The blessings of Saint Peter’s Latin program


South Jersey Catholic Schools are bound by a commitment to faith-based education and a common curriculum. At the same time, the diocese celebrates the distinct culture and areas of focus that make every South Jersey Catholic school unique. Saint Peter School in Merchantville has rounded out its curriculum with a Latin Studies program for students in all grades. Principal Joseph Saffioti describes the program’s role and success.

This past spring nine students from Saint Peter School in Merchantville were recognized for their stellar marks on the National Latin Exam. The test, which is administered globally, requires students to read and interpret passages and answer questions relating to Roman culture, Latin grammar and Latin vocabulary — all in Latin.

The exam was administered to Saint Peter School Honors students in seventh and eighth grade, and nine out of the 25 students obtained national recognition for their performance. One student, seventh grader AnaMair Muller, obtained a near perfect score.

This was the first time in the Diocese of Camden that the test was administered to middle school students.

Saint Peter features a unique school-wide Latin Studies program that has for its aim reverence for the liturgical traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, English vocabulary and grammar enrichment, and the cultivation of logical, orderly thinking skills. The systematic study of Latin is a time tested way, within the Roman Catholic intellectual tradition, of developing superb reading, writing, thinking and speaking skills.

The ultimate purpose of Saint Peter’s program has to do with the Catholic mission of the school, which revolves around the school’s liturgical celebrations. Students periodically participate in benediction and exposition of the rosary, where they sing and pray in Latin. Additionally, during the 2019-20 school year, middle school students will begin attending the extraordinary form of the Mass (the Tridentine Mass) once per month. The hope is to help students better understand the inter-relation between their studies, the history of our culture, and the nature of our liturgy.

Since the inception of the program in 2016, Saint Peter has seen notable progress on standardized tests in certain domains of English Language Arts, most notably reading composite scores, vocabulary scores and grammar scores.

New Jersey is among the more competitive states in terms of the number of students participating in the National Latin Exam, so these initial achievements are no small feat for these students. Furthermore, there is a clear correlation between those students who perform well on this exam and top level performance in all English Language Arts domains.

In addition to these blessings, the real joy is in observing the reverence of our students at Mass and in prayer events as they come to grow in a much deeper appreciation of the spiritual, the sacred, the mystical and all things liturgical.