The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

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“Help me come closer to God by myself.”

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a particular way of journeying with children aged between 3 and 12 years toward God.  It is grounded solidly in Scripture and in the Liturgy of the Church, then framed by Montessori educational principles.

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is based on the belief that God and the child are already in a relationship.  There is a deep bond between them that produces in the child a desire to draw near to God.

The task of the catechist is to prepare the environment and make the presentations that call forth a response — to help the child live fully the encounter with God.  Together, both adult and child develop the ability to listen as they ask together, “God, who are you and how do you love us?”

“I am writing to recommend to you the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which was introduced into the Archdiocese of Brisbane when I was auxiliary bishop there....
Everything I have seen about it would lead me to endorse it wholeheartedly as 
a deeply spiritual faith-filled method of catechesis that is utterly respectful of the children involved and the stages of their faith development.” Bishop Michael Putney

Atrium session times in Ku-ring-gai Chase Catholic Parish

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3-6 years: Tuesdays 10.30am to 12.00pm

6-9 years: Tuesdays 4.15 to 5.45pm

9-12 years: Mondays 4.15 to 6.00pm

The Children’s Atrium in Ku-ring-gai Chase Catholic Parish is located behind the Parish Pastoral Centre in the grounds of St Bernard’s Church and Catholic Primary School, 1-19 Woodcourt Road, Berowra Heights NSW 2082.

The Environment: the Atrium

In the early Church, the atrium was a place where the catechumens were prepared for the sacraments of initiation.

For the child, too, the Atrium is a place of quiet reflection, silence and a place of preparation for involvement in the larger worshipping community.  Rather than being a classroom for instruction, it is a place to live out one’s religious life, a place of community and worship.  It is a place that facilitates a conversation with God.

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The Materials

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd bases all that it offers the children on the two pillars of the Sacred Scriptures and the Liturgy of the Church.  The many hands-on materials in the Atrium are closely linked to their biblical and liturgical sources, and each of these materials is designed to meet the vital religious exigencies or deepest spiritual hunger that exist within the child.  The materials are handcrafted by the catechists with the help of the local community and displayed attractively, inviting the children to explore and discover, developing their understanding of and relationship with God at their own pace and rhythm.  As the child works with these materials they will lead the child directly into the presence of God.

Materials cover elements of Scripture, Liturgy and Practical Life (activities related to everyday life and care of the Atrium).

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Scripture  Liturgy
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Practical Life   

How an Atrium session works

Children come to the Atrium for one and a half to two hours per week.  When the children arrive at the Atrium they are introduced to a set of materials, which is accompanied by the kerygma or Proclamation of the Word.  After this the children work individually with materials of their own choice.  This is the time when the child’s heart and mind and spirit are open to God.

“During the time that the children are on their own they are absorbing and internalising the parable,
 their activity can be a passage to prayer or prayer itself.”
Sofia Cavaletti

When the time in the Atrium draws to a close we gather for communal prayer in the prayer corner to conclude our time together in God’s presence. 

Overview of Level 1:

Ages 3-6 years

At this level, the Scripture works include models from the Infancy Narratives — the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi and the Presentation in the Temple — and also works from the Paschal narratives, such as the Last Supper.  Other works include the Kingdom parables, which invite the child to be filled with wonder as they meditate on the value and beauty of God’s Kingdom and on how mysteriously it grows, and the central work in the 3-6 Atrium which is the parable of the Good Shepherd, where the child discovers a God who calls them by name, who loves them and cares for them, feeds them and protects them and who lays down His life for them.  The Scripture works also include a section on the geography of the land of Israel.  The children learn that Jesus is a real person in a real place in a real time.  They also discover that when God chose to send His Son to be with us He didn’t choose a powerful country or a large country but He chose a small and insignificant land.  This lays the foundations for works in the 6-9 and 9-12 atria where the children look at the ways in which God works.  He often chooses the most ordinary, the littlest and the most insignificant through which to reveal His glory.  For the older child what implications will this have when they too experience God’s call?  How will God use them to touch and transform His world?

