“The rhythm of the sessions reflects that of the Atrium which is also that of study and prayer, but one that helps the catechist create an atmosphere for the child that is more of a retreat like setting than a classroom.”
What is Catechesis of the Good Shepherd?
Sofia Cavalletti tells us in her Religious Potential of the Child, that the two essential requirements of the catechists are study and prayer. Both of these have already begun before the future catechists arrive at one of the many Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Formation Courses held in this country and some 32 other countries around the world. These are each held in various formats and time frames – but always offering at least 90 hours for the duration of the course after which the catechist becomes certified at the particular level of the course. After prayerful discernment leading one to enroll in a course – the participants are asked to begin their background readings in Sofia’s seminal work mentioned above. Getting a head start one might also begin reading Gianna Gobbi’s book, Listening to God With Children, which focuses on the basic Montessori “self teaching” principles undergirding the work of the Catechesis. This basic resource lifts up the importance of the prepared environment and structure of Atrium life.
Always the course work begins with Level I which prepares one to be a co-learner and fellow pilgrim with the child in a shared journey towards God. After experiencing the child at this level one might choose to attend the Level II Course which builds upon and expands similar themes. At a later time the Level III Course might be pursued with the introduction of new themes appropriate for the older child. Each level is carefully designed for the developmental stages and sensitive periods of the child from ages 3-6, (Level I), ages 6-8 (Level II) and ages 9-12 (Level III). The work evolves in a cyclical fashion always expanding outward – but will never go deeper than at the beginning level – in which the youngest child is given the richest material, with the most essential themes from Scripture and Liturgy.
These courses are led by an individual, or more often by a team of Formation Leaders – who themselves have been called and carefully chosen after completion of the Level they are presenting and sufficient atrium experience. While in a parish setting a trained catechist might offer informal sessions to prepare atrium assistants or provide background for parents, only those who have been approved and certified by the National Association would be qualified to issue a certificate for a particular level.
The rhythm of the sessions reflects that of the Atrium which is also that of study and prayer, but one that helps the catechist create an atmosphere for the child that is more of a retreat like setting than a classroom. Opening sessions always begin in communal prayer, after which presentations would be given with an opportunity for reflection and discussion, based on readings and personal responses, while being open to the Holy Spirit as the true “interior teacher.”
Working in teams, with the guidance of the Formation Leader, the catechists prepare Album Pages for each Presentation – to serve as a guide in the same way that a Lesson Plan works for a teacher. Directions are available for the making of Atrium materials from card stock, Sculpy, thin plywood or various creative resources as needed. Working with the hands in the making of materials is both a discipline and devotion. For larger and more difficult materials, some items can be purchased or preferably made by skilled hands of members of the congregation – making the work of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd an offering of the community.
Genelda Woggon has been ministered to and by children for over 40 years in her professional work as a Christian Formation Leader, most especially through the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for the past 20 years.