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Comments on Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

by Ian on June 10, 2006

We have heard on occasion about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and I found the program in a catalog today. If you have any experience with this program could you please provide input? Is it orthodox? Does it really teach the Faith? One of my concerns is that I found it in the Liturgical Training Publication catalog. LTP has never been known for its orthodoxy so seeing it there makes me wary.

{ 74 comments… read them below or add one }

Fred K. June 13, 2006 at 6:44 pm

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is preschool catechism based on the work of Maria Montessori. The catechesis has a good reputation in my area for solid teaching, but I’ve not had the opportunity to take advantage of it.

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Jarrett Conner June 17, 2006 at 8:10 pm

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd enjoys a favorable reputation here in Central Massachusetts among orthodox Catholics. I am not familiar with the material myself, but may be looking into it in the coming years for our young daughters.

An unrelated query. Does your store carry Rosary making supplies?

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Cathy Johanni June 28, 2006 at 4:46 am

I have been involved with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for several years and I believe it to be wonderfully faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church. To me, it seems to present the truth and beauty of Scripture and liturgy in a way that is accessible and meaningful to children (and to the adults that humbly serve them). I find it matches with the Catechism of the Catholic Church in a marvelous way. It has been a blessing for me, my husbnad and my five chidlren. This is a pedagogy and approach — not a boxed curriculum. Those who enter into it as children or as catechists are formed in such a way as to be ready to receive with joy the proclamation of the Kingdom. I highly reccommend visiting an “atrium”. Blessings!

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emily July 20, 2006 at 9:15 am

Wonderfrul and faithful to the Church! Immerses children into the faith by practicing their faith instead of simply reading chapters and answering questions. A true, Catholic program. I would recommend it to all parents teaching thier children the faith.

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Brigitte Youngblood August 16, 2006 at 12:31 pm

Like most things, there is a good and bad implementation of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the wonderful thing about this method is the fact that the catechist is not there to be a teacher. Rather, they are there to provide an environment where the Christ is teacher. They read scripture to the non-reader, in such a way as to teach reverence and they utilize the Liturgy to enrich and allow the mysterious language of the “sign” (typology) to be that wisdom which leads to truth but never attempts to circumscribe it. In this way, proper implementation of this program, actually teaches humility and prayerful virtues (comfort with silence and wonder rather than prattling off facts.) As you can see, how faithful CGS is depends on how faithful the catechists are to the gentle method, untainted liturgy and a good translation of scripture.

For those of us who are from the British-style boarding school. It is a difficult transition. I say it is one worth doing because the wonder about God’s gifts is the most effective way to seduce us to get to know the Giver. The moral age (7) is where the CGS method cleverly takes that seduction to the moral life as the enamored child asks “how can I live successfully with these gifts” rather than “what do I have to do to stay out of trouble” My catechist formation leader has helped me see that “we go toward the light” With love drawing us (child and catechist alike.)

I also want to warn that finding good catechist trainers was a difficult and frustrating process for me. I spent many a hour in training classes biting my lip and wishing they would follow Montessori’s principle of “count your words” and “essentiality, essentiality, essentiality”.

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Brigitte Youngblood August 16, 2006 at 12:38 pm

By the way, you can’t carry CGS as a product. It is unpublished. The best you could hope to do to help those implementing it is to sell Fontanini figures at a hugely reduced price. If there was one central place to get a raised surface map of the holy land, that would be nice. It would also be good if you found a decent supplier of miniature mass furnishings. Some other web sites already carry some of these things. Be sure to ask someone who has been working this method for years if an item is suitable before you offer it.

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oonagh Ryan-King September 9, 2006 at 7:18 am

COTGS is so good that many Episcopal parishes in the US use it instead of “the more Episco version” called “Godly Play.” The basis, as someone said, is Montessori’s work with the spirituality of childhood and children.

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oonagh Ryan-King September 9, 2006 at 7:22 am

If you’re unable to find the “stuff” for CGS (I seem to remember the characters and objects ARE made for the program and better-or at least different-from GP. But that was years ago. If you’re unable to find books, templates, etc, check the Godly Play or Center for Theology of Childhood (Jerome Berryman) websites.

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oonagh Ryan-King September 9, 2006 at 7:24 am

Okay, I just noted your concerns and questions about ONLY carrying books, programs, etc. that are RC orthodox. Somehow that sounds ominous–like you would refuse to carry any of the works of Henri Nouen because he was a homosexual man.

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aquinasandmore September 9, 2006 at 9:14 am

“Somehow that sounds ominous–like you would refuse to carry any of the works of Henri Nouen because he was a homosexual man.”

Why is only carrying items that promote the Faith a problem?

And what proof do you have that Henri Nouen was homosexual? Was he actively homosexual or celibate?

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Fr. David Keong Seid, O.P. December 13, 2009 at 3:30 am

It’s really bad when people throw out that line that Fr. Henri Nouwen was a homosexual, especially as a way of propping up some kind of liberal/dissenter’s agenda. For a more proper context:

John Richard Neuhaus, ed. of First Things, himself noted that Fr. Nouwen acknowledged being a homosexual person. HOWEVER, he also pointed out that Fr. Nouwen, a psychologist and deeply spiritual man, understood homosexuality as a form of human brokenness in need of redemption. Therefore, he did make enemies because he firmly upheld and unequivocally defended the Church’s true teaching on homosexuality, including the necessary distinctions between orientation and behavior. I do not remember the exact issue of First Things, but their website is fully archived with a good search engine. I hope this helps.

