Past, Present, and Future Collide

During the week of July 16th, with Angel at the helm, and Todd and I along for the ride, we traversed the countryside—destination the Don Bosco Catechetical Conference in Steubenville, Ohio.  We gathered with 600+ catechists, youth ministers, diocesan personnel, deacons, priests, and bishops from as far away as Nigeria and Latvia.  During this week, my past, present, and future collided…and it is clear that God orchestrated it all.

My past…I attended Franciscan University from 1996 – 2000.  Each year, I arrived in August, flew home at Christmas, and was picked up in May.  Steubie U. was my home, and it still is!  My first stop was Christ the King Chapel and then to my favorite spot on campus: The Portiuncula.  This small stone chapel, modeled after the one St. Francis rebuilt in response to Jesus’ words “Rebuild My Church!”, is on the edge of campus, far removed from the hustle and bustle of student life.  Every semester perpetual adoration is held and attended by the students.  There are ALWAYS people with Our Lord in that little piece of Heaven!  The rest of the morning I wandered campus, haunting old workplaces, classrooms, and I took the stage, once again, in Anathan Theatre, the place of my theatrical debut.  My past came rushing back to me, and it was lovely!

My present…This is the time to prepare for the work of God in my life, here and now.  Our team reviewed, several times, the topics of the seven workshops and the keynote addresses.  I wanted to attend everything because it all seemed to apply to God’s plan for St. John Parish and my role in it.  Workshop after workshop, so many things were affirmed about my present: Family Catechesis, Discipleship, Evangelization, and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd!  I kid you not…God prepared this conference just for me!

My future…Well, that rests in the very near future with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.  You may have heard some talk about it.  You may have read an advertisement in the bulletin looking for craftsmen and artisans.  Maybe you know some fellow parishioners who are training to be catechists.  Perhaps you have worked with me by donating your time, talent, and treasure to build custom shelves, or sew tablecloths for the Liturgical seasons or model vestments.  But, you still may not know quite what it is.  That is because it is difficult to describe; words always seem to fall short.  CGS, as it is affectionately and acronymically referred, is unlike any other catechesis out there (the only catechesis St. Mother Teresa’s order uses), and it is coming to St. John this fall!  I will attempt to give you a glimpse into the Atrium and what makes it so marvelous.

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS), an approach to the religious formation of children, was developed in 1954 by Sofia Cavalletti, a Biblical scholar, and Gianna Gobbi, a Montessorian, based on the observations of the child done by Dr. Maria Montessori.  After much study and observation of children, the Bible story which resonated most strongly with children was the Good Shepherd.  Cavalletti and Gobbi came to the realization that children, even as young as age 3, have a profound capacity for relationship with Jesus, the potential to enter into deep and sustained reflection and meditation on the things of God, and can come to knowledge of God that only He can give.  When and where will a child be able to foster this potential? In the Atrium.

The term atrium, used in the early church, was the space between the outside world and the interior of the church.  Catechumens would come to learn about the faith and wait during the celebration of the Eucharist.  For CGS, the Atrium, ”… is a place of prayer, in which work and study spontaneously become meditation, contemplation, and prayer.  The atrium is a place in which the only Teacher is Christ; both children and adults place themselves in a listening stance before His Word and seek to penetrate the mystery of the liturgical celebration.” (The United States Association of The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd website)

Practically speaking, our Atrium is Room 112 in St. John School.  The physical space is built for the child; all the furnishings and materials are child-sized, real, and beautifully made.  It is designed to foster the work of the child, a sense of wonder and awe, and the opportunity for concentration, meditation, and contemplation on the mysteries of God, His Word, the Liturgy, and His Church.  Some examples of materials with which the children will work are a model altar, tabernacle, and ambo, dioramas for scripture presentations of the Incarnation narratives or the parables, and a model of the priestly vestments and the sacred vessels.  (Everything is presented as models of what is seen and used during the Sacred Liturgy and the children’s awareness at the Holy Sacrifice is heightened because they have worked and prayed with these materials.)  Additionally, there are3-D models and puzzles of the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem, that it is a real place and Jesus is a real person, who really loves them!

There is so much more!  In the very near future, please look forward to an informational session and open house to come and see our St. John Atrium and learn more about what the littlest among us will experience.  Interested in helping to create materials or being an assistant in the Atrium while the children are there?   Please contact me at or give me a call at 517-784-0553.  If you haven’t already gathered this by now, I would love to speak with you about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

Franciscan University of Steubenville, the Don Bosco Conference, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd…my past, present, and future have collided…Thanks be to God! May it be for His honor and glory!