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“Clinging to Jesus Through Mary”

Faculty Spotlight: Interview with Dr. Mark S. Latkovic

by Dr. Mark Latkovic

Who is Dr. Mark Latkovic?

I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m a husband, father, and now a grandfather of a little girl, Genevieve. That’s a big part of my life. In terms of my professional life, I’m a moral theologian, a teacher, speaker, writer—all those things. In terms of my hobbies, I like working out—I used to like playing basketball, but I can’t really do that anymore. I walk about five miles a day. I’ll walk in the neighborhood, but it’s not just a waste of time. I’m praying, I’m writing, I’m thinking. Whether it’s scholarly papers or shorter reflection pieces or the poetry I write, I usually collect ideas when I’m out walking. I really like walking. Walking just keeps me out of trouble, you know?

You are also an avid blogger. Many of your recent blog posts have been poetry. When did you start writing poetry and why?

I used to do it in my later teenage years. I worked in a paint factory. My dad was a chemist and he got me the job. It was a summer job that I started in the summer of 1980, and it went through the summer of 1986. I think I started writing poetry then, just as a way to keep my sanity.

I was working on a paint line. We would bale the cans and box them, and then I would work on the paint platform, making paint with my dad’s formulas. I started then writing poetry, song lyrics, and I would write them on the back of paint can labels. I would write at lunch break or break time.

Then I stopped for a long time, while I was in college and graduate school, marriage, kids. Probably the last eight to ten years, I’ve really picked it up again. I’m more serious about it now, even though I would just be considered an amateur.

Writing poetry is not something I consciously set out to do. I don’t say, “Okay, I’m going to write a poem today.” Ideas just come to me, and I have to write them down. It sounds overly dramatic, but I don’t feel I have a choice. I’ll get a line that pops into my head—usually when I’m out walking. A lot of the poetry I write is about being outside in the neighborhood.

I feel compelled to write and it’s not always religious. I think the poetry that is more religious or faith-based also has other purposes. It’s saying something else.

How would you describe your spirituality?

If I had to say one line, it’s probably clinging to Jesus through Mary. I find lately that a lot of my prayer life is saying the Hail Mary. It sounds very simple. Apart from the Mass and Holy Hours, it’s just a very simple prayer. I find more and more as I’ve gotten older it’s a constant prayer, whether I am aware of it when I’m walking or just sitting reading, being with the family. Just a kind of a slow burn—I’m always aware of it.

I’m always trying to be in contact with the Lord, even when I’m not in a particularly religious place or doing something explicitly religious. I have had more devotion to our Blessed Mother, too, the last few years. Sometimes I just find myself spontaneously praying the Hail Mary and followed by a conversation.

Also, I am conversing with loved ones. My father has been gone now for eleven years, my father-in-law twenty years, so I find myself praying to them. I pray to others, either family or friends, asking for their intercession. I guess you would say it’s sort of an intimate spirituality, but very simple—nothing overly dramatic, just conversational.

Sometimes I just find myself lying in bed and just talking to my dad, talking to the Lord. Saying, “I really need help with this. I don’t know what to do. I’m an idiot. Please help me. I’m sorry for my sins.” Expressing a profound regret or feeling of repentance and letting it all out—crying. I think I cry now more than I have my entire life since I’ve become a grandfather.

What changes have you seen at Sacred Heart in your twenty-nine years with the seminary?

The most obvious changes are in the faculty and administration. Every one of our educators is known in the United States, if not world-wide. We’ve been ahead of the curve on many things—including the STL program and New Evangelization. 

When I arrived, it was a sleepy little seminary in the big city. Walking into my office the first day there was a telephone and a typewriter—there were no computers!

Technology has changed my job. I get a lot of emails about moral questions and consulting inquiries from bishops and others. I blog, and I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn because it’s my responsibility as a scholar to evangelize. I use these platforms to showcase the seminary and the Gospel.

What projects are you working on and excited about?

I wrote an essay for Catholic Answers. The Catholic apologetic organization has assembled five authors to contribute essays on the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the controversial encyclical of Blessed Paul VI from 1968. My essay focuses on the theology of the body, and personalism, including some of St. John Paul II’s thoughts. It also touches on cultural issues current then and now—the sexual revolution, the technological and scientific revolution. My focus is technology. After all, the Pill is a form of medical technology.

I’ve got some popular things that I’m working on for Humanae Vitae and the twenty-fifth anniversary of Evangelium Vitae—the Gospel of Life. We’re celebrating those two encyclicals this year. I’m looking forward to a sabbatical possibly next winter. It will be five years since my last one.

You’ve been part of the transformation in the Archdiocese of Detroit through “Unleash the Gospel,” the recently published pastoral letter from Archbishop Vigneron about the New Evangelization. What are your thoughts as a scholar, as well as being a member of the Archdiocese of Detroit?

At St. Frances Cabrini on Monday evenings, once a month, we go through the document. We have a holy hour before, and then a speaker comes in. I see how it’s being implemented in the parish and take my experience back to the seminary and share with students, seminarians, and lay students.

Since the document’s release, I’m more active in my parish. I want to take that pastoral experience back to my classroom. I’m not a priest, I’m not a deacon. I do have the advantage of being a husband, father, grandfather, and theologian who’s a parish member to bring to the men and women of the seminary.

We have so many voices in the culture today, on the left, on the right, in the middle. I think the archbishop saw a crucial moment, a crisis, a crossroad where we are looking at the trends and the culture. I think Catholics have lost the sense of what a disciple is and they need a picture.

The term “missionary” indicates, not that we must go to Peru, but we must be out there. Do I feel called to evangelize on social media or go to the soup kitchen and preach? It doesn’t matter, we must get out in the world, using the language of our faith.

When we say goodbye to somebody, we often say “take care.” Why not say “God bless”? Even if the person doesn’t believe in God, why not say, “God bless you, man”? Something this small is a massive change.

People don’t have to take classes at the seminary. We just change the way we are in the world. Use the language of faith and don’t be shy about it. The archbishop says we must unleash the Gospel, unleash our hesitations, our fears, our old ways of doing things. Unleash our own spirits, which are in bondage to the culture.

by Dr. Mark Latkovic

Dr. Mark Latkovic

Dr. Mark Latkovic is professor of moral and systematic theology at Sacred Heart.

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Sacred Heart Major Seminary is a Christ-centered Catholic community of faith and higher learning committed to forming leaders who will proclaim the good news of Christ to the people of our time. As a leading center of the New Evangelization, Sacred Heart serves the needs of the Archdiocese of Detroit and contributes to the mission of the universal Church.