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Teri September 18, 2006 at 6:02 pm

Last June I finished my class to become a catachist and last Sunday was my first time trying to put into practice what I leaned at the Cathechesis of the Good Shepherd. It is wonderful and scary and a lot of work – well worth it I hope, if the children do respond and grow in the faith. On a practical note does anyone have names, contacts for people who might make the wooden figures for the presentations?

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Kristina February 8, 2007 at 5:52 pm

Godly Play is a very different program from the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. A better site to visit for information about CGS is the National Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (www.cgsusa.org) or the Center for Children and Theology (www.cctheo.org). Both website offer several books and publications that give more insite into CGS.

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Nicolle February 18, 2007 at 8:37 pm

Yes, I am very curious about the comment concerning Henri Nouen. This is the very first time I have ever heard that some think that he was homosexual. Please, if you will, share your information concerning this claim.

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Flora March 12, 2007 at 10:40 am

I have been trained as a catechist (100 hours of training and preparation) in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and have taught 3 to 6 year olds for several years. This program is highly orthodox because it emphasizes the importance of bringing children to the primary sources: Sacred Scripture and Liturgy. Children as early as 3 years of age are presented with scripture passages directly from the Bible, not paraphrased or rephrased in “kid language.”

The goal is to foster comtemplation and prayer through mediation on the Scripture and Liturgy. The most essential moments of the Liturgy are highlighted to young child, including such moments as Epiclesis, The Gesture of Peace, The Mingling and of the water and the wine, and Lavabo. The children are read scriptural accounts of the principal events in Christ’s life: Annunciation, Visitation, Birth and Adoration of the shephards and magi, Last Supper, death and resurrection. They also presented with parables that Jesus taught (mustard seed, grain of wheat, pearl, Good Shepherd, Hidden Treasure). Thus they are fostered in scriptural and liturgical literacy.

Since you mentioned your concern about finding it in the LTP catalog, I will also resort to some name dropping. In our local parish, people who are active leaders within Regnum Christi, the Legionnaires of Christ, Catholic World Mission, Familia, and the National Catholic Register have all had their children in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program and have enthusiastically supported CGS.

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Lisa Sagers March 26, 2007 at 3:53 pm

There was an article about this in Sower magazine. It was praising the program. Sower magazine is very solid. A subcription to Sower magazine was given to all who attended the St John Bosco conference at Franciscan University of Stuebenville this past July.

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Denise April 18, 2007 at 6:45 am

I’m from a very conservative Biblical background, and I believe you will find the Catechesis materials to be quite orthodox– though people of all theological stripes embrace it.

I am a trained catechist for 9-12 year olds– I would not consider myself an expert because the material is so rich, and yes, Maria Montessori is a bit hard to live up to! I spent many years teaching in a more “top-down” model, and have taught college level courses, so it is hard to use less words sometimes.

My favorite parts Atrium III training include really, really meaty and hands-on materials to help children make their way around the Bible, and really, really meaty time charts to help us place ourselves in the map of God’s salvation history. I have a 20-foot timeline of “The History of the jewish People” that I’ve used to teach seminary students as well as kids, and the amazement and “aha!” experience is just the same. I’ve taken seminary classes myself, and I’ve learned so very much more from The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. It’s very accessible and beautiful.

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Phillip April 26, 2007 at 4:01 pm

Henri Nouwen is dead. It does not matter what is sexual orientation was because he does not have one now.

And so what if he was a homosexual? Such discussion is simply gossip, in line with the claims that Jesus was married. It makes no difference if he was married or not. There is nothing in the Gospel that says anything about it. Jesus being married or celibate is conjecture and therefore gossip.

Henri Nouwen was a priest, and now he is a saint. that’s what matters.

Phillip

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Beate July 3, 2007 at 8:40 am

Like others have said, CGS is a wonderful program. However, please don’t think that it is only for preschoolers. While Level 1 encompasses the 3 to 6 year old age range. Level 2 is for the 6 to 9 year old child, and Level 3 is said to go from 9 to 12, but can be used for older children. As far as materials, it is preferrable that they are made by the catechists themselves instead of being purchased. While this is labor intensive, it is also a very reflective part of being a part of an atrium. Also, if you do look at the program, I’d encourage you to go to http://www.cgsusa.org/ for information.

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Kay August 17, 2007 at 10:23 pm

After reding “The Religious Potential of the Child,” by Sofia Cavaletti, I am concerned. I have not had the cgs training (too expensive.) But there are some things that concerned me in this book, and sounded a bit new age. Maybe a lot new age.
I would recommend reading this book very carefully, and form your own opinion.
God Bless

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Ron August 21, 2007 at 8:23 am

I stumbled upon this blog doing a google search and would like to say a few things about the comments here and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) program. I have read all of the comments, and think they are wonderful. I have been involved with CGS for a few years now and have been trained in all 3 levels.

