Story by Reagan Scott
(SNR) - This summer Theresa Johnson and Jeanne Wichman will begin teaching part one of a formation course for catechists who wish to instruct children ages three through six through the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was developed in 1954 in Rome, Italy by Sofia Cavaletti and Giana Gobbi, her Montessori collaborator, after observing children and their relationship with God.
The model is based on sharing God’s unconditional love with children through the parable of the Good Shepherd, with specialized education for different age groups.
Level one of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd focuses on ages 3 to 6, level two was developed for ages 6 through 9, while level three is taught for children 9 through 12.
While the program offered this summer and next will be level one formation for catechists, Janet Harrison, a level one catechist at St. Leo Parish in Palmyra, said that she would one day like to see level two and three catechesis available in the Diocese of Lincoln.
This summer’s program will be held at Blessed Sacrament in Lincoln where Johnson is a level one catechist. Sessions will be held July 31, Aug. 1-3 and Aug. 7-10. Part two of the training will take place July 15-18 and July 22-25 in 2020.
There are 25 spots available in the course. Registration and the course fee of $600 are due by July 1.
Harrison likened the training to a “mini-retreat” in which participants will be able to grow in their relationship with Jesus.
“The main focus of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is to help children fall in love with the Good Shepherd, and that has to happen with adults first,” Johnson said. “The role of the adult is to prepare the environment. Jesus is the teacher and we’re the instrument.”
Johnson and Harrison said they hope that the training will attract parents and teachers who wish to learn how to catechize children ages 3 through 6 in their own parishes, and they encourage anyone who may be interested in taking the course to give it prayerful consideration.
“We encourage anyone who may be interested to pray about it and see if they feel called,” Harrison said.
Johnson and Harrison have been working as level one catechists for more than 18 years, and love being able to see young children grow in their relationship with God, and to see God at work in them.
“It’s so rewarding,” Johnson said. “When they are working with the material, they are in communion with God.”
In addition to having a trained catechist working with them, children taking part in the program are taught in a space called an atrium. This special room, designed with their needs and learning in mind, is a space where the children will be able to interact with materials and learning tools that will help them draw closer to God.
“God and a child have a relationship starting from birth, and we give them the tools to develop that relationship,” Harrison said.
Johnson stressed the importance of this covenant relationship and its development early in life. She said, “The Good Shepherd calls them by name and He knows them.”