If you happen to be in the basement of St. Joseph church on a Tuesday morning you may be surprised to see a small group of 3 and 4 year olds waiting patiently (though perhaps with a lot of wiggling) to begin their session of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. And if you stuck around you might see a few more surprising things: children intently working on fine motor activities like bead stringing and pouring water; children carefully carrying trays with glass pitchers on them; some quietly setting up a child-sized altar; some purposefully walking around an ellipse; others investigating a map of Israel.
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (or CGS) is a faith formation program that seeks to answer the question “what are the vital religious needs of the child at this particular age.” Using Montessori educational principals, the aim of CGS is to help foster a relationship between God and the child. While a relationship between two individuals can never be forced, it can be encouraged. For the youngest children, CGS sets the stage for this relationship in a few key ways: It introduces Jesus as a real person, who lived in a real country on the very same planet as us! It allows the child time to discover that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who calls His sheep by name and lays down his life for them, and to discover that we are those sheep. And it provides the physical and internal space for the child to grow in contemplation and enjoyment of this relationship.
After months of preparation and many hours of volunteer help, the first CGS session was held on September 29th in the newly renovated Atrium in the St. Joseph basement (the specially prepared environment, which was previously the nursery). There are 7 children enrolled in this pilot year, along with a CGS-trained catechist and an assistant.
“So far the year has been beautiful and challenging at the same time,” says catechist Stephanie Hurtubise. “We are all getting used to this unique environment and new way of learning. But seeing the moments of discovery and joy in the children has been so worth it.” One of these moments of joy came after one little boy was shown the beautiful altar and articles of the Mass. Holding the chalice in his hands the boy simply exclaimed “Praise!”
“Our goal is to expand the program so that by next fall we have multiple sessions and make it available for anyone who would like it,” Stephanie says. “To make that a reality we will need volunteers and people willing to get trained as catechists. But what a rewarding work to see the faith come alive in our children!”