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History of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is the result of a long period of careful observation of children by Sofia Cavalletti and her Montessori collaborator, Gianna Gobbi, in Rome. It began quite by accident, without warning or planning, the way God so often comes into our lives. In 1954 Sofia was a Hebrew and Scripture scholar, comfortable in her role in the academic world, when a mother asked her to give some religious instruction to her son. At first Sofia refused, saying she knew nothing about children. The mother persisted and eventually, Sofia consented. That experience with a 7 year-old changed her whole life. She saw in that child and in numerous other children since, 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. Perhaps it is because Sofia went before the child with no preconceived ideas of what should happen that the child responded with such joy. Certainly her background in Scripture made it possible for her to talk about God in a way that opened and enthused the child. From that day to the present time Sofia and Gianna remind us constantly to look to the child for that sign of a deeply religious life - joy - and to always ask the question: "What face of God is the child telling us he or she needs to see?"

A Global Catechesis

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd has grown and spread amazingly. At last count it is in 37 countries: Australia, Austria, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, England, France, Germany, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Poland, Puerto Rico, Serbia/Bosnia, Slovenia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Uruguay, the United States, and Venezuela.

The National Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (USA)

The forming of a national association for the United States began in the summer of 1983, in a series of meetings at a religious order house in Washington, D.C. Sofia Cavalletti had come from Rome to offer a course that included materials for children and discussions on the theme of Eucharist. During several evenings, Sofia and some of the course participants gathered and explored several questions: Do we need an association? If so what would be its aims? What are the needs we perceive? How do we respond?

Those who were present, from several places in North America, had encountered this catechesis in St. Paul, Chicago, Houston, Washington, D.C., or Rome, Italy. They already shared a vision: a world where the religious life of the child was honored. It was not surprising that the first stated aim of the association was: “To involve adults and children in a religious experience in which the religious values of the child are predominant, keeping in mind that the contemplative nature of the child indicates to the adult a certain way of drawing near to God.”

Proceeding slowly, a street address was chosen and a newsletter was created. The following year a five-member board was elected and discussions were held to choose a name. We were incorporated in the State of Maryland on October 7, 1986 as The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Inc. Our first membership directory listed 54 members.

Today we have three offices: the National Director's office in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Formation Office in  Marietta, Gerogia, and the Membership Office in Urbandale, Iowa; 2,000 members; and about 90 formation courses for adults. There are over 120 formation leaders who offer these courses. We now have an elected seven-member board, but now we also have a staff of eight: a national director, a formation director, two administrative assistants, an office manager, and coordinators for Shepherd's Closet, Membership and Spanish-language CGS.

In the United States there are over 1,250 atria (that we’re aware of) in Catholic, Episcopal and Orthodox settings, as well as in several other Christian churches.