Now for my comments on the comments…

- CGS is only partly based upon Maria Montessorri. Its other (more important) foundations are Liturgy and Scripture! Thus, how could it not be orthodox.
- CGS began in Rome when a bishop (or cardinal) asked Sophia Cavalletti, a biblical scholar of the Old Testament, to teach young children about God and Jesus. Drawing on the work of Montessori, Sophia and her friend, Gianni Gobbi a trained Montesorrian, developed the CGS program over many years. CGS is now in over 20 countries! Sophia’s atrim (classroom) is still open after 50 years!
- this program is Christian formation for children AND adults
- CGS believes that children are already in a relationship with God and Jesus, the CGS program fosters that relationship
- Most of the lessons taught are direct readings from Scripture. (Those not most are Montessori based activities that promote children learning; such as how to be quite, put away your things, etc. In the first level, children do (Montesorrian) practical life activities so they can control their bodies, so that they can be quiet, so that they can listen to God!
- another informative site for CGS is http://www.cgsma.org
- These things have happened during my time teaching this program:
– parents have told me that their children have cried when they find out they aren’t going to CGS
on a given week
– the classrooms of children ages 4-7 are typically quiet as they work with materials
– child has wondered what the Kingdom of God looks like
– child has written many times, ‘Jesus loves me’
– children love working with the mini altar in the class room
– constantly draw pictures of the cross
- here in New England, both the Catholic church and the Episcopal church use it more and more in their dioceses. In fact in training, many classes have a mix of both faiths. Teachers are of either faith as well.
- during the training courses, any and all liturgical differences between Catholic and Episcopal are mentioned and taught to students.
- training can be expensive, but there is grant money to lessen the cost for the individual
- I would agree that Godly Play (GP) is different!
- This program has deepened my relationship with God and Jesus.

Sorry for being long winded.

In His Peace,

Ron

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lisa crutchfield September 12, 2007 at 9:07 am

Has anyone had success using the atrium method with children with special needs?

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Ginger February 24, 2008 at 9:27 pm

Yes, I have used the CGS method with special needs children. We had several autistic children between ages 4-12, also some down syndrome, and MR students with various disabilities (one non-verbal). We had 3 – 4 adults familiar with some aspect of special needs work and about 6 – 10 children attending faithfully. CGS works well because it focuses on the need of the child where that child is in his/her personal relationship with God. The children in our atrium were welcomed and invited to choose individual work from the shelves when they arrived. The lessons follow the Liturgical Year. The last 20 minutes we shared with the children a brief scripture using the CGS material that we had made and a closing prayer or song. The material was then made available for the children to work with individually when they came to the atrium the following weeks. The children loved coming and grew to understand one anothers needs (learned how to get along with kindness and loving acceptance). These children showed CGS to be a ‘living catechesis’ experience where they could come to know Jesus in a very personal relationship.

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Bernadette April 17, 2008 at 5:36 am

In response to Kay, who is concerned about New Age overtones in Sofia Cavaletti’s book. I have not read the book, but I have recently completed training 3-6 Part I.
I am very anti New Age and ANY form of education which promotes it indirectly or otherwise.

I can only say from my own experience of training in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd that it has fed me in my hunger for True, Orthodox, Catholic formation and passing the Faith onto my own children, and I would never have connected it with anything New Age. Perhaps I should read the book though, to understand your concerns, but if you do have concerns it would be well worth discussing them with a trained catechist to put your mind at rest.

Two of my children (3 and 6) have been attending the Atrium for less than 6 months, but their joy and faith has just grown incredibly. . . my 3 year old told me two days ago: “Mummy, let me tell you about God: God is a miracle because He died on the cross . .”
In her simple words it was clear to me that she could grasp Christ’s passion and resurrection in a way that we would not expect of a 3 year old. She also named God as “God is Spirit . . . God is Father . . .” She led me in a discussion on the Trinity!!
This is the work of the Catechesis, that the children will encounter God, Love Him and that the faith will take root in their hearts and grow, and remain!!

God Bless, B

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Fr. David May 18, 2008 at 12:49 am

According to a segment in FIRST THINGS a few years ago, Fr. Henri Nouwen apparently acknowledged that he struggled with same sex attractions. This is not the same as saying he was “gay”–which is a socio-political, ideological identity. It is important to note that the article pointed out that Nouwen courageously defended the Church’s teaching on homosexuality at a cost and that he lived a chaste life.

As to CGS, orthodox Catholics should be happy to supplement strongly cognitive and directive catechetical approaches with intuitive and affective approaches that have appeal to children and those whose personalities have a bias in favor of the “experiential.” Why? As long as orthodoxy is not endangered and can be successfully wedded to such methods, it is better to have such means at our disposal so as to help keep them within the fold, least such individuals feel restles and wander off in search of “something more” only to fall into the clutches of misguided liberals who currently dominate the market for all things “touchy-feely”. In a society with a cultural bias that values intuition and imagination over reason and truth, faithful Catholics should not let orthodoxy be boxed in by stereotypes. We need to be able to demonstrate that orthodoxy is not some limited option for emotionally-constricted logical types only, but that orthodox Christianity is universally valid regardless of personality type and is, in fact, especially favorable for developing full, well-integrated individuals and communities, morally, spiritually, psychologically, socially, aesthetically, etc. More concretely, if you have a particularly sensitive, inquisitive child, do you really want to leave his “right-brain” unnurtured to the point that he may later become vulnerable to heterodoxy because his childhood experience of conservative Christianity felt like a strait jacket? We are Catholics, not fundamentalists. We are not are not afraid of new ideas or of the capacity of emotion that God gave us.

So, don’t shy away from CGS and its potential without compelling reasons. If necessary, baptize it and steal the thunder from the pagans and heretics! If it is already valid, graced with truth, then why let it fall into the hands of New Agers and let it become associated with them? Be pro-active, not merely defensive, in your orthodoxy if you really love the Church and believe that her mission is to claim and re-claim all things for Christ. Plant the flag!

