PALM BEACH GARDENS | Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the innovative religious formation method for children as young as 3 years old, continues to make inroads in the Diocese of Palm Beach. A second series of training classes for instructors began Jan. 13-16, 2023, at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola, where the newest classroom, called an atrium, is located.
Twelve catechists attended the training to become certified in Level 1 (for ages 3 to 6) of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which offers hands-on instruction using methods developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori. One of the ways that makes Catechesis of the Good Shepherd stand out from other forms of faith formation for children are the small tools that model items in church, such as a tabernacle, altar, sacred vessels, ambo (podium) and ambry (container for holy oils), along with materials that teach about various Bible stories.
Facilitator of the recent training was Ann Garrido of Atlanta, who directed the first training sessions for catechists in February 2022 at St. Jude Parish in Tequesta, where a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium is in use. Other parishes with an atrium include St. Lucie in Port St. Lucie and Holy Spirit in Lantana. In the early Christian church, an atrium was originally a place for the catechumens to wait during the celebration of the Eucharist.
Speaking last year about the program and child-size tools, Garrido said, “It’s never meant to be a children’s church. It’s never supposed to be a replacement for the church, but more like where we could prepare ourselves to more fully enter and be full participants in the church’s liturgy. Which means we need to understand and be able to read Scripture (with a catechist’s help), and we need to be able to understand the liturgy of the church and participate more fully, to be able to learn the names of things and what’s going on in the Mass.”
Liliana Soto-Cabrera, diocesan coordinator of faith formation and a certified CGS Level 1 catechist, is now introducing kindergartners to CGS at the cathedral.
“Training is key. In order to offer Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a CGS Level 1-certified catechist is required,” she said. The goal is to certify more catechists so that, in the future, more sessions can be added.
The catechists who began training Jan. 13-16 were from six different parishes, with hopes that more atria will be established across the diocese as the word spreads about the effectiveness of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. A definite plus, Soto-Cabrera said, is that Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito is supportive of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in the diocese.
The bishop told the Florida Catholic that “I am pleased that the Diocese of Palm Beach is able to offer the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which is meant to concretely help a young person, from an early age, to experience and grow in faith, especially in regard to the sacraments. I was very impressed by the enthusiasm and positive response of those who want to utilize the program in the parishes. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd will be a blessing for our diocese in many ways.”
With Level 1, the children begin Catechesis of the Good Shepherd long before they begin traditional preparation for first Communion and reconciliation. From that early age, they are already developmentally prepared to absorb the faith in the CGS environment, Soto-Cabrera said.
“These materials expose the children to Scripture and the liturgy at a very early age, and elicit a sense of awe and wonder, an appreciation for the Mass and a desire to experience more of the Catholic faith as they grow,” she said.
Father Gavin Badway, rector of the cathedral, is excited to welcome Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to his parish. He first heard about the program from his seminary classmate, Father Kevin Nelson, who started an atrium at Holy Spirit in Lantana.
As he learned more about the effectiveness of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Father Badway hoped to someday implement it in a parish. “When I got here, Liliana and Cathy Loh (director of the diocesan Office of Marriage, Family Life, Faith Formation and Youth Ministry) approached me and told me about the program, and I had already heard about it,” he said. “I thought, this is great because the diocese is now on board, so it makes it easier to implement a program rather than me trying to do it on my own.”
The cathedral’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd initiative is a partnership between the diocese and the parish, Soto-Cabrera said. She said it was “God-incidental” that, when the installers were lifting up Jesus in the new Good Shepherd stained-glass window at the cathedral, she was moving the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd materials from the Pastoral Center to the new atrium at the cathedral.
Father Badway said he is pleased to offer Catechesis of the Good Shepherd because research shows a higher likelihood of the students remaining as practicing Catholics into adulthood, while also planting a seed for vocations.