Kete article – how we started

I haven’t figured out how to insert the Kete Korero (Hamilton Diocese magazine) in here, but we had an article in there last issue. Below is the text.

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at St Pius X Parish, Hamilton

Last year while Fr Gerard was walking across Spain, a lovely Jesuit priest from Australia looked after St Pius X parish for a few weeks. I was talking to him one day after Mass, and mentioned that my boys were at a Montessori preschool. He asked if I’d ever heard about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I hadn’t.

Google to the rescue.

I was blown away by what I found.

Over the year my eldest son had been at Montessori, I had come to really appreciate the distinctive nature of Montessori education. I loved that it was based on years of observation by Maria Montessori of how children learn and what they are capable of. I loved that this observation continued in the classroom and each child was respectfully treated as an individual person with individual needs and capabilities. I loved that the children could work, learn, and see to their physical needs independently (yes! from age three and even younger) because the environment was set up perfectly to allow that. I loved the three year age groupings, chosen according the planes of development the children were in and allowing them to learn from and teach each other. I loved the order and serenity of the classroom. I loved that the children learnt not just maths and language and geography, but grace and courtesy and practical life skills too. Basically I loved it all and considered it to be a beautiful method of enabling the human person to flourish on (almost) all levels from a very young age.

There was, however one area of learning where it was up to my husband and me alone, with no help from the school: the Faith. This was something that was not going smoothly with our 2 and 4 year olds. They weren’t the type to like to join in things and got self conscious (or just silly) during Mass and prayer times. Picture books were some use, but limited. Trying to explain abstract concepts was futile since their brains were not yet capable of abstraction. When I discovered Catechesis of the Good Shepherd I knew I had finally found the answer to helping young children form a relationship with God and I wondered if we would ever have access to it.

I went back to google. I searched for atria in Hamilton. Unsurprisingly, nothing. I couldn’t find much else in New Zealand either (I’ve since learned of more but they were not easy to find!). Then I had a conversation with two mums who were also planning on sending their children to our Montessori preschool and they mentioned there was an atrium at St Mary’s in Tauranga, and how wonderful would it be for us to have access to one too.

At this stage we had no plans to set up an atrium, but I wanted to know more. I searched for books on the topic and found “The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in a Parish Setting” on fishpond.co.nz for $5. In January of 2014 I went away for a week, read the book and did a lot of praying, and came home convinced we needed to start the Catechesis in our parish. I just had no idea how.

To set up an atrium, one needs to attend officially sanctioned training and get a manual with all the instructions on how to make what. It is possible to start without doing this, but it would be very difficult to implement the programme faithfully and in a way the children would get the most benefit. It seemed there was training in Australia occasionally, and plenty in the US, but those didn’t seem like options. Eventually I found out about training being run by an Anglican parish in Dunedin in June/July.

I approached Fr Gerard, who was very supportive of the idea, and once the parish council had approved it I tried to convince people to go to the training. I assumed I couldn’t, due to having a tiny baby. But no one was interested, so after lots more prayer and correspondence with the trainer, we decided I would go to Dunedin for the 3-6 age group portion of the training and the trainer would come back to Hamilton in January 2015 to train more people and give us enough to start up with the 6-9 age group also.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2015 and we have a wonderful committee of 4 (sadly one other had to leave Hamilton for work reasons) mums who have been working extremely hard to put everything together to run the training at the end of January and start atrium sessions shortly afterwards. A few other parishioners have also signed up to train as catechists and there has been some other involvement from the parish, but we’d love more. An extremely generous carpenter in Putaruru has made items proportioned to small children – an altar, a baptismal font, a sacristy cabinet, a lectern, a tabernacle, and a model of the City of Jerusalem. The atrium is very slowly taking shape and we will continue to add to it as the liturgical year progresses, and probably for several more years to come.

You can follow our progress on our website: cgsstpiusxhamilton.wordpress.com or facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cgsstpiusx

Below is an outline of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS)

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a formation process for children aged 3-12 years. It is grounded in scriptural and liturgical study using the Montessori principles as a tangible, yet indirect self-teaching method used for Christian developed by Dr Sofia Cavalletti and Dr Gianna Gobbi since 1954.

The Catechesis is based on the principle that the child desires to draw near to God. The process allows children to hear the Gospel through the use of sensorially rich materials. The children are free to work with these materials that represent essential proclamations of the Christian message.

The adult’s task is to prepare the sacred space for children, called ’the atrium’, so they can respond to this holy relationship, first proclaimed to them through Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Themes are offered in such a way as to develop the religious potential present in every child.

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