Friday, August 22, 2008

Father Placid

I’ve sometimes referred to the period in my life when I was a monk. I have to say that I do look back on that time with fondness. If anything, I learned a lot, for the members of this monastery were highly educated and valued higher learning a great deal.

The first year of monastic life is the “novitiate” year, or rather, “monk boot camp.” It’s when you’re really cloistered away from the world and spend all of your time at “ora et labora.” (prayer and work).

During the novitiate year, we weren’t allowed to leave the monastery except for a doctor’s appointment or a haircut, both of which were nearby. There was to be no contact with the outside world for that year; no TV, radio, or newspapers. We were allowed to write one letter or make one phone call to a family member each month.

As I said, the members of this monastery placed a lot of value on education, so most of my “work” actually consisted of receving private instruction in philosophy and theology. Since many of the monks were college professors, I was able to receive college credit for most of these private classes. Not a bad deal, really.

Each morning after breakfast, I would have an hour-long Latin class with Father Placid. Fr. Placid was pretty remarkable. He was 82 years old, a small man who immigrated from Hungary in the 1950s, still taught at the Catholic university nearby, and spoke at least fifteen languages. He loved teaching. He loved languages.

Each morning, I’d sleepily wander into the room where I’d have my Latin lessons, and there Fr. Placid would be, beaming with delight and anticipation. (He was always there ahead of me).

I hated taking Latin. I really, really didn’t like it. I love studying languages because you get to learn about a people, a culture. But who are you going to speak Latin to? What culture are you going to embrace? It was all so heady.

So, we’d start in on the dreaded Latin. I usually hadn’t studied my previous lesson, so the verb forms and noun declensions were nowhere to be found in my head. A hadn’t a prayer of recognizing a passive periphrastic or an ablative absolute even if it bit me on the leg.

One day, I sat down at my desk with Fr. Placid and he was particularly excited. He raised both hands up, smiled, and announced, “Today!. . . (He then plopped! his hands on the desk for added effect) . . . “We officially begin the third declension!” It was as if he was making a huge news announcement.

I did my best not to laugh. I barely even knew what a declension even was, much less the third one.

Another time, he decided to conduct a round of verb drills. He’d yell out the short form of the verb (I think it’s called the declarative form) and I’d have to say the English equivalent. It went something like this:

He’d say “Fer!” and I’d say “Bring!”
He’d say “Laud!” and I’d say “Praise!”
Loc! Put!
Cogit! Think!
Aud! Hear!
Scrib! Write!

Then he said “Fac!” and I couldn’t think of what it meant. (It means “to make” as in facilitate).

He repeated, “Fac!” even louder and I still couldn’t think of it.

Keep in mind that it’s pronounced like “fahk” so here was this little Hungarian man, yelling "Fahk! . . . Fahk! . . . Fahk!" at me.

And I got the giggles. He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t taking my Latin seriously.

After my novitiate year was up, I thought I was through with Latin forever, but no. They had me take another year of Latin and then another year after that. I never did learn to enjoy it.

Passive periphrastic?

Fr. Placid had taught Latin, German, Spanish, Greek, Russian and French at the university. He passed away at the age of 92.

At the time of his death, he was studying Swedish and Hebrew on his own.


At 6:29 AM , Blogger Barb said...

Great (funny & interesting) post. Would love to hear more about your time as a monk.

At 10:32 PM , Blogger Citymouse said...

I took 1 year of Latin-- wish I would have taken more.

At 9:53 PM , Blogger Miss Healthypants said...

I love the fact that for a year, you had no TV, radio, or newspapers...and now you have CNN on all night as you sleep! :)


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