Finger Lakes parish uses different methods to teach the faith - Catholic Courier

Finger Lakes parish uses different methods to teach the faith

Last fall, St. Peter Parish in Shortsville joined the ranks of the more than a dozen Catholic parishes and schools that offer Catechesis of the Good Shepherd within the Diocese of Rochester.

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is an approach to faith formation that emphasizes quiet contemplation and the child-centered Montessori educational method as it strives to nurture deep relationships between children and God. The addition of this program complements St. Peter Parish’s existing faith-formation program of traditional classroom education, said Sarah Herendeen, St. Peter’s faith-formation and youth-ministry coordinator.

“There are classes for everyone,” Herendeen remarked. “I just want to spread the word of God and am trying every way I possibly can.”

Hands-on approach uses Scripture, liturgy to teach Catholic faith

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which was relatively unknown in the Diocese of Rochester just 10 years ago, is built upon the twin pillars of Scripture and liturgy and implements a hands-on approach to fostering children’s prayerful, enjoyable relationships with God, according to Michelle Kuhner, one of the catechists in St. Peter’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program.

“This approach has an incredible way of putting the faith of the church into the hands and hearts of the child, effectively presenting the most essential realities of the Catholic faith to even very young children in a way that is appealing, beautiful and engaging,” she said.

Kuhner completed 100 hours of training on this approach while she was living in Florida and then put Catechesis of the Good Shepherd on local parishes’ radars after moving to New York. In 2018, she hosted a two-week training session that prepared approximately 25 catechists to work with children between the ages of 3 and 6, in what is classified as Level I Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Several additional training sessions have taken place since then, and the diocese currently is home to more than 50 trained level-one catechists, as well as at least 15 trained level-two catechists, who work with children between the ages of 6 and 9.

Sessions take place in a designated area called an atrium, which is a quiet environment that contains materials intended to help students learn to concentrate and focus or to grow closer to God. A typical atrium has places for children to arrange flowers, pour water and wash their hands and also features miniature chalices, patens, candles and sets they can use to act out Bible stories, such as the parable of the good shepherd.

Currently, there are at least 16 atria at schools and parishes throughout the Diocese of Rochester, Kuhner said. The growing popularity of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd speaks to how it meets children’s developmental and spiritual needs in a way that brings them joy, she said.

Children come to know and love God in church, classroom

At St. Peter Parish, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is available for children between the ages of 3 and 9. Starting in second grade, children can enroll in the faith-formation classes that take place in a more traditional classroom setting, Herendeen noted.

Children enrolled in these classes come to know and love God while learning about the sacraments, the Eucharist and Ten Commandments and many other aspects of the Catholic faith, added Maggie DeMarco, who teaches a biweekly class for children in the second, third and fourth grades.

“As catechists, we are entrusted with the passing on of not only the fundamentals and the doctrines of the faith, but also the traditions and the great beauty and richness that is part (of) knowing, loving and living the faith,” DeMarco said.

At the start of each class, DeMarco brings her students to church to pray a decade of the rosary together. Before heading back to the classroom, the class spends time looking at the statues and symbols found in the church, or sometimes the Stations of the Cross or the saints depicted on the stained-glass windows.

Back in the classroom, DeMarco teaches a lesson on the day’s topic, encouraging the students to ask questions and engage in discussion as they learn.

Children, families commit to their faith, come together in prayer

These classes and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd sessions are held concurrently, and at the close of each session, children from both classes come together in church, where they are joined by their parents and Father Anthony Amato, pastor at St. Peter.

“Father Amato gives a brief reflection or question-and-answer session with the children and then leads us in closing prayers,” DeMarco said.

“We all come together in the end,” Herendeen said, noting that the specific method of instruction that families choose is not as important as their choice to educate their children in the faith

“Families are our future,” Herendeen said. “If we don’t have stuff for the little ones, then we’re never going to be around (in the future).”

Tags: Faith Formation, Ontario County News
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