St. Matthew’s offers all three levels of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd as our primary means of religious formation for our children from ages 3 – 12. Saint Matthew’s has embraced the philosophy of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and has successfully implemented this work with children for more than twenty years. The goal of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is to nurture the child’s relationship with God. The Catechesis accomplishes this through the use of manipulative materials, prayer, songs, listening to the Bible with the children, preparing children for full participation in liturgy and by giving them time to work with materials.
At Saint Matthew’s, the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is offered each week on Sunday morning, starting in early September and concluding by the middle of June. The children gather from 9:00 – 10:15 a.m. in five separate atria. Four atria have been fully stocked in the modular unit directly across from the Parish Hall. One additional atrium for third through fifth graders across from the parish office. Materials, closely linked to biblical and liturgical sources, are attractively displayed for children to explore as a way to deepen their religious experiences.
Because it is attuned to the developmental and spiritual needs of children, the Catechesis experience is both religious education and spiritual formation. Our focus is on helping each child strengthen his or her personal prayer life, participation in corporate worship, and growing knowledge of the Bible and of God's work throughout history. This holistic approach catechesis is enriching both our children and the volunteers who serve them, fostering a culture of continual spiritual growth.
What is the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd?
The Catechesis (CGS) is an approach to the religious education and spiritual development of children that respects the pre-existent relationship between God and the child, and nurtures its continual maturation. By introducing the children first to the parable of the Good Shepherd, they come to understand that God is a Person Who provides safety, sustenance, and serenity to each and every one of His beloved sheep. This foundation is critical to their development as freely moral people.
The roots of CGS lie in the research and experience of Dr. Maria Montessori and those who have continued her work. A trained scientist and medical doctor, Montessori’s pioneering experiments in education took place over 100 years ago, yet continue to actively influence pedagogy in the public and private sectors today. Two of the most distinctive elements of her work are hallmarks of the CGS: a) a specifically prepared educational environment that draws out a personal response in the child and b) an exacting skill of observation employed by the adult. These two tools allowed her original students (slum-bound, indigent children) to experience an unprecedented level of academic success. By applying her method to religious education, Cavalletti and Gobbi opened a door to understanding the spiritual nature of the child, enabling adults to nurture the child’s spiritual formation and present information most effectively.
What is an Atrium?
Created to meet the spiritual and educational needs of children as young as three years old, the atrium is a place set apart for the children, who receive a series of presentations (or lessons) there. The environment and the presentations are carefully designed to lead the child to contemplate and experience an aspect of God. Built on the belief that God is indeed already in conversation with the soul of the child, the atrium and its materials are provided to further the child's relationship with God in a way that respects the uniqueness of each one and his or her growing awareness of that relationship. "You may be wondering how these materials help the religious life of children? If an adult hears a beautiful passage from the Bible, the adult might take a Bible, find the passage, and read it slowly again and again. He or she may think deeply about the words and perhaps speak to God in a thankful or hopeful prayer. But a little child, too young to read, needs another way. In an atrium the child can ponder a biblical passage or a prayer from the liturgy by taking the material for that text and working with it." (Source: http://www.cgsusa.org)
These prepared environments contain materials such as models of an altar, articles of the Eucharist, a baptismal font, and vestments in the liturgical colors. The rooms also contain materials related to scripture stories, including Old Testament prophets, the parables, and the life of Christ. Further attention is given to the geography of Israel and the city of Jerusalem. All three levels include presentations on the sacraments, the Bible, geography, infancy and passion narratives, prophecies and parables with the presentations increasing in detail and sophistication as the child matures.
The atrium is one of the elements that helps the relationship between God and the child to flourish. The atrium can be compared to a retreat house that facilitates recollection and silence. It is a place for religious life, community and worship – not a classroom for instruction. The atrium is a place of work that becomes a conversation with God. The atrium is a place for preparation for involvement in the larger worshiping community.
The atrium space is structured with child-sized shelves and tables on which rest beautiful, generally hand-crafted materials used first by the catechist in demonstration, then by the children as they freely choose which aspect of God they wish to pursue and experience further. Everything placed in the atrium is for the child's use, according to his or her developmental needs. This enables the children to develop their physical, intellectual, and spiritual capacities in a safe environment under the direction of trained catechists and their assistants. Those who instruct also listen and observe as the children come into contact with God at their own paces and rhythms, guided by the liturgical cycle of the year.
"The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd has been described as the meeting of two mysteries: the mystery of God and mystery of the child. When we use such a word as mystery, it indicates our attitude of respect and wonder, our recognition that we are standing before something which is at once both knowable and yet beyond our complete comprehension."
--from the foreword of The Religious Potential of the Child, by Sofia Cavalletti
For more information, contact Lynn Robinson, Catechesis Director; DScotRobin@aol.com