The small copper time capsule pulled from the now-demolished old St. Mary's Hospital contained artifacts including a document in the Latin language that a Helias Catholic High School teacher and students have translated.
The Historic City of Jefferson turned over the letter from the copper box to Helias Latin and theology teacher Mark Rehagen, and he combined his Latin I and II classes Friday for a special morning session of about 20 students.
Classical Latin — the language of the Roman Empire — died out in 450 A.D. and evolved into the Romance languages, including Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian, Rehagen said. "Church Latin" has some different grammar and vocabulary than classical, he said.
He said it was probably a priest in the Roman Catholic Church who wrote the letter found in the St. Mary's time capsule, given its religious references.
"We're learning some theology here, too," Rehagen said.
The letter from May 8, 1904 — the date the cornerstone of the old St. Mary's was placed — opens by noting 1904 was the 50th anniversary of the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.
The letter — which commemorates and blesses the placing of the hospital's cornerstone — goes on to list the local, regional and pontifical church leaders of the day, as well as people and groups including then-U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, then-Missouri Gov. Alexander M. Dockery, then-Jefferson City Mayor Joseph P. Porth and the Sisters of St. Mary.
St. Peter was the only Catholic church in town at the time, Rehagen said, and its pastor — the Rev. Otto Joseph Stanislaus — was vicar general of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
There was no Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City in 1904; that wasn't established until 1956.
Rehagen said his Helias students are part of the 1 percent of students nationally who study Latin — though 65-70 percent of the English language has Latin roots, he added.
Other local schools, including St. Joseph Cathedral School and Lighthouse Preparatory Academy, also have Latin programs or club offerings.
"I just wanted to do something out of the ordinary," Helias sophomore Audrey Ickes said of why she wanted to study Latin, adding it will come in handy in either of her two career interests, medicine and law.
Freshman Cody Cassmeyer said he wants to become a lawyer and added knowing Latin is also a "good way to relate yourself to how Roman culture was."
Sophomore Daniel Backer said it's interesting to read how Roman thinkers thought, in the way they would have thought it, instead of through a translation.
Rehagen said Helias probably will provide a literal and an idiomatic translation to the Historic City of Jefferson — the second one so the average person can better understand the translation.
HCJ will hold a private viewing for its members and community leaders of the contents of the old St. Mary's time capsule 2-2:45 p.m. Feb. 10 at Avenue HQ. The public can view the time capsule 4-5 p.m. that same day at Avenue HQ, 621 E. Capitol Ave.
Admission is $5 for adults and free for those 14 years old and younger. That money will go toward historic preservation and construction of a larger exhibit HCJ plans to build around this time capsule.
Other items inside the box included newspapers from May 1904, medallions, a postcard and a ribbon. Rehagen said the newspapers were written in German, though the ads were in English.