An innovative approach to teaching young children the essentials of the Catholic faith, based on the methods of acclaimed educationalist Maria Montessori, is catching on in Australia. It goes far beyond anything we have experienced before. This work is more than teaching children about Jesus, or about their faith, or about what they see at Church and in the sacraments.
All of this happens, but the main aim of this work is to introduce the child to Jesus in the Scriptures and in the Liturgy. The work is about building a relationship between the child and God.
Operating in a specially prepared enviroment called an atrium, it can be attached to a parish, or school or set up in a home. The 3-6 year old age groups gather during the day while school age children gather after school or on the weekend. This work has developed with the co-operation of local bishops and priests and complements the work of classroom RE programs.
Called the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS), it originated in Rome in 1954 with Dr Sofia Cavaletti, a Hebrew and Scripture scholar and member of the Vatican Commission for Jewish/Christian Relations, and her colleague, Professor Gianna Gobbi, a Montessori educator.
Dr Cavaletti founded a Children's Centre or "atrium" in Rome, using Montessori methods to teach the faith. She found in her work with children, whatever their culture, that they had vital religious needs and responded in similar ways to the most essential elements of the Christian message.
The CGS has spread from Rome to other parts of Italy, Argentina, Columbia, Chad, Canada, Europe, Japan, the United States and Australia, with the International Association for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd formed in 1984 in North America.
One of the first four Australian atria was established in the Corinda-Graceville parish in Brisbane in 1996. Its founders had earlier completed a training course involving 100 hours of lectures and presentations run by Linda Kaiel from the International Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. It took six months to prepare the atrium which began its work in March 1997 with 17 children in a room at a parishioner's house.
By the end of 1998, more space was needed, and it moved to the old Graceville presbytery. Currently in 2002, there are 92 children with ten sessions per week. This atrium is now the headquarters for the National Association of the CGS. The expansion continues.
The CGS is now spreading throughout Australia as more training takes place and new catechists become available. The first Melbourne atrium began in May 2001 with the strong support of the parish priest and school principal at Corpus Christi church and school, Kingsville. In Perth, the first atrium began in January 2001 in the Bethel Community, while a seed-planting weekend was held in Sydney in October 2001.
The CGS approach is quite different from existing RE programs as it uses no catechetical texts and operates outside the school classroom. Rather a room or atrium is used as a "place of simplicity and order, prayer and work and community" which allows the children to come in contact with Scripture, the liturgy of the Church and, for older ones, the whole of sacred history.
There is now an Australian Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which has its headquarters in Brisbane at the Graceville atrium. This Association is closely linked with the International Association which is based in Rome and the USA. The Association has been involved in the organisation of training courses throughout Australia, offering support to catechists and other atria nationwide. A newsletter is published bi-annually.
For further information please direct your inquiries to the Association of the CGS, Anne Delsorte, 19 Randolph Street, Graceville QLD 4075, e-mail: email@example.com, tel (07)33798635 or (07)33796267; or Helen Plant e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org