vestris/nostris animis? off the top of my head) and have them volunteer the same way ours do, although this might be getting close to looking too much like a religious practice.
  • And then there’s always the classic journaling.

I think it’s important that these things don’t necessarily have to be in Latin. Like I said above, what I love most about this is the community-building. Requiring it to be in Latin might cause anxiety. The other issue you may run into, especially if you do anonymous “intentions,” is a student writing something either inappropriate or alarming. It’s a risk you’d have to weigh, certainly.

Let me know if you have questions about this practice, wherever your classroom falls on the religious or non-religious spectrum.