Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

A child meditates on the Easter Triduum using the City of Jerusalem material

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a method of religious formation designed specially according to the nature of the child, just as the Montessori method contours education to the nature of the child. The Catechesis takes place in a specially prepared environment called the Atrium, using the early Church’s term for the entrance space preceding the main body of a church building.

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Level 3

The Catechesis was developed by Italian theologian Sophia Cavalleti, who spent her lifetime “following the child” and discovering how he innately approaches God. Gianna Gobbi, who studied under Maria Montessori herself, worked with Sophia in the development of this catechetical method that is essentially the Montessori method applied to the sphere of the child’s relationship with God. What are the hallmarks of this method?:

{Are you an auditory learner?: Instead of reading the below, listen to one of St. Francis’ catechists provide details about the Catechesis method in a radio interview on KATH 910 AM.}

The Good Shepherd

atrium shepherd
The Good Shepherd material is at the center of the Atrium

Sophia and Gianna observed that the young child relates to the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd more than any other image that Jesus gave us for Himself. Hence meditation on Jesus as a shepherd who is deeply “good” and who gives His life for His sheep is at the center (physically and spiritually) of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

Scripture and Liturgy, Covenant and Christology

atrium altar
The model altar

The pillars of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd are Scripture and Liturgy, and the areas of focus are the child’s relationship with God (covenant), through encounter with the person of Jesus (christology), expressed in the child’s life of faith in the Church (liturgy).

liturgical colors
Control Chart for the liturgical colors

In the course of a 3 year cycle, the catechist listens with the children to Scripture about the person of Jesus including the infancy narratives and the narratives of the Last Supper, Easter and Pentecost. They also listen to the parables of the kingdom of God. The children are given materials that allow them to meditate, through the ever important work of their hands, on each Scripture that they have heard.

There are also materials to lead to deeper understanding of and then participation in the Mass and sacraments, such as a model altar and sacristy cabinet, vestments and liturgical colors, gestures of epiclesis and offering, and baptism.

Joy and Contemplation

Montessori Work
Last Supper material
A child meditates on the gesture of offering

The young child is characterized by the virtues of joy and contemplation. The youngest child can pray in an interior way that is not often noticed by the adult, but this prayer occurs quietly as he works with his hands on a material that allows him to meditate. This prayer is accompanied by great joy and peace, as any visitor to an Atrium will quickly observe. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd cherishes and fosters the child’s unique way of prayer, so different from that of adults, and provides an environment to foster an encounter with God. The catechist, like John the Baptist, “must decrease”, and allow God and the child to enjoy each other during the Atrium time.