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
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.
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
“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
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.
the first plane of development the
goal is self-construction or to build a self.
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
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.
goal of the fourth plane of
development is the vocation, recognizing and giving back to society.
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
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
said that there were two conditions necessary for any human development to
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.
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.
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
To Observe and to Abstract
To strive toward Self-Perfection
To Communicate – to express one’s self, to be understood,
which leads to sharing, cooperation, and preservation of our knowledge, skills
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
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.”
in the Atrium is either a passage to prayer or prayer itself”
The Atrium is a place of Prayer and
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
(please email the following details to firstname.lastname@example.org)