A Sacred Space
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a Christian formation process for children aged 3 to 12 years, in which they experience and form an authentic, faithful relationship with God. The Catechesis is grounded in scriptural and liturgical study framed by Maria Montessori’s principles of education.
This allows children to hear the Gospel through the use of sensorial rich materials. The children are free to work with these materials that represent essential proclamations of the Christian message.
The adult’s task is to prepare the sacred space for the children, called ‘the atrium’, so that they can respond to this holy relationship, first proclaimed to them through Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
The atrium is a place of community and worship rather than a classroom for academic study. It is a place to be with and enjoy God, listen to the Word, and to pray. It is designed to reflect the beauty of creation and God’s abiding love.
The vision for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd formation began in 1954 with Dr. Sofia Cavalletti, a Hebrew and Scripture scholar and member of the Vatican Commission for Jewish – Christian Relations, and her colleague, Professor Gianna Gobbi, a Montessori trained educator.
Sofia was asked by a mother to give her son some religious instruction. At first she refused not having much to do with children in her academic world, but eventually she consented. This experience with the 7-year-old boy changed her whole life and began what we now know as the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Dr Cavalletti saw in that child, and in numerous other children since, a way of being in the presence of God that is unique to the child and a gift to the adult who stops long enough to notice.
Children desire to draw near to God but need the sensitive guidance of the adult as well as the inner guidance of the Holy Spirit to nurture this relationship.
Today the Catechesis can be found in many Christian traditions (Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic) as well as in schools throughout the world. It continues to grow and has spread over the years to many countries including – Australia, Austria, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, England, Germany, Haiti, Ireland, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Panama, Singapore, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States. It has also been adopted as a method of catechesis by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and is now part of the formation of their sisters.
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was introduced into Australia in 1995 when Linda Kaiel from the USA Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, gave the formation course course for 3-6 year olds. In the following year, after much work involving many people making materials, several atria for 3-6 year olds commenced in the Brisbane Catholic Archdiocese. In the beginning, the Atria were held in rooms beneath parishioner’s homes, but as the work continued to grow they moved into parish settings.
It has been a very exciting time over the intervening years as the Catechesis has spread across Australia in the Catholic and Anglican traditions.
2015 marks our 20th anniversary. We are in awe of how the Shepherd continues expanding the pastures of this work. Catechists from Australia have planted the work in New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Kenya, Uganda, Timor Leste and various other countries in South East Asia.
Many are catching the fire of this work and what it means, not only for our children who are the future of our society, but also for us as adults, as we too learn to listen for the voice of our Shepherd for our lives.