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Spiritual needs of young children explored at recent workshop presented by leaders of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

Spiritual needs of young children explored at recent workshop presented by leaders of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski

The spiritual needs of young children were discussed at a recent workshop hosted by three leaders who offer the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to children ages 3-to-6-years in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon. 

Lisette Fontaine, Cynthia Foster and Jane Korvemaker (l-r in photo) presented the Saturday afternoon workshop to parents, catechists, parish and ministry leaders Feb. 10, 2018 at St. Francis Xavier parish in Saskatoon, the site of one of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) atriums now operating in the diocese. An atrium is the sacred space set up as part of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to help young children explore and experience scripture and liturgy as they deepen their relationship with God in a prayerful, hands-on environment. 

A teacher in the Catholic school system with experience in a Montessori school, Foster offers CGS at the St. Francis atrium, aided by her two older children. Korvemaker, who has a BA in theology and is the mother of three young children, started the CGS atrium at St. Patrick parish in Saskatoon in 2016. The mother of five children, Fontaine began using the CSG program in sacramental preparation in 2015 and established the bilingual Trinity atrium in 2016, serving the parish cluster of Prud’homme, St. Denis and Vonda. 

During the afternoon workshop, the three leaders provided an overview of CGS, which was created some 60 years ago in Rome by scripture scholar Sofia Cavelletti and educator Gianna Gobbi, with the developmental needs of children in mind. CGS is grounded in the philosophy of early childhood educator Maria Montessori, with gentle and age-appropriate catechesis offered in the atrium designed to nurture a child’s inherent awe and connection to God, explained the three local CGS catechists. 

Kovermaker described how children often respond differently than adults, because of their particular developmental stage. Children ages 3 to 6 years have a number of sensitivities, such as an attraction to order, a craving for the security and safety of having a fixed point of reference, or a love of repetition, she said. Children of that age also often have a profound sense of wonder and awe, and a capacity for “listening to God” in stillness and silence, if that is modeled for them, added the catechist. 

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd uses a number of scripture passages that particularly resonate with young children, including the infancy narratives (about the birth of Jesus), the Kingdom of God parables, the Good Shepherd, the Last Supper and the empty tomb, listed Korvemaker. 

Practical ideas for nurturing the spiritual life of young children include setting up a small prayer area – “a place where we come to be with God” – changing colours of cloth to reflect the different liturgical seasons; placing items of beauty and significance in the prayer space; slowing down to a child’s pace and focusing on only one thing at a time; and recognizing that prayer can take many forms for children – including silence, working with hands-on material, and drawing. 

A simple activity of mixing flour and yeast to create dough and watch it rise was modeled by Korvemaker, who methodically mixed the materials and carefully integrated the activity with the scripture passage about Christ’s parable of the leaven. 

“When it comes to Christian mystery, children can take that mystery,” Kovermaker said. “You don’t have to dumb it down.” 

The workshop included testimonials from the catechists, from a parent and from a pastor. 

“The founders of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd write that in the covenant relationship there is a meeting between God, who is love, and the child, who is so rich in love…and they form a relationship,” said Foster, describing the joy of being a catechist and helping children to deepen their relationship with God. She is now taking Level 2 and 3 training to provide CGS to older children. 

Fontaine shared how her search for sacramental preparation materials led her to CGS after she heard about the program in a moms’ group presentation by Linda Funk, who established the first atrium in Saskatchewan at St. Vincent of Lerins Orthodox parish in Saskatoon. 

In addition to operating an atrium in the Trinity pastoral region, Fontaine continues to use CGS training and materials in offering sacramental preparation. “The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a gift,” she said. “Children are so receptive to God and to God’s unconditional love.” 

Fontaine also stressed how the program has nurtured her own faith. “I have been able to really ponder what God is trying to tell me in my faith journey. As a catechist, I must also be at the children’s pace… so I have to ponder. I have to experience silence. It has been such a gift to me to have that opportunity.” 

Trinity pastoral region pastor Rev. Steve Morrissey is also enthusiastic about the program and the impact it is having on families. “I think it is fabulous. We have a lot of young children in our parishes,” he said, noting that as a homilist he tries to provide a message that resonates with all ages, including the youngest children. “I think it is a beautiful thing for everybody in the parish to be able to grasp what is going on in Church.” 

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd impacts the whole family, said one mother, describing the program as “an amazing gift” that helps her child know Jesus, internalize the stories of scripture and understand what is happening at Mass. 

The workshop also included a tour of the St. Francis Xavier parish CGS atrium, created with help from parishioners. An atrium is the sacred space where children experience Bible stories and hands-on materials that bring alive the scriptures, prayer and liturgy in the CGS program.

More catechists are needed to help more children experience the gifts of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, participants heard. 

A week-long CGS training session for certification as a Level 1 (ages 3 to 6 years) catechist will be offered April 22-27 in Saskatoon, led by Dr. Debbie Zeni, MD, and Carolyne-Marie Petch from Ontario. Financial assistance for training is available through the diocesan Education of Laity fund or the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Association of Canada (CGSAC). 

Those who take the CGS certification training will be equipped to establish an atrium – but would also be able to gain experience serving as a CGS catechist at an existing atrium in the diocese, noted the three leaders. 

The deadline to register is March 23. For more information contact Cynthia Foster at lcfoster [at] or (306) 955-4854 (see more details below).

A training session for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a program that recognizes and nurtures young children’s love for Jesus, will be offered  April 22-27, 2018 in Saskatoon.  This Level 1 Part A course covers all one needs to know to offer Year 1 of catechesis for 3-6 year olds. The program is open to anyone interested in nurturing the faith and spirituality of children! 

A minimum of 10 registrations are required by the March 23 deadline in order to proceed with the April 22-27 course, which will feature facilitators and leaders from Ontario. Financial assistance is available for those taking the training. Contact Cynthia Foster lcfoster [at] to register or for more information call (306) 955-4854 or visit the website at: A free bonus Sacramental Preparation workshop for those taking the training will also be available Saturday, April 21.

Hands-on and grounded in a Montessori understanding of the developmental needs of children, the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd recognizes the great spiritual capacity of even the youngest children to form a meaningful relationship with God, as well as to understand, participate and respond to scripture and liturgy, and express their deep faith.

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd "atriums" -- the sacred space where children experience Bible stories and hands-on materials that bring alive the scriptures, prayer and liturgy -- have now been established by several local catechsits at St. Vincent Lerins Orthodox Church, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, and St. Patrick Catholic Church in Saskatoon, as well as at Vonda, SK for the Trinity Catholic parishes. 

One focal point of the atrium is a model of the sheepfold, with figures of Christ the Good Shepherd and the sheep – which can be set up next to a model of an altar surrounded by the people of God – all used in presenting the Parable of the Good Shepherd and the meaning of the Eucharist. A variety of centres throughout the atrium permit children to become fully and prayerfully engaged in scripture and the liturgical year, through hands-on activity and reflective experience.

CGS materials are not purchased “ready made” but are prayerfully developed by the adult leaders, who themselves undertake a spiritual journey of deepening and expressing faith as part of preparing to offer the program. 

In CGS, the catechist is not considered a teacher – “remembering that the only teacher is Christ” ¬ but rather as one who journeys and celebrates with the children in respect and humility, grounded in the Word of God, the liturgical year, and the sacramental life of the Church.

For more information about the Catecheis of the Good Shepherd and the April 22-27 training opportunity, please contact: Cynthia Foster at lcfoster [at] or for for more information call (306) 955-4854 before the March 23 registration deadline.

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