Why Formation in Pairs?

Sending people out two by two for formation.

Often when people want to be formed as catechists in The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, they make arrangements with a formation leader to come and give the formation. This involves some organisation and some cost. So why does The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd recommend that two formation leaders give formation? Doesn’t that make it harder and more expensive?

First of all, anything that we have to invest time and money into will be valued higher than something given for free. There is something in our human nature that values something that costs us over that which is given to us. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is like a Precious Pearl (Matthew 13:46) which a merchant searched for his whole life until he finally found it, then he sold everything he had to buy that pearl. Sometimes it may be more like a Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44) which we discover by accident in a field, then sell all to buy it. Whether we are searching for it or just come across it we find it is a treasure worth paying for.

Having two people give formation is a blessing both for the new catechists and for the formation leader. For the catechists, it allows them to see two different styles of presenting which helps to break the “script” idea that some tend to have when first beginning in The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. There is a richness is being able to experience different approaches and styles and seeing the individuality of each Catechist as part of the gift (perhaps part of the wrapping) without changing the essential elements.

Two people presenting and reflecting, is also a way of overcoming listeners fatigue. Hearing a change in voice or having opportunities to divide up the reflections and promote discussion is also a catalyst for all participants to share their thoughts and discuss the work. Two people bring two sets of skills to offer. For example, one may be better at materials making, another may suit the pastoral needs of individuals better, etc. Two people also help to keep the formation from going off on a tangent or spending too much time in a discussion.

Jesus when he sent out his apostles to share the good news, sent them out in pairs (Mark 6:7, Luke 10:1). I wonder why that would be? Would it not be easier for people to host just one apostle? Would they be able to cover twice as much ground if they went alone? So why would he choose that model? Perhaps the answer is also given by Jesus when he says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst” (Matthew 18:20). Perhaps the answer lies in the need to have a second witness to enable people to see the word as truth.

I see the gift of having someone else on the team as someone to support me when I cannot find the words to answer a question, or when I need an experience to illustrate a point, but the memory does not come to mind. Sometimes people have questions or challenge the method and having someone there with you to problem solve helps. Sharing the load also makes the formation leaders more available to the participants and better meet the needs of the group. Each evening there is time to reflect together and choose the direction of the coming day, so that the formation is individualised to the needs of that particular group of catechists.

But I can see that there is something else that having two formation leaders gives. It brings the presence of the love of Jesus. Two people can model in their relationship the love of Jesus and the gift of friendship which is a charism of this work of The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

Characteristic #2

Characteristic #2

Since the child, particularly the religious life of the child, is central to the interest and commitment of the catechist of the Good Shepherd, the catechist embraces Maria Montessori’s vision of the human being and thus the attitude of the adult regarding the child; and prepares an environment called the atrium, which aids the development of the religious life.

What is Maria Montessori’s vision of the human person?

“Everyone accepts the fact that the adult is supposed to play a role in forming the child, but who knew that the child is supposed to be forming the adult, just as much.” Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori saw as one of her greatest discoveries was the planes of human development. This is when she recognized that the human person underwent a profound change as they entered different stages of their life. Though this understanding it is possible to see why some expectations of children are unreasonable at some ages but very necessary at others.

When you look at the planes, you can see the horizontal line of life, which indicates the age of the child. The lines that form the triangles show how the child moves towards a greater sensitivity to the needs of their age and then away from that intensity as they move toward the next plane. Montessori observed that development is intense at the beginning of a plane, peaks, and then tapers down to the next plane, in preparation for the beginning of a new stage of development.

For the first plane of development the goal is self-construction or to build a self.

The goal of the second plane of development is building the social self and how to be in society. No longer does the child need just the immediate family. Now the child is ready to explore the larger society and learn how to be with others and with other families.

The goal of the third plane of development is the birth of the adult self. It is another creative period, the creation of what is most valuable in their adult personality.

The goal of the fourth plane of development is the vocation, recognizing and giving back to society.

Within each plane there are specific sensitivities given that facilitate the achievement of the goal. The last characteristics of that each plane builds on the previous plane before it. So a plane that was not fully completed carries into the next plane. Life goes forward not backward. So as adults assisting children, we want to help children achieve the fullness of each plane of development.

The first plane of development is the most important phase in the life of the human person. Sofia Cavalletti called it the Golden Age of Relationship, the period of falling in love with God. 

Two Conditions for any Human Development

Montessori said that there were two conditions necessary for any human development to occur.

