In the side chapel of our church is a space — known as the atrium — for children to encounter God and develop their relationship with Him. Catechists trained in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd guide these children, who learn the stories of the Bible through hands-on materials and real worship experiences.
Nancy Hilker, the program coordinator, has been part of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for about 10 years and has found great joy in watching children encounter God and grow in their faith.
“It’s a retreat experience for the child,” Nancy says. “They’re taken out of their normal environment and welcomed into a place where it’s quieter and more peaceful.”
Every lesson begins at the altar, as children greet and praise the Lord. Over time, the children grow in their appreciation for silence, beauty, and prayer. The atrium is filled with beautiful, handmade materials and dioramas that bring Scripture to life. Through the gentle guidance of the catechists, the children are introduced to new ideas when they are ready.
Since Catechesis of the Good Shepherd follows the natural inclinations of the child, catechists are always observant as to what the children are ready for next. This observation and response provides opportunities for impactful discussions, even with little children.
“We have these profound moments and profound things that the children say that show they understand deeply the realities of the spiritual life,” Nancy says.
When allowed to explore and enter deeply into worship in a way that meets their mental and spiritual needs, the children thrive and lay a strong foundation for their future spiritual life.
At St. Mary School, all the children take part in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. For parishioners not enrolled in the school, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is offered on Mondays from 4 to 6 p.m. for children ages 3-6 and 6-9.
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at our parish is possible thanks to the dedication of the catechists who have gone through the 90 hours of training required to teach at one of the three age levels. The beauty of our atrium is thanks to the many parishioners who offered their time to help make the materials and to Fr. Fons who gave us the use of the chapel.
While Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is for the spiritual development of the children, Nancy has found that her faith has been deepened by her training, preparing the environment, and watching the children learn. The program is always looking for more volunteer assistants, material makers, and anyone interested in being trained as a catechist.
“It’s a deeply converting experience,” Nancy says. “You’re meditating on the Scriptures, on the child, and creating an environment for the child, but you’re in it yourself. Watching the children fall in love with the Lord is so rewarding.”
To learn more or to register your child for the upcoming year, visit stmarywilliamston.org/catechesis-of-the-good-shepherd or contact Nancy Hilker at email@example.com.