FAITH MATTERS: Have you heard of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd?

In most cases, when I have asked this question to members of the diocesan community their answer has usually been no. Tucked away in the parish hall at the Our Lady of Lourdes Beresfield in the Chisholm Parish region, the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd have been in operation since 2017.

You may have seen our interesting Church Without Walls piece several years ago, sharing the story of Siubhan Sadler, a Catechist in the Chisholm region of Maitland Newcastle. As a reminder, you might like to watch it again at

The Association, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, has a rich history which was the result of a long period of careful observation of children by Sofia Cavalletti and her Montessori collaborator, Gianna Gobbi, in Rome in the 1950’s. The two women became friends and devoted their life’s work to children. The way Catechesis of the Good Shepherd began was quite by accident, without warning or planning, the way God so often comes into our lives.  Sofia liked to say, “We started without knowing we started”. Their work provided a way of being in the presence of God that is both unique to the child and a gift to the adult who stops long enough to notice. Since that time, the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd has grown and spread to more than sixty-five countries.

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a child-focused program that meets in a specially prepared environment called “The Atrium”.  In this environment, the children are given the opportunity to develop their own relationship with God using the hands-on materials to further their meditation. Using a Montessori philosophy all the works in the Atrium are based around a methodology of responsibility, respect, and independence. When a child finishes work, they then prepare the workstation to be set up for the next person to use. The catechist's job is to present the materials to the children and then step back as the Holy Spirit leads them. The children are presented with works on Scripture, Liturgy and Practical Life.

“The Good Shepherd calls His own sheep by name and leads them out.”

These are some of the first words of scripture that are given to each child who comes to the Atrium. All the children come to know that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He calls each of them by name to know Him and follow Him. Children as young as three come to the Atrium and think about how the Good Shepherd takes care of His sheep, just like their parents take care of them.

The program currently runs on Wednesdays during the school term; sessions for 3–6-year-olds in the morning and 6–12-year-olds in the afternoon after school. The Atrium has had a major impact on the families who have attended. The following parents have provided feedback on their experience.

“I was struggling to engage my 5 and 4-year-old boys in what happened during Sunday Mass. I tried different things, but it all seemed too far away for them. Then I met Siubhan at a diocesan activity. She had a model altar set up with an altar cloth, chalice, paten, little candles, and a crucifix, all at the children’s size! I was fascinated as much as my boys! I remember saying, “I want my children to have access to this!” Seven years later we still attend. I found the Atrium to be a bridge that helped my children understand what happens at Mass and in the sacraments. I could explain things to them with words and that would give them ‘head’ knowledge. But time spent in the Atrium, engaging with materials, listening to God’s word, and interacting with other children, has given them a deeper ‘heart’ knowledge, one that I’m hoping will stay with them till later in life. My now almost 3-year-old started attending. It was beautiful to see the joy in her face when she sang an Atrium song and her older siblings joined in with her, actions and all. She felt part of something.”

“I have learnt so much of the Catholic faith, both spiritually and in scriptures. I have been able to find calm and grow in faith and friendship with the parents of children. Finding community, sharing of experiences, parents and praying together. My boys have expressed such love for Christ and how they see Him in the mundane things/every day. My children turn to prayer more in times of distress and loves God deeply. My children’s faith and understanding of the Catholic teachings is strong. The friendships developed with their fellow Atrium members is beautiful.”

“My experience of the Atrium has allowed me to grow, form friendships with other adults/parents. It has deepened my faith and prayer life. The Atrium has been great for my child who has been attending since she was 3, now 9. She has formed friendships, learnt to work well with other children in the many varied activities they have to choose from. It has deepened her faith, prayer life and love of God and neighbour. She still looks forwards to the Atrium each week.”

“The Atrium is a good place for children. It is quiet, orderly, well organised and stimulating. It offers many activities that can help the children know God. The adults do not directly teach the children about God, but they help them to learn about God. The workstations like the altar corner, the scripture corner, the Good Shepherd corner are all designed to develop awareness of the presence of God. I like the arrangement of the furniture in the Atrium. There is a quiet place for each child to do their “work”. Each desk and chair are well placed for quiet work. The children are well-trained. They know what activities they can do. They know how to use the “works” and how to put them away. Most of the children were engaged the whole time I was observing. They went from one activity to another without help from the adults. They obviously enjoyed doing the “work” that they chose to do.”

“Our family has been grateful to enrol our 4-year-old in the Atrium this term. Initially, I was unsure about this unique approach, as I had not experienced formation like this as a child, but we have seen beautiful fruits of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd since the first visit. The Atrium has given our child a special dedicated place where he can reflect on the mysteries of God and start to develop his own unique relationship with Jesus. After his first visit to the Atrium, he shared with me "Mum, do you know that Jesus is alive?" He asked me "why did they kill Jesus" and "why did they kill him if he was so good?" The questions have only continued since then and have been confronting and humbling regarding my own ability to articulate these concepts. While walking in the dark together one night on a camping holiday, he noticed the lights on at other campsites and told me, "God is a light, he lights the way in the darkness." Now each Sunday at Mass, he checks the colour of the priests' vestments to see what liturgical season we are in, so he can tell Siubhan and Claire. He has shared the following song with me regarding the colours - "Purple and green, red and white, colours of the year; purple and green, red and white, remind us of the Light. Purple is for preparation, white is for celebration, green is for the growing time, red is for Pentecost." All from memory, as I did not learn this song as a child!"

"My son prays with me with renewed interest during the day. He has shared songs with me, "God's Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path", he says Siubhan sings that before reading the Word of God (I'm not sure if this is true, but I believe it probably is!). He will occasionally wash his hands "the way we do at the Atrium" with meticulous care, cleaning each finger individually until the process is complete. He has requested a place for his artwork, "like they do at the Atrium," and occasionally after he does something organised, he'll say "Siubhan taught me that at the Atrium." Wow, I have already been inspired to make positive changes in our home and in our prayer life, thanks to the Atrium. My husband is not religious, but supportive and feels Christian values are beneficial for our children. I can use all the help I can get sharing the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith. Claire and Siubhan as catechists in the special Atrium space, presenting our son with the opportunity to interact with God's Word using tangible resources and appropriate age-level catechism is invaluable. The Atrium is meeting our son’s needs in a variety of ways and I look forward to the future fruits, as well as his little brothers being able to attend.”

The Atrium at Beresfield are holding open days during Term 2. If you would like the opportunity to visit and learn more about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, please register at:

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