  • First, the child’s intimate, positive, loving relationship with the people and things in his/her environment. It’s so important for this first plane of development. The child being brought into this complete, unconditional, totally accepting and loving relationship.
  • The second element is freedom.  

All humans have certain tendencies or behavior patterns that drive the fulfillment of the fundamental needs. No matter the location, culture, or ethnicity, all humans throughout history have followed the same natural laws that lead to actions and interactions with the environment and each other.

All humans are driven:

  • To Explore- to know
  • To Orient – to find one’s place in the world where one feels loved and wanted
  • To Order – to put things in their place, physically and mentally
  • To Observe and to Abstract
  • To Work
  • To strive toward Self-Perfection
  • To Exactness
  • To Communicate – to express one’s self, to be understood, which leads to sharing, cooperation, and preservation of our knowledge, skills and achievements
  • To have Self-Control

What then should the attitude of the adult be regarding the child?

When it comes to the time for more formal learning the environment most children are placed in is a school of one sort or another. In a traditional school classroom the primary relationship is thought to be between the teacher and the child. In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we believe that God is the teacher, he works through the environment and the materials to help the child to form a personal relationship with him. The role of the adult is that of a guide or servant, waiting for the time to give a new presentation to allow the child to go deeper into their prayer with the Holy Spirit.

The Catechist is not the teacher. The Catechists role is to prepare the environment, to provide the child with materials that will help the child to draw near to God.

As adults, we seek to serve the child in this regard. To enable them to come into God’s presence and spend time with him by themselves.

It is not unusual that in this environment, the children can become so absorbed in their work that the adult can step aside and wait until they are needed. 

What is the prepared environment, the atrium, and how does it aid the child’s religious life?

Montessori noted that the environment itself is a teacher; the children learn much more from interaction with their environment than they do from the direct instruction of their teacher.

If our aim is to help children to enjoy their relationship with God, we must ask, “What kind of environment can we create that will respect and cultivate the child’s needs and capacities at this level of their development, especially in terms of their spiritual development?” 

We want to create a space where it is okay to be small. Where a child can function independently, enjoy freedom of movement, freedom to repeat works over and over on one’s own without interruption etc.

The Atrium environment is not a classroom.  Cavalletti says, “It is not a place of religious instruction, but of religious life.”

The Atrium does not replace the church. It is to initiate the child into the life of the church and needs to be the work of the whole church. Cavalletti says, “The initiation of a child into the Christian life is not a work that can be fulfilled by the catechist alone, nor by the parents alone. It is the whole Christian community that proclaims Christ, and the child must enter into contact with the whole Christian community. The catechist’s work must be sustained and confirmed by a community that lives what the catechist proclaims.”

Everything in the Atrium is either a passage to prayer or prayer itself

The Atrium is a place of Prayer and Worship, a place of quiet and peace, a place of retreat. A place where quite spontaneously, work and study become meditation, contemplation and prayer.

It is more like a church than a classroom. It is not so much a place of instruction, as Holy Ground, where Christ can be encountered in word or action at any moment.

Why Formation?

To be a Catechist in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd requires a commitment to many hours of preparation, materials making and then working with children. May people ask why, when many “programs” for children in the church utilise volunteers and follow written and prepared programs with activities and worksheets prescribed for each week of the liturgical cycle, why do we ask for so much preparation?

There can be many ways to answer that question and I do not think this article will exhaust them all.

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd uses an approach very different to that used in our schools at this time. It is not so much an opportunity to educate our children in the faith, but rather introduce them to the person of God in a unique relationship. To act as a matchmaker between God and the child and allow the children to fall in love with Jesus the Good Shepherd. Many people have grown up being filed with information and tested to check on their recall. All of that is useful and necessary. But consider when we have fallen in love, did it happen through knowledge or was it through relationship? Adults who become Catechists sometimes find they learn about their faith as if for the first time, seeing through the eyes of children the beauty of our traditions and the words of scripture in a new way  Through the formation experience we allow adults to discover for themselves the richest treasures God has to offer and we also help them to learn to step back and allow their children to make the same connections for themselves.

There is no lesson so well remembered or treasured than the one we discover for ourselves. Can you recall everything you have ever learned? What are the things you remember the best? Could it be those things where you made the connections, the discoveries for yourself? Like the person who discovered the treasure in the field and sold all they had to have it or the merchant who searched all his life for the most precious pearl, we want your relationship with Jesus to be a precious gift that you personally invested in.