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Elizabeth May 31, 2008 at 3:25 pm

I am a trained Montessori teacher (Association Montessori Internationale) for both primary (3-6 yr. olds) and elementary (6-12 yr. olds) and also trained in Levels 1 and 2 in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. In addition, I am a homeschooling mother currently using Seton Home Study and Kolbe Academy materials for my children as well as my Montessori background.

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program is excellent — under certain conditions. The materials are wonderful and have such marvelous potential to nourish the interior spiritual life. I myself started an Atrium (our name for the area or space devoted to catechetical activities) in our church which is dedicated to the extraordinary form of the Roman Liturgy under the auspicies of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). I am not currently operating it now because my own growing family commitments make it too difficult, but we had outstanding success with it, not the least of which was a number of children who received their First Holy Communion at age six because they were so well prepared spiritually due to the formation received in the Level 1 Atrium.

Having said that, duty obligates me to say that if you take the catechetical formation courses, there is frighteningly little emphasis laid on the necessity of teaching children the Christian doctrine thoroughly. I was saddened to note that in preparation for reception of the Sacraments, very little emphasis was laid on the necessary doctrine required to receive them. I was particularly appalled at how poorly the children were prepared to make a good Confession. There was no mention made of mortal sin, venial sin, the five points necessary to make a good Confession, proper examination of conscience, the Ten Commandments, or why Our Lord came to this earth to die on the Cross and what our sins cost Him. It was all “let’s all be happy and feel good”.

The best way to use the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is to modify the dialogue in the lessons to be sure the essential element gets through and be sure the children are well-drilled in their Baltimore Catechism. The combination of a modified CGS and the Baltimore Catechism is unbeatable in my opinion; the former provides reflection, thought and a deep spiritual life while the latter provides the solid foundation in the truths of the Faith. I have already seen several adults who received nothing but CGS in liberal parish settings as children, and they have left the Catholic Church. Is it the fault of the parents, the liberal parish, the catechists, or the method? This is a question which, unfortunately, has no clear-cut answer. However, it is a good idea to investigate further into the possible root causes and try to come to solutions.

Trained Montessorians, trained catechists and all parents and teachers need to always think about what will best meet the end of their work. Each methodology is only that: a methodology. Some are excellent, like CGS and Montessori, and need only to be taught by people who are willing to modify the method in order to be sure that essentials are not left out. Unfortunately, there are a lot of purists in the Montessori field who consider it heresy to vary one jot from the prescribed norm and consequently imperil our children as a result.

My advice: choose carefully and observe the instructor. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or bring your concerns to the teacher. If you have concerns after talking to them, don’t put your children in the program.

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Angelina November 16, 2010 at 7:51 am

Elizabeth,
I agree completely, but have a hard time knowing how to incorporate the Baltimore Catechism into the CGS method. I was wondering if you have any lesson plans that you would be willing to share?
Please, email me at angelina.willard@gmail.com if you would be willing to discuss the methods you used in your atrium.

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Mary November 30, 2010 at 1:11 pm

For First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion preparation, we give the children in our atrium a text and family/parent guide to use at home. This is the same text that we use in our Faith Formation program. We also have an opportunity for the pastor to talk with all the 2nd graders (FF and Atrium) prior to the sacraments. They visit the Reconciliation, role play the sacrament, etc.

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Mary November 30, 2010 at 1:12 pm

sorry, meant to write “visit the Reconciliation room,”

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gtsecc July 9, 2008 at 10:34 pm

” there is frighteningly little emphasis laid on the necessity of teaching children the Christian doctrine thoroughly. I was saddened to note that in preparation for reception of the Sacraments, very little emphasis was laid on the necessary doctrine required to receive them. I was particularly appalled at how poorly the children were prepared to make a good Confession. There was no mention made of mortal sin, venial sin, the five points necessary to make a good Confession, proper examination of conscience, the Ten Commandments, or why Our Lord came to this earth to die on the Cross and what our sins cost Him. It was all “let’s all be happy and feel good”.
You have only had the training for level 1 and 2, which goes up to age 8.
Level 3 goes to age 11 and covers those things you are worried about.
If you only got “let’s be happy and feel good,” out of the training, I think you missed something – how I don’t know.

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Elizabeth February 10, 2010 at 9:04 pm

The difficulty is that Level 3 is a bit tardy for the essentials that must be known for reception of Penance and Holy Eucharist. It is essential that children know how to make a good Confession. Level 3 hasn’t been available to me because it isn’t offered in my area, but it perhaps is possible that some Level 3 material should be offered earlier.

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George Pritchard July 27, 2008 at 7:50 pm

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a dynamic faith-filled program. It educates children to trust and hope in Jesus and the Church. It is very present in the Cleveland Diocese. Like Cathy, I recommend that you personally observe an atrium in operation. You will find reverent children who come to link scripture and liturgy to a growing understanding of their own position within the faith-filled community.

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Jeannie Ballard November 12, 2008 at 3:07 pm

My Son who is now preparing for his 1st Communion was fortunate enough to be a part of this program: the Catechesis of the Good Shephard. at the pre-school level. I cannot say enough about it. It was wonderful. since then we have moved and I wish my 4 yr old daughter could participate in it but the parish we are in has never even heard of it. If I could find a nearby parish that had an Atrium I would drive her there. How do I go about finding one? We are in Fenton Michigan, Diocese of Lansing. Is there some kind of list of Parishes who offer this program?