The Liturgy works in the 3-6 Atrium include models of all that the child sees at Mass — a model altar, model tabernacle, model vestments and so on.  The child who is in a sensitive period regarding the development of language delights in learning the names of all of these sacred items.   The ciborium, the chalice, the paten etc.  The child is introduced to the language of colour.  From the first presentation of the chasubles they learn that purple is getting ready for the feast, white is celebrating the feast, green is for after the feast when it is growing inside of us, and red is for the special feast of the Holy Spirit.  These works give the child a sensorial experience that prepares them for what they will see at Mass.  From the Mass four gestures are lifted out to introduce the 3-6 year old child to the theology of gift.  These are the preparation of the chalice, the epiclesis, the offering gesture and the sign of peace.  In looking at these gestures we reflect on the amazing gift God gives to us and how He comes to be with us, our response to this gift, and finally our sharing of this gift with one another.

In the 3-6 Atrium we also look at the Sacraments, focusing particularly on Baptism.  We present the image of Christ the Light and how He shares this Light with us at Baptism.

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The third type of materials that can be found in an Atrium are Practical Life materials.  These materials help the child to look after the Atrium and in doing so to make it their own.  They include works such as plant watering and leaf washing, dusting and sweeping, flower arranging, wax scraping, brass polishing and many more.  These works not only build dignity and self-esteem within the child, they also develop quiet controlled movement and concentration, which are necessary prerequisites for the deeper meditations on the Scriptures and the prayers of the Mass.

Overview of Levels 2 and 3:

Ages 6-9 and 9-12 years

Works in the 3-6 Atrium are designed to help the child to fall in love with God, to enjoy “being” in relationship with God.  They invite the child into wonder and into the mystery of God and His love for them.  In the 6-9 Atrium the focus changes.  The child is invited to respond now in a new way.  The opportunities to continue to enjoy God’s presence remain, but now added to this the child is invited to consider responding to God’s call, to begin to understand that God is inviting him or her to make a response to help Him in the building of His kingdom.

In a moral sensitive period, this age child now wants to make sense of the world around him or her and to discover his or her place in it.  Having fallen in love with the Good Shepherd, they naturally want to follow the guidelines and advice of the One who loves them so much.  We want to fire the heart of this age child with a vision of the world as God desires it to be.  We do this by using the Greatest Commandment and the Maxims and ask the question “How different would our world be if all humankind lived by these ideals?” What choices can we make to live in accord with God’s plan, and how does God reach out to us and help us when we fail?

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 The True Vine The Greatest Commandment 

The central theme for these age groups is the True Vine.  The children continue to be invited to enjoy God’s presence, to remain in the Vine, to experience the sap of the Holy Spirit flowing through them.  They are also invited to bear fruit, to respond to this God of love with the offering of their lives as part of the Vine.  The children also go deeper into the study of the Scriptures, looking at the Moral Parables and Parables of Mercy.  They study more fully the Mass and the many prayers that make up this one prayer of the Church.

Works on the History of the Kingdom of God initiate the child into an understanding of God’s plan from the beginning of time.  As they look at this history they realise that we are part of this history.  God’s plan begins with the great act of Creation, reaches its climax at the moment of Redemption and stretches forward to the moment of its fulfilment at Parousia when Christ will come again and God will be all in all.  In this history, there are pages yet to be written.  These pages are the blank pages of our tomorrows.  How will we write on them?  What choices will we make that will help to spread the Light of God’s love to all humankind?

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Sacred History chart

In the 9-12 Atrium, the themes of the 6-9 Atrium are developed.  The response of the child now goes much deeper, making life choices that will have an impact on the rest of their lives, always falling deeper in love, yet moving forward with a deeper determination to follow wherever the Lord will lead, refining and consolidating all that has gone before.  Works on typology, the miracles, the Mass and the Sacraments reveal God’s plan ever more deeply so that the call of God is echoed over and over and the covenant between God and the child is forged deeper and deeper.

