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New Catholic school continues tradition of classical education

St. Austin students learn Latin, with Christ at school’s center

After the bell signaled a new period, fifth-graders at St. Austin School gathered in Thomas Capps’s classroom to study Latin.

Though Latin classes might be rarer than they had once been in elementary schools, it’s routine at St. Austin School, an independent private Catholic school in Town & Country. In fact, the fifth-graders are among the older students studying Latin, but not by much.

Using a textbook that he wrote, Capps teaches Latin to students from first grade to eighth — one day per week for first- through fourth-graders, and three days a week for the middle-schoolers. Many graduates start high school in Latin II, skipping Latin I, and quickly share the good news with their St. Austin family.

“They can’t wait to come back to tell us,” headmistress Gerry Dolan said, with a smile.

In addition to helping students get ahead in high school, Latin teaches them the school motto:

“Evangelizare Investigabiles Divitias Christi,” which comes from the St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 3:8). Or in English, “To preach … the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

St. Austin has been preaching the unsearchable riches since its founding in 2011. Based on Benedictine spirituality, with monks and priests from Saint Louis Abbey operating the school’s chaplaincy program, the school specializes in classical education, with “Christ at the center of everything we do,” Dolan said.

And now the school is officially recognized by the Archdiocese of St. Louis. In February, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson approved an Association of the Christian Faithful, in accord with Can. 298-329 of the Code of Canon Law, to operate the school as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. In addition, St. Austin has been accredited by the Missouri Nonpublic School Accrediting Association, which is a chapter of the National Federation of Nonpublic School State Accrediting Associations. The national federation is recognized by the United States Office of Education and Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

As with other Catholic schools, St. Austin teaches religion across its curriculum, in conjunction with math, science, English, literature, history and geography, along with music, art, drama and Spanish. However, in its quest to help parents as the first teachers of the Catholic faith, the school adds Latin to the mix — a classic language for a classical school.

“Latin is the language of the Catholic faith,” Dolan said.

So, Capps bases his Latin instruction on the Church’s liturgical texts, with pronunciations based on its history in liturgical celebrations — i.e. Kyrie eleison (Greek for Lord, have mercy), Dominus vobiscum (Latin for May the Lord be with you), Et cum spiritu tuo (Latin for And with your spirit), etc.

But Latin, like other subjects at St. Austin, isn’t taught in a vacuum. For instance, what’s science or math without reflecting on the beauty of God’s creation or the influence of Catholic clerics? What’s the study of history without the study of the Church’s influence over the past 2,000 years. And what’s English without the study of Latin?

Capps noted that Latin is huge in its benefits to vocabulary and grammar. The school deems it “essential for the fullest participation in the liturgical life of the Church as well as providing excellent mental training and assisting the understanding of English,” states St. Austin’s website. “Latin grammar is introduced in conjunction with the study of English grammar to help the children understand how the science of grammar works.”

The teachers also explore “why” questions with students, even at a young age, and the school emphasizes problem-solving with the goal of inspiring life-long learning.

“Story-telling is such a part of classical education; the students learn through stories,” Dolan said. “We’re teaching them how to learn; not just knowledge-in and knowledge-out for the sake of acing a test, but to truly understand.”

And set the stage for the future.

“As you learn more, you’ll be interested in this or that, and you’ll want to look up certain things and find out more about them,” teacher Jane McCabe said Sept. 4 to a class of fourth-graders. “That’s what you do as adult, a teenager, a grade school student; you continue to learn. … It’s really interesting to learn more about one topic that you just briefly touched upon in school.”

St. Austin School | At a glance

Enrollment: 90

Teacher ratio: 9-1

Location: 1809 Des Peres Road; Town & Country 63131 (lower parking lot)

Information: call (314) 580-2802, email info@saintaustinschool.org or visit www.saintaustinschool.org

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