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Cecilia Beck December 7, 2008 at 5:15 pm

Anyone wanting more information about the Cathechesis of the Good Shepherd should get a hold of Maria Montessori’s book “The Child in the Church” edited by E.M. Standing, a follower of the Dottoressa. I do not know if this book is still published, but it will be worthwhile to have.

I have a copy and have tried to find more copies with no luck. If anyone knows where we can get them..please let me know.

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Regina September 11, 2010 at 3:15 pm

The Catholic Shop, located in Chantilly, VA, has republished “The Child in the Church.” It is available here:

http://www.thecatholicshop.com/The-Child-In-The-Church-by-Maria-Montessori_p_55101.html

The proprietors are friends of mine and are long-time advocates of Montessori and the Atrium.

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Katie Press January 9, 2009 at 6:19 pm

Stumbled across this post through a google search and am glad the conversation is still somewhat active. A few points of response…

Jeannie Ballard, try doing a search on the National Association website: http://www.cgsusa.org for atria near you. I know there are some in the Diocese of Saginaw. I’m not sure about the center of the state.

Cecilia Beck, I purchased my “Child in the Church” just a few months ago from “The Catholic Shop” (catholicshoponline.com) for a reasonable $16.65 (not including shipping). It’s a brand-new, paperback copy. I was very pleased.

My own personal experience with CGS has been nothing but wonderful. I’ve worked in as a catechist in two parishes, a preschool, and an elementary school. I’m trained in all three levels (ages 3-12) having taught Levels I and III most extensively. I agree with the previous statement that sacramental prep (particularly for reconciliation) is deepened in Level III. I too have had the experience of teaching children whose parents fall on every end of the spectrum of the Catholic faith.

One website I would also recommend is the only Masters Program in the US that compliments CGS training. It might be a huge asset for your parish catechist, truly. http://www.ai.edu/goodshepherd

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catechist-in-training February 19, 2009 at 12:33 pm

To Jeannie Ballard,
Christ the King in Ann Arbor has an active Level 1 Atrium. I heard some of their catechists are planning on taking Level 2 training.

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Meg February 19, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Can anyone tell me what content the CGS DOES include for 2nd graders preparation for Reconciliation and 1st Communion? While I support this more affective and experiential approach, I am becoming alarmed because my 2nd grader cannot tell me anything they have discussed or done in regard to the upcoming sacraments. 1st Communion is only 2 months away. My daughter tells me religion is her favorite class which delights me, but there are some basic essential meanings about these sacraments I want her to have, and I just don’t know if she is going to get them. It needn’t be in a purely cognitive heady form, but does need to be covered in some fashion. Please can someone respond?

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Beate February 24, 2009 at 9:51 am

Hi Meg,

All too often my own dc won’t be able to tell me what they learned, as so much is intrinsic and might not show for years. That has certainly been the case for my 9 yo. In level two, the children will put together all the parts of the Mass which they have begun to learn about in Level 1. They work with a Mass chart and can note that the Mystery of Faith is the central element of the Mass. They learn parts of the Eucharistic prayer and will put together their own Missal. They learn about the History of the Kingdom which they will expound on in Level 3. Emphasis is given to the many gifts our Creator has given us. Also, there are central scriptures for the preparation of reconcilliation – meditations on the true vine, the Forgiving Father, the Found Coin and the Found Sheep. I’m not sure if your diocese is implementing the sacramental prep that Sofia recommends, often we are limited by time constraints and parish traditions. The sacraments are introduced slowly and in small, significant steps – the children are given “rich food, but little of it.” Don’t hesitate to speak to your child’s catechist about your concerns and do observe in the atrium :-)

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George Pritchard March 13, 2009 at 10:32 pm

No atrium nearby? Talk to your pastor. He may be willing to assist you with parish resources. Check with your diocesan Religious Education office. Browse to the Association of the Good Shepherd website for a national list of courses offerings and session dates. Ask for help in pioneering a local progam and in getting funding.
Consider personally enrolling in a training course. You will find all of the psychological and spiritual support you need in starting an atrium.
The training is engaging. It teaches by lesson example and focuses doctrinal content on the child’s level of understanding. A primary aim is to promote greater participation in the liturgy.
Persons come from all over to attend training. They are of all ages and backgrounds. Course sessions(4) tend to go from Friday to Sunday during the school year, and five to eight days in the summer. The training may be concentrated for a longer period or be spread out across the year. The certicate is based on clock hours attended. Every minute invested is worthwhile. Training often provides time for materials manufacture for the prepaed environment, the Atrium.

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Joann April 10, 2009 at 2:58 pm

I attend an Episcopalian church which has been using the catechesis program for almost 21 years. We Episcopalians and Lutherans and several other faiths are crazy about this program. I’ve always thought it a shame that many Catholic churchs disdain this absolute gem of their own creation. Catechesis in our church starts with 3 year olds and goes through 10 year olds, who then go into a junior high program. We now have almost 70 children in our total program (catechesis, junior and senior high) and we are not a big church. Our original 3 year olds are now in their mid twenties. Two of them are now catechesis teachers. One is a youth minister at another church. Many of the others are still members of our church: children raised in the catechesis program don’t leave the church, unlike the pre-catechesis crowd which show up once or twice a year when forced to by parents. That alone should be a reason to use it.
Yes, the catechesis program requires good, dedicated teachers who have attended a lot of training sessions. Catechesis teaching is not for someone looking for a 6-month ministry. We are blessed to have many fine teachers who are also national trainers. It also requires a lot of dedication to build and stock the atriums. Although you can build a fine catechesis program on a budget, we have easily spent in the mid 6 figures on ours when you include building new rooms and walls in the basement.
The bottom line is that the catechesis proof is in the pudding. It attracts new members, builds the church and raises children well-grounded in the Christian faith. If the program has any draw-back, it is that it does not encourage any of the traditional memorizations. If you want your child to learn the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd psalm, the Nicenean creed, you need to supplement at home.

