Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

CGS at St. Francis of Assisi

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) is a religious education curriculum for ages 3-12 that builds upon a child’s natural sense of wonder and their need to learn through rich sensory experiences in order to help the child fall in love with God. Refined over four decades, CGS catechizes each child individually in a unique and beautiful space called the “atrium.” St. Francis of Assisi currently hosts CGS Level I (for ages 3-6) and Level 2 (for ages 7-9).

Because this program requires significant training and preparation to implement, spaces are limited.

REGISTRATION FOR 2021-2022 CATECHESIS IS NOW CLOSED!

Registration for In-Person Catechesis for the 2021-2022 Youth Catechesis year is currently closed. Online registration is still available for our asynchronous online home school option. 

More information can be found at sfatx.org/catechesis

If you’re interested in learning more about this program, want to enroll your child or are interested in becoming a catechist, please contact:

Children’s Catechesis
Laura Nelson // 817-481-2685 ext. 241 // lnelson@sfatx.org

The Methodology & Frequently Asked Questions

A LOOK INTO OUR ATRIUMS

METHODOLOGY

The Content

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is based on two pillars: Scripture and Liturgy. The adult and child immerse themselves in Scripture to ponder who God is, His love for us, His Kingdom, and how we are to live in that Kingdom. By lifting up specific aspects of the Liturgy for the child, the adult helps them to understand the depth of the Mass and to better participate in the life of the Church that Jesus Himself founded.

The Unique Space

In Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the space in which the children gather plays a pivotal role unlike the traditional classroom environment. While a traditional classroom is merely a place in which a subject is taught, the CGS environment, called an atrium, fully immerses the children into the content through beautiful materials which are designed to engage the child’s senses, minds, and hearts. The atrium is designed to be a place of prayerful contemplation of God and His love for us.

The Unique Method

 In Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the adult doesn’t “teach” the children. Instead, the adult invites the children to hear Scripture and to work with materials to help the child enter into deeper meditation on the truths of God and His unending love for us which is revealed in the Bible.  The adult aids the child in meditation by asking questions designed to encourage deeper reflection.  The child’s time of reflection and meditation continues beyond the initial presentation as they work with the materials. Their work helps them come to a greater understanding of God and their relationship with Him on their own timetable – rather than the adult’s.  In CGS, the catechist is keenly aware that the Holy Spirit is the true teacher and that He is present in the space, the catechist, and the child. The catechist is merely His instrument. 

FAQS

What does the word “catechesis” mean?

The word “catechesis” is often defined as oral instruction given to catechumens (those preparing for baptism). It is from a Greek word, related to the word “to teach,” and means “resounding” or “echoing down.” It refers to the passing on of the truths of our faith. Though most of the children we serve are baptized in infancy and are not actually catechumens, their catechesis has been delayed until the earliest ages at which they can participate in it.

Why is it called the Atrium?

In the early Church, the atrium or porch was the area that people new to the Faith studied and learned prior to becoming full members of the Church.  The atrium was a place of learning and exploration which is why we take that name for the prepared space we have created for the child to explore and learn about their Faith. 

Why is it so quiet in there? Why are the lights dimmed?

The Atrium is a place of prayer where we listen closely to God’s voice. As we remind the children, sometimes God doesn’t speak to us in words that we can hear with our ears. Sometimes He speaks to our hearts so we must be very quiet to hear Him speak to us. 

The quiet of the Atrium helps the child and the adult enter into a mindset of peace, calm, and prayer so that their time in the space can be used to reflect on God’s Word in Scripture and His Church through the Liturgy. 

Sometimes, the lights in an atrium are dimmed in order to help provide a calm atmosphere in which we can enter into prayer and meditation. 

Why are the children (pouring beans, polishing silver, folding cloths, cleaning tables)?

By working with their hands in a focused and concentrated way, the child learns control of their body and their mind.  They gain in focus and concentration as well as in control of their own will.  These abilities are essential to enter into prayer and meditation.  So, all of the works of the child that look, from the outside, like busy work, are actually essential foundation to a life of prayer and self-control. 

Why does the teacher (catechist) talk so softly?

The adult (catechist) speaks softly in the Atrium in order to encourage an atmosphere of peace and prayer for the child.  In a world that is often fast and loud, the Atrium provides a place of calm where we can slow down enough to ponder the vastness of God and His endless love for us. 

