Catechesis of the Good Shepherd ‘hands-on’ religious education gets a look in Texas
KINGWOOD, Texas (The Texas Catholic Herald) - Centered on the specific goal of bringing children closer to God, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is being introduced to religious educators in the Archdiocese of Galvestion-Houston through formation courses being held at St. Martha Church.
“Since it is such a different approach to the child’s spirituality, we also continue to seek that kind of communion with our inner self,” Spade said in explaining the retreat format for the adult participants. “When we are young children, it is very natural for us (to be open-minded). But the older we get, the more we get into our routines and habits. If we weren’t given this opportunity, then a lot of times we would be lost.”
Based on Montessori principles of education, “the catechesis introduces the child to the Bible and liturgy through hands-on materials that allow the child to name and develop their personal relationship with God and the Church,” according to workshop literature. “The catechist and the child are co-learners seeking together the mystery of God and God’s kingdom.”
The formation is co-sponsored by the archdiocesan CCE Office’s Childhood Ministries and St. Martha Church.
Twenty-five catechists representing eight archdiocesan parishes have been enrolled in the formation courses at St. Martha.
Helping kids ‘fall in love with God’
Formal religious education normally starts at the age of six or seven, when a child is becoming very interested in morality and “wanting to know the rules about everything,” Spade said. “We want to open their childhood back up to (the adult catechists) … to fall in love with God, perhaps for the first time in their lives – or more fully than they ever have, so they can appreciate what this work is doing for young children.”
Helping young people “fall in love with God” is at the core of what Dr. Sofia Cavalletti explored when she originally developed Catechesis of the Good Shepherd with Montessorian trainer Gianna Gobbi, cited Spade. Msgr. Chester Borski, the pastor at St. Martha, invited Cavalletti to speak at St. Mary’s Seminary many years ago when he served as rector and has been a big supporter of the catechesis since.
“We often think that is an endearing quality for young children, but it is also an extremely powerful thing. And for many of us as adults, we have never had an opportunity to fall in love with our God,” Spade said. “We were introduced to God at a time in our lives when we were more interested in rules and right and wrong. So we have a judging God as our face of God. But we need that opportunity to fall in love (with God).”
She continued, “It is very important to the spirit of this catechesis, to our foundress Sofia Cavalletti, to foster dialogue. At its essence, all Christianity is about falling in love and being in relationship with God through Jesus. She really feels that the catechesis is an opportunity for other Christian faiths to kind of come home and experience the roots of the original form of Christianity.”
A vital component of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is the educational setting, called the atrium, which allows the children to interact with multiple types of materials and objects with liturgical and Biblical associations. These items can include cloths, chalices, miniature Biblical figures, candles, and altar dressings. Learning through physical interaction with materials and the environment is a staple of Montessori education.
“Montessori uniquely recognizes that we best learn, express and develop our individuality in that whole dynamic of the inner voice,” Spade said. “In the atrium, the child sews with a palette of colors tied into a liturgical season, arranges flowers in a vase or polishes brass candle holders. Whatever that child is inclined to do or is drawn to, this is the child’s personality expressing itself. And that is where (the catechesis) begins.”
Connecting ritual to faith
The “hands-on” nature of the instruction is imperative to the learning process and an aspect deeply ingrained in the Catholic faith, Spade cited. “It is through our senses, through movement … it is all things that go into creating the environment of our liturgy and also an environment for prayer through our gestures and our rituals,” she said. “When I approach the font, dip my hand in the water and make the Sign of the Cross, I am remembering my Baptism. That is the fullest, richest way to engage in that ritual. As Catholics, that is the way we recognize that faith has grown. It is in that very personal encounter with the outer environment and being consciously aware of it.
“We are training children to do that when come into an atrium. You must begin with a child during this phase of life when life habits are being formed, so they become aware of what they are interested in or drawn to,” she added.
Spade said those same principles are applicable to the individuals participating in the ...
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