By Father Jeffrey Waldrep
(Editor’s note: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a Montessori-based way for children to experience scripture and learn about their faith. The U.S. Association responsible for training teachers said the purpose of the program is “to assist the involvement of children and adults in a common religious experience in which the religious values of childhood, primarily those values of contemplation and enjoyment of God, are predominant.”
Instructors learn about the program by embracing it themselves. All of the work is done in a special place called an atrium where children may find an altar just their size with everything a priest would use to celebrate Mass or a model of sheepfold, shepherd and sheep so they can experience the story of the Good Shepherd. They immerse themselves in the Word of God and do their own work.
Six parishes and three schools use Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Only a few instructors go through the rigorous multi-level training to become Level III catechists. One of them is Stacy Wolf, director of faith formation for Pearl St. Jude Parish.
On Sunday, Feb. 23, Bishop Kopacz visited the Atria at Pearl St. Jude. Father Jeffrey Waldrep, pastor, submitted this reflection on the visit.)
Stacy Wolf and I took the Bishop around not only to meet the children, but also to introduce him to this engaging form of catechesis that has transformed religious education for the children of St. Jude. Wolf with a brief explanation of the Good Shepherd program and how it is used in the religious formation of children from three to 12 years old. In the Level I Atrium (three to five year olds) children were settling before Mara Villa led the them in the singing of “Hail Mary, Gentle Woman.”
In the Level II Atrium (six to nine year olds) one group was delving deeper into the 23rd Psalm while another was pondering the Parable of the Good Shepherd with the Wolf and Hireling. A third group was working with Denise Vincent, mother of Deacon Rusty Vincent, on the Synthesis of the Mass. Bishop Kopacz, Wolf and I joined as the children explained the work from the paten and chalice to the gestures of epiclesis, offering and the sign of peace. Then the bishop and I engaged the children as they chose personal works. Josie, a first grader, was working with a Pin Map of Israel when I bent down to work with her. She showed me Bethlehem, the town where Jesus was born, and exclaimed to Mrs. Wolf “Father Jeffrey did a work with me!”
The tour concluded with the Level III Atrium (10-12 year olds), where the children were engrossed with their personal work for the day. Many were working on personal missals, using the atrium’s Roman Missal, which consists of a drawer compartment containing prayer cards for each part of the Mass. Jonathan, a fifth grader, explained that his group was working with the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard and that he had learned that all people should be treated equal.
We at St. Jude are proud of the more than 75 children in our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Atria led by eight catechists assisted by seven parents any given Sunday. It was a blessing not only to share our program with the Bishop, but also to see the excitement of the children in having the opportunity to share what they are learning about the Lord.