"Rident stolidi verba Latina."
In English, "Fools laugh at the Latin language."
The tongue-in-cheek expression is a favorite of Mark Rehagen, who teaches Latin and theology at Helias Catholic High School.
He has been around the Latin language for much of his life, but only in the past five years has he taught it professionally.
A Jefferson City native, Rehagen attended St. Peter Interparish School before boarding at a Catholic high school seminary, where he was first introduced to Latin.
"I fell in love with the language right away," he said.
As he continued in seminary through college and two years of post-graduate theology studies, he continued his Latin studies until he ultimately discerned he was not called to become a priest.
Returning to his hometown, Rehagen spent 15 years working at the Missouri Department of Economic Development.
He and Susan, his wife of 35 years, have four sons.
As a member of the board at St. Peter, he encouraged the school to offer a foreign language at the junior high level to better prepare students for high school.
"I was so passionate about doing something, I offered to teach what was called 'zero hour' Latin — before the day began — and I would offer it to seventh- and eighth-graders," he said. "That started my venture into teaching."
Without a teaching certificate at the time, he offered the before-school Latin class for 10 years at St. Peter then five years at St. Joseph Cathedral School. By that time, his youngest son had graduated from Helias, and Rehagen approached the high school administration.
"I think it's very important for a Catholic high school to offer Latin," he said.
It's the official language of the Catholic Church, and the church's official documents are written in Latin, he noted. At one time, Mass was celebrated only in Latin, and sometimes it still is.
He currently teaches three levels of Latin classes along with four periods of freshman theology.
"The culmination of teaching both Latin and theology, I feel like I've got the very best job on campus," he said. "The relationship between the two is incredible."
Studying Latin also offers opportunities to learn about ancient history and the classics.
"I believe it's also a feather in the cap of the student — because less than 1 percent of high school students take Latin in the United States," he said. "The discovery that one receives from the study of Latin is something that will help a person for the rest of their life. They will study better, their memorization skills will be improved, their knowledge of English grammar will be improved, their vocabulary will be improved, and therefore their ability to speak will be improved."
Ultimately, he believes, learning the language is learning the culture.
"Communication in the ancient world was different than our way today. So a lot of understanding a language is also understanding their culture," he said. "We have to learn how to think like a Roman in order to be the best Latin students."
One way he's exposed students to that culture is a school-sanctioned trip to Rome held every three years.
"I think it's very important for people to experience another culture at an early age and learn that the way we do things here in America is good but it's not the only way," he said. "We begin to appreciate America even more when we come back, but we also can appreciate the other cultures more."
The next trips — two to be held in 2021 — are primarily for students but also open to members of the Helias community.
Rehagen considers himself a lifelong learner, and he's especially interested in people who exude the same thirst for knowledge.
His particular interest in one of those people arose 20 years ago when he was cast as Abraham Lincoln in a Capital City Players production of the musical "The Civil War."
"I really enjoyed learning more about Lincoln, I really enjoyed looking like Lincoln, and so many people thought that I looked a lot like Lincoln," he said.
He's been portraying the former president for school groups and patriotic events ever since, now as an official member of the Association of Lincoln Presenters.
"I think he was a very honest man. He's a person of high character," Rehagen said. "I find him to be a statesman and not the politician, and I think that's what drives me more than anything, is I feel like we haven't really had the statesman as a president since Abraham Lincoln — someone that will understand both sides, sympathize with both sides, but do what is right."
With historical interests spanning from ancient Rome to the mid-1800s, and hobbies to include music and woodworking, Rehagen's tastes might be called eclectic.
"I like to say that I'm all about old stuff. Anything that's of antiquity, of the classic, or of higher learning or the statesman types, those are the sorts of people that I like to learn more about," he said. "That lifelong learning of the ancients, of speaking the Latin language, of ancient Romans, of people like Abraham Lincoln that are sort of head and shoulders above the rest — those are the sorts of people that pique my interest."