I first encountered Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) in 2012 when visiting a cousin in England. She took me into an Atrium − a joyful and peaceful place where young children can learn about God in a hands-on environment. I was immediately drawn to its beauty and simplicity.
In the early church, before they were baptised, catechumens were taught about the faith in the Atrium (front room) of a church building. The Atrium for the CGS is filled with materials like models of an altar, baptismal font and vestments, and items from parables like mustard seeds and a model good shepherd (complete with model sheep). Children who attend the Atrium are free to choose to work with these materials any time they wish.
CGS was founded in Rome in the 1950s by Sophia Cavalletti and Montessori educator Gianna Gobbi. Together they developed materials to teach children about liturgy, and about Jesus and his life. CGS is unlike any other catechesis that I have encountered. Instead of providing children only with information (catechism), it allows the Holy Spirit to work through the materials and touch their hearts. CGS helps a child develop a real, personal relationship with God. I believe that it is far more important that we have this relationship than that we know the answers to all the catechism questions. This relationship is the firmest foundation of a Christian life.
When I returned from England I began teaching scripture in my local state school. When I experimented and brought in my CGS model altar for the students to work with, they were fascinated. My early dabbling in CGS was confirmed with a call from God to begin an Atrium when I moved back to the Hunter.
Atriums need a dedicated teaching space. We are very fortunate that Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Beresfield will host the first Atrium in this diocese in its old parish office. We are busily preparing the Atrium space to welcome the children. There is a lot of woodwork, sewing, painting, varnishing, shopping and assembling of flat packs to do before we’re ready. We are grateful to the many skilled people who have volunteered their time and resources to help us as we begin.
Former ACTiv8 Youth Leader Ailis Macpherson and I are trained Good Shepherd Catechists and will run the Atrium with the help of a number of volunteers. We are aiming to open the Atrium for 3-6 year-olds in February 2017.
If you would like more information or would like to send your child to the Atrium, email Atrium.