The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was developed in the 1950s in Rome by Sofia Cavalletti, a scholar of the bible and Judaism, with Gianna Gobbi, a Montessori educator, who were preparing together a small group of children for First Communion. They had been asked to do so by Adele Costa Gnocchi, one of Maria Montessori’s most far-sighted collaborators, who had opened a Children’s House in the center of Rome for the education of little ones.
Costa Gnocchi had long intended to renew an experience that had begun many years earlier in Barcelona and that for various reasons could not be continued. This experience led to the birth of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
Math and the Good Shepherd
Going back to the origins is useful for understanding, and it is always necessary in order to fully understand how a certain experience has come down to us and is still alive today. In Barcelona, about a century ago, after the First World War, a teacher – in order to help children in the elementary classes understand addition and subtraction – had discovered a simple but effective method: using small wooden cubes placed one above the other, or separated. Amassing the cubes means addition, separating them instead, subtraction, and so on.
The teacher, who was Catholic, found herself attending a liturgical Congress and asked one of the speakers, the Abbot of the Benedictines of Montserrat, what was important to initiate children into the experience of faith and prayer. The abbot replied promptly: “The Bible and the liturgy, especially Mass.”
But how to teach them to children? Attending Mass with their parents was certainly fundamental, but it did not facilitate their involvement and active participation in the liturgy. So began research on how to interest children in understanding the Mass. It was decided to present them with some suitable material to make them understand the parts. Somehow, the kind of material used for the mathematical method came into play. The task was not easy, yet it led to the discovery of children’s ability to understand the mysteries of faith. From there she began a search for a catechesis that later took the name “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.”