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Jen May 27, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Meg ~

I have not taught CGS before, but am a certified Early Childhood and Lower Elementary Montessori teacher. It is not uncommon for students to have difficulty articulating what they’ve learned in their Montessori classroom. In reflecting on this, I think it’s largely due to the lack of emphasis placed on a student’s ability to regurgitate “what the book (or teacher) says.” I encourage you to observe an atrium or Montessori classroom (as I encourage my students’ parents to do as well) to SEE that learning is occurring, however. Students are engrossed in their activities, are often able to present lessons to other students (a good sign of mastering a topic!) and can often make connections among seemingly-dissimilar topics at an early age. However… they may not be able to sit down an put into words exactly what they know about sentence structure, geography, etc. The Montessori method doesn’t always “measure up” when judged with the type of question-and-answer formats most of us remember from grade school. But my experience is that learning — deep learning — happens. I’ve had students who could never pass a “test” on a certain topic come up to me after class and say, “Can I sing you a song?” …and they’ve composed a song all about what we learned, putting it in their own words and even making it rhyme. They don’t know it, but they just answered the standard essay question, “Please put blah-blah-blah in your own words, in a paragraph of at least 300 words.”

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Genevieve June 7, 2009 at 8:52 am

I have been doing the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (Level 1 – ages 3-6) for about 7 years – for many years in a Byzantine Catholic parish, and for this past year full-time in a Catholic Montessori school. I can agree whole-heartedly with much of what was said before about how beautiful, reverent, and Christ-centered it is. I am constantly in awe of the work that the Holy Spirit does in the souls of these little ones, how much they love Christ, and the depth of knowledge that they come away with, even if they only are able to experience a Level 1 Atrium. (Levels 2 and 3 are incredible in terms of the Scriptural and Liturgical depth they go into. I remember learning some of these things in college level theology classes, with teachers like Scott Hahn!)

I can also understand the concerns that orthodox Catholics may have about it. While Sofia Cavaletti and Gianna Gobbi were themselves devout Catholics, there are many non-Catholics throughout the world who have adapted the method and content of the program to the theology of their denomination, or Catholics with perhaps a different theological viewpoint who have done the same. This is not intrinsic to the program itself, which is authentically Catholic and faithful to the teachings of the Church, but it may cause many to question its orthodoxy. I know my mom and I had this concern when we took the training course many years ago from an episcopalian trainer, and were given the presentations on the Eucharist with episcopalian eucharistic theology (Christ is present in the bread and the wine). But we finally realized that this was not the CGS itself, and that we simply needed to adjust the wording back to something reflective of Catholic theology.

However, for orthodox Catholics wishing to be formed in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, I would recommend that they carefully discern which training course to take, as you will receive a very different presentation and perspective depending on who the trainer is. I can highly recommend the following courses:

The Montessori Catechetical and Cultural Center:
http://www.montessori-mcci.org/formationcourses.html

CGS training courses offered for graduate credit at the Christendom Grad School, either in Front Royal, VA in the summers, or throughout the school year in the DC area:
http://www.christendom.edu/grad/acad/offering.shtml

God bless you all!

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George Pritchard June 17, 2009 at 6:45 am

Reading over these comments. It might be worthwhile to take a moment and read comments on what the children have to say. Some of these are at http://cctheo.blogspot.com/ I am particularly impressed at the understanding of Eucharist that is nurtured by CGS. Of course, this is second nature to catechist. We have almost a prime directive in our presentations. It is “greater participation in the liturgy.”

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Rita September 13, 2009 at 6:42 pm

I have worked with CCS for 3 1/2 years, when I homeschooled my youngest daughter. It took me a while to get with the program because I did not completely understand it. I felt blessed every time I went to Atrium and experienced the richness of the child discovering God and making those connections with their faith. The Holy Spirit moves in the Atrium, we just need to get out of His Way!

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Deborah March 4, 2010 at 1:02 am

I am trained in level one and taught for several years there. Now I’m 1/2 way through level two and have worked for a year in level 2. While I have no real concerns for the level one atrium, the level two has several works centered around theistic evolution where man evolves from a hominid and asks “who made me?” There is no mention of sin or Adam and Eve, or “trinity” or “grace” and children are taught that there was billions of years of creation and then humans and then the time of redemption. They are not taught that creation was beautiful and that the first humans were in full communion with God which was lost with sin. These are big holes in the program- and the evolutionary works will be a red flag to Orthodox Bishops who want catechists to only teach the deposit of faith and not exceed our boundaries.

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catherine varkas May 21, 2010 at 6:53 am

Orthodox Catechesis of The Good Shepherd
varkas1@gate.net
for more information
“Exploring new methods of handing forward the Orthodox Christian Faith and Way of life to the next generation has become more and more important.
Once teachers are exposed to the theory of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd,they should see immediately important connections and synergies with Orthodox Christianity, from its liturgical and sacramental emphasis to its deep person-centered approach to spirituality.
While CGS has been practiced for more than 60 years in other Christian communities, Orthodox religious educators are beginning to see its potential and have begun to adopt it in their parishes.
With proper training in the theory and method of CGS, which this program offers, an exciting new dimension for orthodox Christian Religious Education is now available.”

