CGS Connection – Catechists in the Field – Part 1

The past 2 CGS connections have discussed theoretical aspects of CGS Catechists. Now we’ll spend a week or two hearing from actual Catechists and the spiritually transforming effect that formation and praxis is having on them.

Anita Wright
Directress of the Latrobe CGS program for 10 years, Certified for ages 0-12.

While I was a young adult living in the Washington DC area, I helped with traditional faith formation in a parish, and then had the blessing of being a homeschooling nanny. In both scenarios I experienced the traditional book model of Catechesis and neither seemed to hit the mark. A new friend invited me to see the Atrium that she directed. It was such a lovely setting, the children were so engaged, and the adult wasn’t the “make or break attraction.” I’d never heard of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd but after observing one sole session, I said to myself, “This is it!” My vocational path called for me to surrender the possibility of taking formation at that time. Rather, discernment with the Missionaries of Charity provided me with other intangible preparation… practice with increasing lengths of silence, chant, praying one’s daily work, a powerful retreat with the Gospel of John, surrendering control… to name a few. Later, time with a holy Passionist Priest and then a move to Latrobe, PA (to work with We Are One Body® radio and pray with the Monks and Seminarians at Saint Vincent) brought even more time with the liturgy of the hours and the practice of Lectio Divina.

When my time for CGS finally arrived, I dove in – and haven’t stopped since. I met my mentor, Ms. Celine Mitchell, at Level 1 formation in summer 2013 and all the gifts and insights that I had been receiving fell right into place as I learned CGS! Silence, order, reverence, reflection, beauty, letting the Holy Spirit lead, respect for the dignity of the child, the dignity of working with the hands and what I’ve nicknamed- “lectio for little ones” – in the way that CGS presents the actual Word of God to children (not cutesy summaries)! The foundational book for CGS, “The Religious Potential of the Child” delighted me to the core! God sent a collaborator to me and we began with a small group of 6 children later that fall. They grew so fast and in a few years, I was blessed to tackle Level 2 formation to provide for our group and to learn more about the needs of the 6-9 year old child. I was particularly flabbergasted by a presentation and material called “The Origin of the Eucharist.” In another 3 years, these children (and I!) would be asking “what’s next” and so I began Level 3. I was elated to delve deeper into the Rites of the Sacraments and to study some Old Testament stories that we would share with 9-12 year olds to learn about biblical role models in the faith and to search for how the events point to our Redeemer. A beautiful timeline of the History of the Jewish people led to another awesome presentation and material called “The Origin of the Liturgy of the Word.” If all of this hadn’t been great enough, the idea to draw children and families into the CGS “method” even earlier than 3 began to surface. Starting in 2019 and concluding in 2021, I was able to take part in a seminal course for Toddlers and was super blessed with the arrival of a collaborator to lead that part of our Center. With great zeal and team effort we organized a Toddler environment and continue to think about the religious and physical needs of the smallest children.

In addition to the formation courses and time with children, there is another unique element of CGS that transforms us.  Catechists are encouraged to make as much of the materials as we can on our own. This is so that we actually spend time in prayer and reflection with the Mystery ourselves. I vulnerably share one particular instance… I am goal-oriented by nature, but I received a profound reminder while painting the 3-dimentional figures of Mary and Elizabeth for “The Visitation” work. I heard in my heart that “arriving” to the destination isn’t the only goal… but rather, Mary had Jesus with her during the whole journey!

Two of our very first three year olds are now 12 years old and asked to return to Level 3 for an extra year! With one of them, 10 years later we still talk about his very first artwork after our first scripture passage, “I am the light of the world”… he drew a “circle” and when asked, he said, “it’s the wuuld,” I looked at his lips to try to understand and he repeated, “The WULLD!” A few years later, in a different family — one with instability — the mom told us that her younger son said he no longer needed his nightlight because “Jesus is the light of the world”! This is in contrast to stories from Kindergartners who have come in and told us about scary (Old Testament) stories they heard in religion class. On the other hand, when we do Old Testament bible studies in Level 3, the children are able to grasp the concepts of the historical reality and also the moral, allegorical and anagogical sense of scripture. I firmly believe that CGS is SO unique and exemplary because it offers portions of our faith at the developmentally appropriate time.

I love this work and accompanying older and younger souls on the journey. It is not always easy, but hopefully that keeps us humble. And thankfully, God provides moments for us to see the value of our efforts! Please pray for us and for all CGS undertakings!