What does a child learn in the CGS Atrium?

The child learns so much in the atrium! From the foundational skills of self-control and concentration which helps them enter into prayer, to Scripture and Liturgy, the child enters into the Atrium to come to know God and His Church through God’s Words in Scripture and God’s Church in Liturgy.  In a Level I Atrium (for ages 3-6), the child learns the vestments of the priest and their names, the articles (such as the chalice and paten) and gestures (such as epiclesis and offering) of the Mass.  They learn the geography of the land of Israel and the scriptures narratives of Jesus’s Annunciation, birth, and early life. They also learn some of the parables of the Kingdom of God that Jesus gave the disciples to help us to know what it is like to live in God’s Kingdom and what a wonderful kingdom it is! 

Why do you teach the children this way?

The method used in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd shows a deep respect for and knowledge of the child and their needs.  It honors the child and their ability to know and love God at an early age rather than waiting until the child is an adolescent to give them the richness of our Faith.   

How does someone become a catechist (teacher)?

The process to become a certified CGS Catechist is intense and beautiful. Each adult who seeks certification, must attend approximately 16 days of training by a CGSUSA certified Formation Leader who has, at minimum, 8-12 years of experience in CGS.  While it sounds intimidating to take on such a time commitment, adults who attend come away feeling that it was more than worth their time and energy. Many feel that they learn more than the children do because of the depth and richness of the adult courses. 

How can I participate in this program as an adult helper?

Adults can help our program in many ways. Those who are interested, can attend a training course during the summer to become certified to lead an atrium.  Others who may not be able to commit their time in that way, can assist a trained catechist in the atrium by attending our parish training for CGS assistants. Those who want to help but aren’t feeling called to work in the atrium at this time, can assist the adults in the space by volunteering as bathroom monitors and escorting children to the bathroom during their atrium session. 

NOTE: All adults and teens who volunteer in any capacity at our parish must complete our diocesan Safe Environment Awareness training in addition to completing and passing a background check. 

I can’t volunteer in the Atrium. How else can I help the CGS program at St. Francis?

Volunteers are needed to help make materials for the Atrium, to launder washcloths and other cloth materials, and to help maintain and clean the atrium spaces.

What ages do you accept in the Atria at St. Francis?

Currently, the CGS program at St. Francis serves all children in our community ages 3-7. In addition, we have recently started expansion of our program to include some children in 2nd and 3rd grades with plans to continue that expansion until all 3-9 year olds are in CGS.  Our hope is to continue expansion of this program to eventually include 9-12 year olds in the future. 

What is the plan to expand the CGS program?

Our plan is to expand our parish CGS program to include all children ages 3-9 by the beginning of the 2022-2023 catechesis year. Our hope is to also expand our CGS program to include ages 9-12 at some point in the future. 

Videos about the Program 

Watch a CGS presentation given at Mass to help explain the program. 

Hear from some of our parents and catechists about CGS here at St. Francis parish.

Listen as our Coordinator of Children’s Catechesis, Laura Nelson, explains Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

Watch this video demonstrating Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and the impact it can have on children and families.

CGS Explained: A Newsletter Series

The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd

In the Atrium, the message of God’s love for us is ever present; it’s in the Mass, in the Bible, in the way we meditate on God’s Word. But, during Lent, one of the ways we learn of God’s love for us is through the Parable of the Good Shepherd in the Gospel of John (John 10:1-16).

read more
Learning to Wait

Learning to Wait

Sometimes you have to wait for the thing you really, really want.  Maybe it’s the dream job you’ve been working toward. Maybe it’s finally being tall enough to ride the big roller coaster. … In the Atrium, we spend a lot of time teaching the children to wait.

read more
It’s Not About the Stuff

It’s Not About the Stuff

Parents love it when their children make things for them to see.  A card, a picture, schoolwork that they can talk about…it’s all welcome to a mom or dad.  In the CGS Atrium the children often create things.  And just as often, they don’t.

read more

Our Plan to Grow CGS at St. Francis

As part of Phase 2 of the Our Faith, Our Family, Our Future Capital Campaign, St. Francis of Assisi hopes to fund and build the St. Dominic Savio Formation Center which will house a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Atrium Center, complete with a quiet gathering space, private bathroom, and 6 dedicated atria. If you are interested in more information about the campaign or how you can contribute to help build the formation center so we can expand CGS here at the parish, please visit the link below.