  –Anton C. Vrame, Ph.D.
Director, Department of Religious Education
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

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Terry September 19, 2010 at 7:53 pm

My Antiochian Orthodox parish is implementing CGS for the first time this year! We were trained by another orthodox christian who is a formation leader for CGS. We find it very compatible with orthodox teaching and where its needed are making orthodox changes. I am finding it not only a godly program for the children, it is benefiiting me as well!

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Catherine Varkas September 21, 2010 at 9:32 am

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for the Orthodox Church
or
Orthodox Christian Montessori Education
immersion course this summer at
Hellenic College, June 6 – 17, 2010
all Doctrinal Content, direct and indirect aims, liturgical gestures, baptism, the Divine Liturgy, and the Divine Eucharist will be presented from an Orthodox tradition.
Please visit the website for more information; http://www.orthodoxcatechesis.org
or visit the following website to join the blog for Orthodox Christian Montessori Education: http://www.montessoriteachercenter.com

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seraphima September 30, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Official courses in CGS are listed on the National Association website: http://www.cgsusa.org. As the only Orthodox Christian Formation Leader at this time, I can say that much about CGS as it stands that is in line with Eastern Orthodoxy theology.

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Nina Evans November 29, 2010 at 7:23 pm

We began the GS program in our church last year. There are some Level 2 works in the GS that are great, but several major concerns for me in the curriculum. The original hominid teaching is troublesome. The underlying evolution theory is anti Christian/Catholic. Our Catholic trainer informed our group Adam and Eve were just a story, is this why no mention of them in the time line? Yes, I am aware it was removed, but how did Sophia, the Jewish/ Catholic scholar identify the idea as a necessary teaching originally? Where does sanctifying grace, a truly Catholic idea fit in or even just grace, never discussed. This is an essential teaching for sacramental formation.
GS program is very weak in sacramental formation, we are teaching our children outside the program, they have received little GS in order to adequately prepare them for First Communion/first confession.
As a Catholic who left the faith, and returned, it is my desire to teach children true Catholicism. On my return to the church, I have spent much time studying and learning our Catholic history and teachings. The ecumenical tone of GS teachings weakens our faith placing it on the same playing field as other faiths. Why maintain Catholicism if all faiths are on equal par. We were taught that we are the one holy Catholic Apostolic Church, the Catholic Church. Why is this seed not placed in the heart of our children?
I want to like the GS program, but feel something is not right. Am I the only person with concerns about the program? Nina

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Catherine Varkas November 30, 2010 at 11:09 am

Orthodox Christian Montessori Education,
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for the Orthodox Church

Immersion course at Hellenic College
June 6 – 17, 2011
Lodging and meal plans are available for twenty people.

This course will be presented from an Orthodox Christian tradition.
This is an “official” course of the national CGS association, with a certified formation leader.

In addition this course is offered by a nationally accredited Montessori teacher training center which ensures authentic Montessori methods will be presented.

Also, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese will grant a certificate of completion to those participants who complete the course.

For more information visit the following website or contact:
http://www.orthodoxcatechesis.org/
Orthodox Christian Montessori Education
catherinevarkas@gmail.com

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seraphima November 30, 2010 at 11:29 am

Dear Nina,
The description you give sounds like a local interpretation of the work. There are many denominations that use CGS, but they all adapt it to their unique theologies. If ecumenism is prominent in the theology of your leadership or your region, this could be reflected in your catechists. In our Orthodox atria, we are presenting Orthodoxy, not ecumenism.

We never had the hominid on our Sacred History chart.

Our study of Adam and Eve did not reflect the idea that this is only allegory. There are allegorical truths to be apprehended there, and in this way we bring the moral elements of the account into our own lives, but its “both/and.” The account is both allegorical and reality, and therein is the paradox linking it to many things of the faith…redemption being chief among them: Christ is BOTH God AND man; Theotokos is BOTH mother AND virgin, etc.

Re: sacramental prep, I know some very serious and thriving Catholic communities that use CGS and feel it is the most profound sacramental formation. One parish I know has about 500 kids, and some of those parents have come out of attending their children’s sacramental prep with tears streaming down their faces because they themselves never had what CGS is offering their kids. Same thing is happening here at St Athanasius Orthodox Church. Talk about returning to the faith….

I would suggest connecting with your priests about your concerns, and talking to the catechists. Perhaps they would be willing to bring in some veterans from among the Catholic Formation Leaders to give a refresher or to talk through what you feel is lacking. You may also want to just do a Google search for other Catholic churches using CGS and read about how they are using it. Or better yet, go for an observation while the children are in session. It may help broaden your understanding.

It may be worth noting that what occurs in one parish may not always be indicative of the fullness of the work, and that to judge the entire work by observation of only one parish’s interpretation is certainly limited and could be unfair.

In Christ’s love,
Seraphima

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Nina December 3, 2010 at 10:49 am

Dear Seraphima, Thank you for responding to my questions about the GS program. I am looking into some of your suggestions for next year. Reading the various comments above, catechists have included subjects which they feel the program lacked. I felt the program was unmovable in content and am pleased to see including teachings which we feel is necessary is appropriate. Peace & Grace, Nina

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Inga January 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Nina, I came across this site with some of the concerns about GS which you share. I have also returned the the Catholic Church and desire to teach the children our faith which has existed since the beginning of the Church.