During the formation, the participants will learn about an approach to learning discovered by Maria Montessori and also some Sacred History Theology. Interspersed with this some individual presentations will be given (the same as those given to the children) demonstrating the way we allow the children to continue to meditate on the small lessons of scripture, liturgy and practical life. There is time for prayer, sharing and also materials making. All of these will help to form the catechist, just as the time in the atrium for children helps to build the child in their personal relationship with God.

When we work with children in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we do not follow a program. We do not have a curriculum that must be covered in a set amount of time. Some children will never work with or be given all of the presentations. We observe and follow the needs of each individual child, offering to them as gift various presentations as they grow in their understanding and relationship of God and as they grow as people in our community. As their abilities increase, they gain new skills which we provide opportunities for them to master, to help them do it by themselves. As one may imagine, it can be very difficult for some people to let go and let God be the teacher, with no measurable outcome. Sometimes we are blessed with glimpses of the work of the Holy Spirit in the response of the children, through their personal prayer and artwork. For the most part we are useless servants of God and the child and perhaps one day we may see the fruits of our labour.

Formation Leaders Retreat Brisbane 2018

We recently attended a formation leaders retreat in Brisbane. It was a week full of sharing and celebrating CGS as well as a time for looking forward to changes that will help the work of CGS continue throughout Australia.

We have set a date for the AGM in late August and hope to get people nominating for positions on the Board of Directors from among our many members in the association.

One of the areas we focused on was how formation has evolved and changed as we have grown in our experience with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and working with children. If you have attended formation in the past, don’t think it is a finished package, there is always so much richness to be had and I highly recommend joining in any formation in your area as it comes up. We usually recommend that if you have previously received formation at a particular level you can attend again without paying for the course. You may consider making a donation.

There were some new presentations shared amongst the group as well as deeper ways to share these with the children and adults.

Overall it was a blessed week with lots of laughter, tears, songs, prayer and plenty of yummy food.

Level 2 Formation 2018

Level 2 Part 2

Adult Formation

Monday 15th – Saturday 20th January 2018

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd WA

A Vision for Children

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd offers Christian formation for children ages 3 through 12. Through this experience, children are helped to form an authentic, faithful relationship with God. The Catechesis is grounded in scriptural and liturgical study framed by Maria Montessori’s principles of education. The children are given the opportunity to hear the Gospel and absorb its message through the use of sensorially rich materials and the work of their hands.

Your Invitation

You are invited to participate in this Level II Part 2 formation, which will be a personal faith enrichment retreat as well as prepare you to work in an atrium with children ages 6 to 9 years old if you choose to.

Course Description

The Level II course continues the themes of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd begun in Level I formation. It is essential that those taking this course have completed their Level I formation. The objectives of this Level II formation include:

  • To explore the religious nature and the developmental plane of the 6 to 9 year old child;
  • To continue the presentation of the methodology and guiding principles of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, with a focus on moral formation that includes preparation for the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation;
  • To broaden the catechist’s ability to observe and learn from children, to listen with children to Scripture, and to deepen the catechist’s enjoyment of God’s presence;
  • To offer guidelines and assistance in preparing the atrium environment and in making the catechist’s album and catechetical material;
  • To meditate on the biblical and liturgical themes presented to the 6 to 9 year old child.

This course is a spiritual formation experience for adults, as well as instruction in this method of catechesis for children. The pace of the course is retreat-like in keeping with its contemplative nature of the CGS approach. Presentations are given from Scripture and liturgy as they are given to the children. Adults will receive background information on selected themes and will be encouraged to read the core CGS texts throughout the course. Participants who complete this formation will receive a certificate from the Australian Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

Other details

Coffee/Tea and snacks will be served during the course hours. We ask participants to bring their own lunch. Be aware in order to fulfill the 45-hour requirement for certification, there may be a few days of working lunches. Tuition for the formation is $350. See booking form for details about payment.


Mary Hare, the current President of the Australian Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. We are very grateful to have Mary join us and share her many years of experience working with children and adults in CGS.

Marie Fernandez, is a catechist from Western Australia who has worked in all levels of CGS. Marie is the current secretary of CGSWA as well as editor of the Green Pastures Australian Journal for CGS.



45 Wellington Road  Morley WA 6062

Next door to Infant Jesus Catholic Church, park at rear or in the church carpark.

Phone: 0405 310 197

Email: info@cgswa.org.au

Web: cgswa.org.au

Booking Form  

(please email the following details to info@cgswa.org.au)

Participants Name:___________________________________________________________



Completed     L1P1,      L1P2,      L2P1,      L2P2,      L3P1,      L3P2      (please circle)

Please pay via direct deposit to: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd WA Inc BSB: 086-006 Acct No: 19-562-9916 Amount $350