Catechesis of the Good Shepherd returns

All Saints serves as host in continuing formation training for children

By Claire Collins

All Saints Church in Knoxville served as host in July for a weeklong intensive training for Level 1 of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a program of the National Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, USA, geared toward giving children an encounter with the loving and caring Jesus through Montessori principles.

This was the fourth training that Hope Johnson, a CGSUSA adult formation leader for Levels I and II of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, has done for the Diocese of Knoxville.

The hope is that through these training sessions participants can get a sense for what it is like to be in the atrium with the children and can begin to grasp the depth of what the Holy Spirit wants to transmit through the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

“I was a person who was raised Catholic,” recounted Mrs. Johnson, “and I was never one of those people that left the faith… I just loved being Catholic. And I was introduced to CGS and all of a sudden, our faith just hit me in a brand-new powerful way. You’re meditating on the Scriptures, you have these physical implements in front of you, and you’re learning about the Mass, and you’re just like, ‘Oh my goodness, how did I not know this before? How did this not register with me before?’”

Hope Johnson models the presentation of a Scripture message for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program at All Saints Church.

Nineteen adults from around the diocese gathered for the training. Presentations and conversations surrounding the various activities used in the atrium, the name used for the classroom in which Catechesis of the Shepherd takes place, filled six days of careful meditation.

Zulay Navarro Pickering was one of the participants in July’s Level I training.

“This is more than a catechesis, it’s hands-on,” Ms. Pickering said. “It’s a way to engage your child from a young age and keep them in our beautiful Catholic faith forever. I wish all parents would be curious about this extraordinary way of learning.”

Mollie Bault, who works with preschoolers at All Saints, had this to say about the training: “It was quite the commitment to set aside a week for CGS training. By the end, I wished we had another week. I left energized and excited to share these skills with my parish. I can’t wait to spend time in the atrium with our youngest parishioners.”

Another participant, Jose Flores of All Saints, knew he needed to take the opportunity of being trained after hearing his wife, Mary, speak about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for so many years.

“The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium is a revival and constant living of the Eucharist,” Mr. Flores said.

Ms Johnson agrees.

“It’s a whole new way of (the faith) being presented,” explained Mrs. Johnson. “And it doesn’t matter your age. I don’t know a single catechist who hasn’t been impacted in their own spiritual life by this method.”

This method of catechesis has been present in the United States since 1984. In recent years, with advancing technologies and the continued growth in popularity of the Montessori principles of education, the methods of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd have also continued to spread.

Ms. Johnson models the presentation of the Last Supper to Zulay Navarro Pickering as part of the atrium.

“CGS is a method of sharing our Catholic faith using Montessori principles in a prepared environment. It takes its name from the parable of the Good Shepherd, where we learn that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He knows His sheep, loves His sheep, calls His sheep by name, and is ultimately willing to lay down His life for His sheep. When you introduce children to Jesus in the image of the loving protector such as the Good Shepherd, they respond with their whole being with joy, especially the youngest children,” Mrs. Johnson noted.

In training to become a catechist, adults get an in-depth and behind-the-scenes look at the how and why of every work, or activity, used in the atrium and what that work is trying to communicate.

From basic gross and fine motor skills to deep mysteries of God and the Mass, to parables and stories of Jesus’ childhood, every item in the atrium has a purpose. And while the intended audience is the littlest of children, adults also always find themselves deeply impacted.

“I can assure you that the adults who have been through this formation have definitely become much more confident in the infinite mercy and love of God through learning this as adults on an intellectual and emotional level. We feel this in our hearts. And I think every person I know who has gone through this training as an adult has really deepened their relationship with Jesus in that image of the Good Shepherd,” Mrs. Johnson added.

Throughout the training and in the atrium, participants are invited to treat their time as prayer and to ask the Holy Spirit what it is He wants them to hear, see, and understand.

“We call it a formation class, and I’m considered a formation leader because we feel like we’re not teaching anything. This is God’s Word. This is God’s work. We’re sharing it in a way that it helps to inform and form people in their faith so that they can share it with the children in their parish. … I may be sharing it with you, but I am also a recipient, because hopefully the Holy Spirit is guiding the presentations that I am giving to you and guiding the responses of you and the other participants, and we all learn from each other,” Mrs. Johnson said.

The training began in July and will wrap up with one more intensive week in the summer of 2024.

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