Roanoke, Virginia
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Atrium at St. James



The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program of Christian formation for children is based on the "self-teaching" principles of Maria Montessori.  The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd first came into being in 1954 in Rome and today exists in churches of many denominations around the world. 





Interpersonal relationships are always a mystery, especially when that relationship is between God and a child.  The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is based upon the premise that there is a deep bond between God and the child which produces in the child the desire to draw near God. God is living and an acting reality for us.

In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd the classroom, called the Atrium, is a spiritual environment - more like a place of worship or a retreat center than a traditional classroom. It is perceived as "holy ground" where Christ may be encountered in Word and Action; a place for community and worship where the spiritual life of the child is nurtured, and a place of work that becomes prayer and conversation with God.  It is a place that, in Gianna Gobbi's words, "creates the conditions for silence and reverence and helps the children focus on and listen to God."

In the Atrium, teachers are not called teachers, but "catechists." This is because of the premise of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program that the Holy Spirit is the teacher --the catechist simply provides tools and assists the child.  In the Atrium children have the opportunity to respond in their own way to the material presented (which might be a parable, an explanation of the altar, or about a sacrament). The program uses a hands-on approach, providing children a chance to work with three-dimensional maps, miniature environments and figures, art supplies, and practical activities like pouring and sorting, which help center the child for spiritual work.  After a theme has been presented, the child is free to choose an activity that will make possible an inner dialogue with the "Interior Teacher." The catechist's role is to prepare the environment and to make presentations that evoke a response from the child's response rather than "pour in" information as in traditional instruction.


The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was developed in Italy by Sofia Cavaletti and Gianna Gobbi. Sofia Cavaletti was a Hebrew scholar who spent 30 years researching the religious development of children. Gianna Gobbi was an educator who had worked closely with Maria Montessori. Cavaletti observed children in different cultural settings and different parts of the world and noticed that themes kept emerging which engaged the children on a spiritual level. For example, she found that younger children were especially responsive to the image of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, who protects his sheep. She found that Baptism and the Eucharist also resonated with younger children. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program joins Cavaletti's theological insights into children's spiritual development with the educational principles developed by Montessori. 

To learn more about children and spiritual formation:

The National Association of the Catechesis of the Good Sheperd

Center for Children and Theology

CNY feature story on the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd by John Burger, "Loving Relationship: Good Shepherd program helps children 'find a home with Jesus' " - ft070899.htm

Books on spiritual formation of children and on the Catechesis program: 
The Religious Potential of Children, by Sofia Cavaletti 
      Listening to God With Children, by Gianna Gobbi 
      The Good Shepherd and the Child, by Sofia Cavaletti. 

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