FEDERAL WAY – It might seem like something of a miracle — a 4-year-old in a religious education class who quietly sits and works.
But that’s not an uncommon sight at the 13 local parishes that have adopted the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program. The Montessori-style curriculum emphasizes a hands-on approach to help children ages 3-12 connect their everyday life with the life of the church.
Six-year-old James Hudson of Holy Family Parish in Kirkland works with a puzzle of the liturgical calendar, an approach that allows him to understand the concept of time and seasons in the church. Photo: Courtesy Claudia Pétursson
For children participating in CGS, “their work is their prayer,” said Kim Ward, pastoral associate for faith formation at St. Patrick Parish in Tacoma. Instead of traditional blackboards or textbooks, CGS introduces children to their faith through materials such as a replica of an altar or handheld figures depicting Scripture stories.
Children begin to realize they are “here on Earth to play a role to build God’s kingdom,” said Joann Terranova, volunteer catechist and formation leader at St. Michael Parish in Olympia.
Rare training opportunity
Catechists must have special training to teach the CGS program. So three years ago, some of the local parishes formed a consortium, The Sheepfold, to make training “more local, affordable and sustainable,” Terranova said. The consortium includes local catechists (Terranova, Ward and Lynne Shioyama, CGS coordinator at St. Anthony Parish in Renton) who have been trained as formation leaders to teach others locally.
Now the Sheepfold parishes — including St. Patrick, St. Michael and St. Anthony; Holy Family, Kirkland; Our Lady Star of the Sea, Port Townsend; St. Leo the Great, Tacoma; and St. Patrick, Seattle — are helping host 10 days of national-level training at the Archbishop Brunett Retreat and Faith Formation Center at The Palisades in Federal Way.
It’s the first time a national training opportunity is being held here, with the second phase of the training slated next July. The sessions, July 18-22 and 24-28, focus on training catechists who teach level 2 (children ages 6-9) and level 3 (ages 9-12).
Local catechists like Shioyama said they looked forward to learning from national-level trainers who have worked directly under the guidance of CGS founders Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi in Rome, and have trained catechists internationally.
Enzo and Isabella Ciabattari in the Level 2 atrium (classroom) at Kirkland’s Holy Family Parish use figures to learn about the Magi’s visit to the infant Jesus, as they listen to catechist Claudia Pétursson read an account taken from St. Matthew. Photo: Courtesy Claudia Pétursson
Most national formation sessions are held in the middle of the country, so bringing a national session to the Archdiocese of Seattle is drawing catechists from even Hawaii and Alaska. “Having it here has made it accessible to a different group of people, which is very exciting,” said Claudia Pétursson, who retired in June as CGS pastoral assistant at Holy Family Parish in Kirkland.
Building community among catechists
Training sessions are also a chance to build faith and community. Participants, who come from different Christian denominations, form friendships by making instructional materials together and sharing their experiences of fostering the spiritual development of children.
Lynne Shioyama, left, of St. Anthony Parish in Renton and Joann Terranova, right, of St. Michael Parish in Olympia helped create The Sheepfold consortium for parishes in the Archdiocese of Seattle that use the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd religious education program. Also pictured is Rebekah Rojcewicz, an international CGS formation leader who is training CGS catechists from around the country at the Archbishop Brunett Retreat Center in July. Photo: Courtesy Claudia Pétursson
“They are enriched by the community of fellow catechists and by the expertise and experience of national trainers,” said Karen Maxwell, formation director for the National Association of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
On a typical training day, participants gather to hear presentations by formation leaders on a theme, such as baptism. They listen to the presentations as a child would, and are given time to respond and reflect, thinking about how the child would perceive the lesson and how an adult would. There’s time for working on lesson plans, and presentations on how to create materials for children to use.
Children in the program first discover Jesus through the image of the Good Shepherd and begin learning the names of items they see at Mass. Older children begin placing the stories they’ve learned in a context of time and history. Finally, the oldest children in the program contemplate their role in God’s plan.
Participants share “the most essential truths of our faith,” Shioyama said. “As the child ages, the core truth doesn’t change, but it becomes deeper and broader.”
Those who have witnessed CGS in action — whether Lutheran, Episcopalian or Catholic — are drawn to its beauty, Pétursson said. “It is the faith,” she said. “It is true. It is beautiful. It is good.”
Join the fold
Learn more about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and find an atrium near you by visiting National Association of the Good Shepherd (USA).