What Children like about the Atrium

"I learn about God, and I learn songs.  I like going to the Atrium because I can make bread.  I also love flowers in the Atrium" – Chloe, 4
"Painting, snuffing out candles, singing songs at the end" – Tommy, 3


"When we gather in the prayer corner, and place new things on our prayer table" – Zinta, 5
"I like pasting, giving flowers, and singing" – Natalie, 3


"Painting and singing" – Yuri, 4
"Whenever I come back from the Atrium I feel happy and good because I learn about God and Jesus and love" – Ian, 7
"We learn more about God and listen to the Bible and then do some works.  I enjoy the songs and prayers when we gather in the prayer corner" – Alodie, 8
"I like learning about God, listening to the Bible, doing works about God.  Also I enjoy the songs and prayers, and reading the book of Psalms" – Isara, 7
"Using the resources, changing the liturgical colours on the prayer table, and the special seasonal activities for example the Last Supper" – Ashley, 11

What Parents Say

"I like how my boys can independently choose activities that are fun but also help them learn and grow in relation to the Word of God!  I love singing with them."
"I like the quiet and peaceful moments in the Atrium.  I can feel that children are with God while they are in the Atrium.  At the same time learning about God at a very young age."
"It provides a space/environment where our child can develop spiritually at her own pace.  It provides spiritual nourishment and it is a gentle introduction to God’s Word.  A wonderful space for learning, exploring and reflection."
"My daughter often sings songs about God that she learnt in the Atrium and I can see how much she loves it.  I appreciate that she can have this opportunity to feel and learn that God is always there for you."
"I like the look of all the resources and that my daughter is learning about the faith in a hands-on way and seems to enjoy it."
"My son seems to enjoy going to Mass and be aware of what’s happening during Mass since he learnt things like the liturgical colours, altar and tabernacle.  He is happy to go to the Atrium."

What Observers Say

"Thank you for allowing me to observe the beautiful work that is being done at the Atrium.  Watching the presentation really helped the children get in touch with the Nativity story and as a musician I really appreciated how the message of the story was also reinforced through music.  I know that I often hear my daughter singing songs at home that she learnt here at the Atrium.
What has really been a revelation to me is the work that the children do.  I love the way that they choose the work themselves and are able to focus and work independently – this self-directed work at this age was a real surprise to me.  Reading through the information really helped me understand the principles underlying the activities I saw.  Truly this is a work of the Holy Spirit!"
"Very good atmosphere.  Children are left free and allowed to do as they like.  Catechist is very kind, gentle and helpful.  Silence in the Atrium makes us feel that we are in the presence of God.  A lot of materials are provided for the children to make use of.  Children observe each other and learn from others; are very interested in praying and learn the importance of prayer.  Christian symbols help them.  An atmosphere of doing things independently."
"This is a great place in developing the child’s spiritual well-being."
"I feel that children in the Atrium are blessed and really being guided by the Holy Spirit."

History and Vision

The vision for this faith formation began in 1954 with Dr Sofia Cavaletti, a Hebrew and Scripture scholar, and her colleague Professor Gianna Gobbi, a Montessori educator.  Dr Cavaletti began her work of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd with young children, founding the children’s centre or Atrium in Rome.  Working with children in this particular approach, she found that whatever the children’s culture, they have vital religious needs and respond in similar ways to the most essential elements of the Christian message.

Because of the essentiality of this form of catechesis, it is able to cross-cultural and denominational barriers.  Today the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd operates in many parishes and schools in every continent of the world.  It is found in Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and other Christian denominations.

For more information please contact:

Natasha Steele (Ku-ring-gai Chase Catholic Parish)
0409 621 817 or email:

Ku-ring-gai Chase Catholic Parish Pastoral Centre
(02) 9456 2450 or email:

OR National Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
(07) 3379 8635 or see