The first seeds of the
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for South Africa began with observing a friend, Nancy Ayotte IHM in Saginaw, Michigan making
materials for the children in her Atrium.
For many years Nancy and I have shared teaching and ministry
ideas and there was much spirit shared when it came to talking about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
Over a few years, when I visited the States, I listened to the stories of the children’s experiences, read the
literature and visited the atrium in action in Saginaw. In my role as Diocesan Catechetical Coordinator
in Durban, South Africa, I often described the catechesis to anyone who might be interested. It is a graced
moment when someone responds with a willingness to take a few steps further.
That first person was Peter Ducray, a
Parish Youth Minister and wonderful father of three young children. I kept saying, “Your children
will love this”. Peter saw the interest his wife would have in this approach to the faith formation
of their children and in creating the environment. Before long, in April 1999, Peter planned some evenings
of information and introduction to the CGS, inviting me to meet with some teachers of young children from the parish and deanery.
One Montessori teacher “caught the fire”.
up to that time, had not been very involved in parish life, yet something of this sparked her interest. Peter
nourished her. He had investigated the Association web page and through it made e-mail contact with Kate
Collins of Washington DC area. Kate was very generous in sharing her experiences and some initial Album
pages so that we could get a sense of how to start. Peter and Trish cleared a small storage room off of
the Parish Hall and began filling it with a few shelves, small table, chairs and basic materials and invited young children
to come. This initial atrium began in Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Durban North just prior to Advent of
In June 2000, Trish went to the States to participate in the intense Level One Course
offered by Kate Collins at Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat Center in Bethesda, Maryland.* Kate waived the tuition
and Jocelyn Bell graciously invited her to stay in her Bethesda home; parish and Diocesan support covered the enormous cost
of airfare. The most gracious and generous hospitality spurred Trish to take in not only the knowledge but also
the generous and giving spirit inspired by the Catechesis. Trish returned with new and refined understanding
and with a sense of integrating faith belief and meaningful presentation. Not only did the children in
Trish’s atrium benefit but also sessions and demonstrations were offered to parish catechists and school Religious Education
teachers in the Archdiocese of Durban. Peter made a great effort to include the African rural parish communities
so that this beautiful catechesis did not develop as the “blessing” for relatively affluent parishes only.
Trish continued to develop the catechesis and the Atrium at Fatima parish by having a few
women work with her. Less than two years after beginning the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Trish and
her family immigrated to Australia. What a loss to us! However, we were challenged
to trust that if this was God’s work, the Good Shepherd would keep this “seed” alive.
We knew that we needed to have a qualified trainer come to South Africa, yet we did not have the resources to make
that happen. We were using everything we had just to buy some books, since the majority of our people could
not afford them due to the high monetary exchange rates. Thanks again to Kate Collins, who spread the word
of our need, we received a donation from Anne Dryden’s Parish in Alexandria, Virginia and with that bought copies of
The Religious Potential of the Child and The Good Shepherd and the Child: A Joyful Journey. At
least we could read and begin understanding the catechesis.
In July 2002, we were blessed with
the presence of Nancy Ayotte IHM who came from Michigan and spent an intense five-weeks offering training not only in Durban
but also week-long sessions in the dioceses of Johannesburg and Cape Town. At least some catechists in
the three main centers of the country were exposed to initial basic formation in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
At every center, it was inspiring to experience the mixture and sharing among the various racial groups who, in South
Africa, did not often have the opportunity to come together in common catechetical training. Participants
from the courses wrote notes to Sofia Cavalletti expressing their awe and gratitude for this beautiful catechesis.
During the preparation for the course, we had invoked the intercession of Gianna Gobbi, who had died recently, to guide
us in this venture.
The seeds were planted but nourishment and follow-up was still needed.
In Durban and Johannesburg, monthly workshop sessions were held for catechists to take turns doing one of the presentations,
work on the album pages, share resources, theology background and at times make materials. Durban has both an English-speaking
group and a Zulu-speaking group. Anyone is welcome to either group. However, it was
important to develop the materials in the Zulu language and discover ways of creating inexpensive materials for the children
and share possibilities of developing an atrium with few parish resources.
September 2004, we were blessed again with the presence of another accredited trainer, Laura Bastulli-Parran who accompanied
her husband, who had come for a seminar with a group of doctors of Southern Africa. Laura donated her service
in a week-long course at Mariannhill in the Durban area. There were about 50 participants who came from
Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and the Durban area. Of these, about 23 had participated in the courses
with Sr. Nancy in 2002. Laura is returning in September 2005 to complete the Level One Course and to offer
the beginnings of the Level Two Course for 6-9 Year Olds.
Our seedling – “Atriums”
and catechists are tender but growing. At this time, we have about 21 doing the Catechesis of the Good
Shepherd in South Africa. There are 17 in the Durban Diocese, two in Johannesburg and one in Cape Town
and one in Pretoria. At present, eleven have a set Atrium at the parish. Eight carry
boxes of materials back and forth and two are in the catechists’ homes for the children in their area. There
is a variety in how they are developed. Yet, we recognize the same Spirit guiding us to find the treasure
of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd here in the soil of South Africa. We thank the Association and friends
who have inspired and supported us in bringing to birth this glorious work.
Recently we received several CGS publications
from Kate Collins and her Bethesda, Maryland atrium community (books here are cost-prohibitive), and we await a package
from Amy Kurz, a catechist and friend of Kate's from the mountains of Pennsylvania, who graciously offered to make
us materials to use for models (04/14/06).
*In 2001, another catechist from South Africa, Angela Muldoon,
was invited to stay with Jocelyn Bell and take Kate's level I course in Bethesda, Maryland. She now resides near,
but outside, Cape Town.
Annette St-Amour IHM
Durban Diocesan Catechetical Coordinator
Sr Annette St-Amour
Archdiocese of Durban
PO Box 47489
PO Box 47489