TACOMA – At St. Patrick Parish in Tacoma, 7-year-old John Paul Lund leads other children in prayer as they sit in the atrium, a sacred gathering space where “the mystery of God meets the mystery of the child.”
That is the philosophy of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which integrates a Montessori approach in faith formation of children ages 3-12. The goal is to help each child fall in love with and be drawn into a deeper relationship with God, explained Kim Ward, pastoral assistant for faith formation at St. Patrick’s.
“Most importantly, catechists must prepare their hearts to be ready and willing to act as pencils in God’s hand,” Ward said. “The only teacher is Christ.”
Ward was among 13 catechists from the Archdiocese of Seattle who recently joined 600 others in Phoenix to celebrate the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd’s 60th anniversary.
Thirteen catechists from the Seattle Archdiocese recently attended the 60th anniversary celebration of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. They included Kim Ward, left, of St. Patrick Parish in Tacoma, and Demetra Schwieger and Trinka Hammel, both of St. Leo Parish in Tacoma. Photo: Courtesy Kim Ward
The seed of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was planted in 1954 Italy, when Scripture scholar Sofia Cavalletti agreed to give religious instruction to a 7-year-old boy. Without any curriculum or plan, Cavalletti allowed the boy to lead their conversation, in turn learning how children encounter and experience God. Cavalletti soon collaborated with Giana Gobbi, a guide trained by Maria Montessori in Rome, and their faith formation process evolved.
Today, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is used in 37 countries; in the Seattle Archdiocese, 10 parishes offer the experience. Instead of using a published curriculum, the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd relies on extensive training of catechists, who introduce faith themes emerging from the children’s needs.
Children at each atrium are grouped into levels by age. Children in Level I (ages 3-6) are often called “miniature monastics” since they can lack interest in socializing, they hear about rejoicing in God’s love for them. Level II children (ages 6-9) like to work with others and hear about remaining in a relationship with God. In Level III (ages 9-12), children learn of God’s plan through a 32-foot banner showing salvation history, and are encouraged to reflect on their response to it.
For catechists from the archdiocese who teach these children, the gathering in Phoenix was a time to celebrate and share their Good Shepherd journeys.
“We learned that, for seminarians in Colombia, the [Catechesis of the Good Shepherd] training is incorporated into their studies. And for priests in China, it is almost underground work,” said Joann Terranova, volunteer catechist and faith formation leader at St. Michael Parish in Olympia.
“The story is different, but the same in every place,” Ward said. “Children are loved. God wants them to live a full and happy life.”
By Brian Ward
A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to revisit the atrium where I grew up. What an indescribable joy and peace! It sent chills down my spine. I felt like I was walking on hallowed ground, and rightfully so. This surely was not the first place where God spoke to me, but it was the first place where I listened.
From 1998 to 2008, I enjoyed the quiet of the atrium and how it contrasted to the noisy excitement of my life. Now, going off to my first year of college in the fall, I was worried that I had no more room for this peace — only loud dorms and hard classes from here on out.
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd builds such a wide foundation that it was easy to miss it, but until this moment, I had not realized the disposition CGS had cultivated in me, a perspective that goes much deeper than the parables I knew as wooden roofless houses and tiny seeds.
I consider it a great gift from God to be able to return to the atrium inside my heart, to use my inside voice with God, to tippy-toe into the next stage of life like a child, and to look up to God in silent tranquility and awe no matter where I am.
Brian Ward, a 2014 Bellarmine High School graduate and freshman at Gonzaga University, participated in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at St. Patrick Parish in Tacoma.