Catechesis of the Good Shepherd teachers learn about Jesus through the child

Jo Thornley Cox, left, coordinator of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Gladstone, Missouri, explains the work of preparing the altar to Sister Mary of Holy Hope, SOLT, during a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training session at Our Lady’s Montessori School on June 13 in Kansas City, Kansas. CGS catechists learn to introduce children to Jesus by following the promptings of the Holy Spirit working in the child. LEAVEN PHOTO BY OLIVIA MARTIN

by Olivia Martin
olivia.martin@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It was completely silent.

About 20 women were sitting cross-legged on the floor, their attention on only one thing: a miniature altar.

In fact, it was child-size.

This was the scene as the June 13 training of catechists for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) began at Our Lady’s Montessori School in Kansas City, Kansas. The training occurred June 12-15 and 17-19; it was the first of two levels of training required to teach CGS to 3- through 6-year-olds as a certified catechist.

And it’s not your average training.

“[We teach] the teacher to follow the child,” said Diane Olsen, a parishioner of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa and formation leader for the Level I CGS training. “The teacher is never telling them what to do.”

What? A teacher follows a 3-year-old?

Exactly.

Born from the Montessori education method, CGS “shows dignity to the child at their own level of understanding and waits until they are ready for the full message,” said Jenny Wallace, director of Our Lady’s Montessori School.

In the course of CGS, children learn the names, uses and placements of various child-size liturgical items and how to remain silent and respectful in a sacred space. A very tactile learning method, children in CGS learn to complete liturgical tasks or “works,” including setting up the altar for Mass, spontaneous prayer and the parables of Jesus.

Their motions and words are deliberate, and the “atrium” — the classroom — is perpetually quiet.

But most importantly, they are introduced to the “Good Shepherd.”

Catechists receive their own instruction on the importance of the Good Shepherd as well, especially how his love is perceivable in their lives. They, in turn, introduce the figure of the Good Shepherd to the child.

It’s an unexpected introduction.

“They won’t ever say Jesus is the Good Shepherd,” said Wallace. “They hope as the children progress they will have an ‘aha!’ moment that the Good Shepherd is Jesus . . . that they come to that realization on their own.”

Amy Riscoe, a St. Michael the Archangel parishioner in Leawood, was impressed by the respect for the child’s freedom that the CGS method enacts.

“It kind of contradicts what we’ve learned [about] a teacher and child relationship,” she said. “You’re letting the child do and learn for himself — and you’re there really just as a resource for them.”

Olivia Wieger, also a St. Michael parishioner, agreed.

“[This] forms the child’s relationship with Jesus rather than just teaching them about something as a subject,” she said. “You’re just somebody who is introducing two people.”

New and experienced CGS catechists alike stress that CGS training is just as much for them as it is for the child.

“Going through this program was such a retreat experience for me,” said Wallace. “I would do the training even if I . . . wasn’t interested in becoming a CGS teacher. “It’s just about learning about Jesus through the child’s eyes.”

For Olsen, CGS was a wholly unique method for encountering her Catholic faith.

“I never heard anyone talk to me about my faith in [this] way before I went to my first CGS formation,” she said. “[Maria] Montessori said the ideal civilization of love would be when adults and children can look at each other as each having something to . . . offer the other that will make both better.”

And CGS is beginning to make that dream a reality.

Learn more

For information on upcoming Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training sessions, visit the website at: cgsksmo.org/courses/19-20.To find a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium, visit the website at: cgsksmo.org/findatrium.

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