A Brief History of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
and the Work at St. Athanasius Orthodox Church
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) began in the dynamic environment of 1950's Rome, Italy, as one woman accepted the invitation to prepare some children for their participation in the Eucharist. Dr. Sofia Cavalletti, a well-known Biblical scholar, began this work and was soon connected with Gianna Gobbi, a Montessori protégé. Using the Montessori developmental model as a guide, they undertook an investigation into the spiritual development of children, and sought to help facilitate that growth through a meticulously prepared environment centered on Christ, based on the Bible, and oriented to the Liturgy. Over the last 50+ years, this work has unfolded around the world, under the auspices of many denominations, and across a spectrum of cultural and socio-economic divides, to reveal what appears to be the essence of childhood spirituality.
CGS came to the United States in the 1970's, as many who had traveled to Rome had seen it and wanted to implement it here. Cavalletti herself was invited to come and lead these courses for adults. Since that time, the number churches using CGS in the United States has grown exponentially, as parents, clergy, and educators seek to meet the vital needs of children in the process of their spiritual formation.
In 2003, with the blessing of Father Nicholas, a member of St. Athanasius Church contacted the National Association for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to find out if the work had spread among those of the Orthodox faith. The response was "no." Training began immediately to see if the method was conducive to the formation of our children. Much of it is already in line with Orthodox theology and praxis, as Father Nicholas aptly noted while touring an established atrium: "I see Orthodoxy dripping all over this place!"
In 2005, His Grace Bishop JOSEPH declared the Year of the Youth, and blessed us to open our first parish atrium. We opened the Level I atrium, with children aged 2 ½ to 7 that year. Witnessing the distinct needs of the older children, we opened the Level II atrium for children 6-9 the following year. And in September 2009 we opened our Level III atrium for children 9-12.
Working directly with Dr Sofia Cavalletti and those who have studied with her, as well as Orthodox clergy and scholars around the country, our research and adaptation process began in 2003 and is ongoing. It is truly a labor of love. The power of our catechetical experiences with the children has deepened our understanding of our faith and practice as Orthodox Christians, as well as our love for God and the children. We firmly believe that the Catechesis is a unique opportunity to assist our children (and the adults who serve them) in living their faith, and could be an immense gift to the greater community of the Church.
Copyright 2009, Seraphima Sierra Butler/Updated September 2013 by St. Athanasius Church CGS Team