The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is offered for 3-to-6 year olds on Saturday mornings at Mother of God Community. This is a religious education program for young children that incorporates Maria Montessori’s insights into child development and the use of beautiful handmade, hands-on, age-appropriate materials. It takes place in a specially designated room called the Atrium. The goal of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a deep relationship with God, lived out in relationships of love in the Church.
The Good Shepherd curriculum was developed by Sofia Cavalletti, an Italian student of the Old Testament. In her 49 years of research with children across five continents, Cavalletti discovered that the young child has a profound love that is drawn to participate in God’s unconditional love. Children possess a joy before God that “makes them peaceful and relaxed, as if something very deep has been struck in their heart, in their soul.” They can see the invisible and they know things about God that they have not been told. They have a very tangible sense of the spiritual world. Cavalletti observed that children have a profound capacity for prayer. Their prayer is one of joyful praise and wonder. In the Atrium their prayer is often expressed in songs, in group liturgical celebrations, alone at the prayer table, at play and at home.
Faithful to Catholic tradition, this catechesis is built on the foundations of Bible and liturgy. It uses parables to introduce the Kingdom of God, as Jesus did. It uses simple language to express great mysteries of God. The hands-on materials in the Atrium aid the children in reflecting on the word they have heard and allow them to internalize its truth. The beautiful materials are simple and faithful to the scripture passage or liturgical moment they represent.
In the Atrium there is only one teacher, the Holy Spirit present within each child. Adults and children together listen to the Scriptures, explore the meaning of the prayers of the liturgy, and enjoy together the presence of God among them. With respect and humility, the adults help the children care for and nurture their relationship with God and their appreciation for liturgy. During the 90-minute session, the catechist spends a short time presenting the material to the group and a greater time helping the children to enter into their own meditations by using the materials available. The session ends with a gathering around the prayer table.
The Atrium atmosphere is one of reverence and joy. It provides children an opportunity to encounter the liturgies of the Church and the Word of God at their own pace and in their own way. Here the child can grow in his or her relationship with God and love for liturgical worship. This prepares the child for full participation in the life of the Church.