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Let Us Introduce You: Joe Koerner

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Photo by Jessica Winter

Latin professor expresses love of language and his work

A former student and now Latin professor at Saint Louis University, Joe Koerner embodies those ideals most revered in any teacher. His love of SLU, appreciation of his students and passion for his work are enough to make any student want to study Latin – including his 13-year-old granddaughter.

“She decided, on her own, to start studying Latin…and [we’ll] text in Latin,” said Koerner. “Spell check goes crazy.”

The language professor, born in Hays, Kansas, received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees at SLU, where he was also an eight-year ordained Jesuit scholastic. He starting teaching Latin at SLU High School during the last year of his regency and later went on to receive his Masters in Philosophy and Letters from SLU. Deciding, however, that teaching philosophy wasn’t exactly his forte, Koerner proceeded to explore business and marketing where he eventually developed his own consulting firm, Qualis Co. When he found himself ready to retire from his business 20 years later, he was once again confronted by his love for Latin and began teaching at Webster University and later SLU.

“I’ve always had a great reverence for and interest in ancient times,” said Koerner.

Taking this interest in history and combining it with his interest in the languages – Koerner has studied not only Latin but German and Greek as well – has given the professor a deep appreciation of everything his subject symbolizes.

“The Latin language brings together a forceful aesthetic and emotional content to our insights and understanding,” he stated. “For those people who do like the language, they find a certain mental and aesthetic satisfaction in [it].”

So what of those people who claim Latin is a dying language? Koerner claimed that Latin has never exactly been spoken conversationally, but rather by those of higher education in ancient times and will always be relevant in the translation and understanding of such ancient texts. Furthermore, he pointed out that appreciation and investment in a language does not have to come from its practicality and usefulness, but rather can come from acknowledging it as an art form.

“We place a lot of emphasis on what we can use and transform into our careers and so on, but if you take a look at the high schools and other universities, [Latin] is still around,” Koerner stated. “I have a feeling it’s going to become a little more prominent again as it once was.”

The language professor, a trained voice and former stage actor, marveled at how content he is in his life, his work and being back at SLU once again.

“Arriving back at the place where I started…I’m very grateful,” said Koerner.

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