| By Danielle McGrew Tenbusch

Our Lady of Lake Huron

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Brings Faith to Life

Harbor Beach

Grades:  PK4-8



Catechist Beth Guza recalls a conversation she had recently with a high school student who had spent years learning about her faith in the Atrium.

“She told me that if it hadn’t been for all the years in the Atrium, she would not know her faith. She is excited to live out her faith because she understands God’s plan. She understands his love for her,” Beth said.

As a catechist at Our Lady of Lake Huron Catholic School in Harbor Beach, Beth Guza and fellow catechist Lori Murawske teach Catholicism to young children using a method called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in a prepared environment, called the Atrium. The Atrium is a sacred space for spiritual growth.

The Atrium includes models of things used in liturgy, such as the altar and items in the liturgical colors, and materials relating to parables, the geography of Israel and the life of Christ. These materials, such as a model of ancient Jerusalem and a liturgical calendar made of small wooden pieces, like a puzzle, facilitate faith-based learning and exploration.

The philosophy of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program is that even very young children have a religious life in which God is present to them. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd speaks to children's hearts and allows them the opportunity to ponder the great mystery of God. Level One is centered around the love of the Good Shepherd, while Level Two focuses on the image of the True Vine parable as they prepare for their First Holy Eucharist.

“We’re all really born with this deep, innate sense of God. We don’t give children credit for how much they understand. They come in here already knowing there is a God who loves them,” said Lori. “They come in here with that relationship … and the Atrium helps them tap into that.”

A typical class includes time for prayer, song and a presentation based on age-appropriate Scripture to children. Each child is then invited to internalize and respond to the presentation by working with the materials themselves.

These items, Lori notes, are not toys but rather models of the items in church, intended for learning rather than playing.

“A book program is not able to integrate the child the way this can,” Beth said. “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd brings faith to life.”

Time in Atrium is based on the liturgical cycle and each presentation leads to the next. Children also are ready to be part of a community and learn more about the depth of their faith in Level Two, where they also prepare to receive the sacrament of First Holy Communion.

“The children readily connect God’s plan and come to know that everything under the sun is ordered to God,” Beth said.

Children also learn about the parts of Mass, including the gestures, Sign of the Cross, and connecting the Eucharist with the Last Supper. Even the very young children learn the proper names for items at Mass.

“(Atrium) gives them the language to put with the actions,” she said. “It’s an introduction to them so when they go to Mass, it’s familiar to them.”

Often, when parents tour the Atrium, they express wonder and remark that they wish they, too, could have had this kind of catechesis as a child.

Lori, who works with kindergarteners and preschoolers in the Level One Atrium, says working with the children has helped her own faith to grow as she contemplates what Jesus meant when he told his disciples they must be childlike.

“I learn just as much from the children as they do from me. Watching them work with the materials— it’s really special. I feel so blessed to be able to observe them when they are working and learning,” she said. “It really inspires me.”