You question an ecumenical tone to the GS. I also wonder about this issue and continue with my reading for the answers. I find it interesting that you mention sanctifying grace, as this idea gave me a great love for the sacraments and their ability to give us our divine nature needed for salvation. The time lime does not mention Adam and Eve , grace or sin and this seems to be the logical time to insert the beginning discussion of grace and sin. From my reading Sophia felt the the children needed to focus on their relationship with God and the love he has for them, and not to be focused on sin or negative themes at an early age. Perhaps this is why these issues are omitted form the GS lessons at level 2. The previous readers noted Trinity, grace and other subjects taught in the lower grades are moved to level 3. Could the omission of these issues sanctifying grace , types of sins which are mostly Catholic teachings, give you the feel of ecumenicism? Yes, our parents were taught from the Baltimore Catechism and these issues where taught 1st and 2nd grade. It seems Sophia felt it was more beneficial to develop the relationship a child has with God and omit issues which could interfere with that relationship. I have needed to rethink my old way of teaching, many people thought the old school of teaching taught facts, but lacked in the child forming a relationship with God.

I do like the focus of forming a relationship with God, and I still feel it is necessary to instill and early seed of moral development. The new parenting of today is weak on moral development, to minimize this I feel is a mistake. I will continue to read and find a way to bring these to issues together when teaching. Wishing you success as your GS program moves forward. May God’s Blessings be with your and all who brings Gods words to our children.

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Nina Evans January 11, 2011 at 10:45 am

Dear Inga,
I was comforted to know there are other people who share concerns about the Good Shepherd program. After reading my first e-mail, I hope people read a sense of frustration and not anger with the Good Shepherd and material. Seraphima, suggested that our parish Good Shepherd catechists visit local Good Shepherd atrium’s. We were fortunate to visit two atrium’s with in a 50 mile radius. Each atrium had it’s own feel, with their hand made materials, which is the beauty of the program. Both atrium’s followed the program without much variation to the lessons. One program was preparing for the First Communion retreat much like Sofia’s in Rome, lasting 2 days with the children returning home with their parents at night. The priests and parents of that parish did object to the children wearing white robes instead of the traditional suit/dress. They felt the neutral, unisex robes removed the importance distinction that male and female are different. Some felt the robes represented a masculine priestly quality, and women will not be priest and this part of the Good Shepherd tradition was not appropriate and send the wrong message. I thought his was interesting because the church has female altar girls who also wear white robes like the male servers. I’m not sure what the difference between wearing the robe at First Communion vs serving at Mass on Sunday. I enjoyed visiting the atrium’s, but still have questions on what can be added to the Good Shepherd material. I have also come across Sofia’s ideas on not presenting negative ideas to level one and two. She feels this interferes with the bonding between the child and God. I am also reading and learning to be more effective presenting the material as Sophia did instilling wonderment in the child. Good luck to you also, I wish you much success with your Good Shepherd program.

Seraphima, could you please give a brief description of what you add for Communion prep and the retreat. Your sounds wonderful. Thanks

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seraphima February 21, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Dear Nina,
Sorry to be slow in responding. Somehow I don’t think I received the notification that a new comment had been posted.

Our retreat begins five weeks prior with a Preparatory Series. These are evening sessions held in a home. We serve a meal for the children and the parent who has accompanied them. Then we gather the children together close to the fireplace and catechist, with the parents seated behind. The series presentations vary according to tradition. In the RC the fifth meditation is on the Centurian’s Servant, since this is a significant moment in your liturgy. The Episcopalians do different things according to their tradition. One thing we have done in our Eastern Orthodox parish is a presentation called the Synthesis of the Gifts, which takes a well-known and much beloved LII presentation (Sacred History and the Gifts of the Kingdom) and connects it to The Gifts we receive in the Divine Liturgy. This connects with specific words the priests/deacons use during the service. It has been very powerful for the children and their parents.

These evening sessions happen IN ADDITION to the regular sessions, which have been held on Saturday afternoons prior to Vespers or Sunday mornings before Liturgy (kids come to one session per week, not both).

Then for the 2-day retreat, the kids are out of school Friday all day and we meet from 9-5, and repeat that schedule on Saturday. We have two play breaks and of course a lunch break each day. We structure the time differently each year based on feedback from the children and families the year before. The thing that needs the most time is the self-examination booklet work and the preparations for the prayer service recalling baptism.

Re: white garments, we give the choice of a tunic or a shawl, since many women and girls in our tradition cover their heads in prayer. This has worked well. They only wear them at the retreat and prayer service, not into the Sunday liturgy. Some indicators in the nave on Sunday are the candles the children made, flower arrangements, special commemorations, a big announcement in the bulletin, and a full banquet spread for the community at coffee hour hosted by the RE department and retreat families.

We have many beautiful handworks that engage the children. They wish the retreat could go one forever. It would really help to go back to Sofia’s four-day model, so that there was more time for each activity. The days are just SOOOO full with only a two-day model. But this is where we are right now, and we are making it work as beautifully as we can. The fruit has been good, and gets better each time thanks to the response of the children helping us refine it.

Please feel free to email me if you have more specific questions that I haven’t addressed here: seraphima@stathanasius.org.

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