Recently I visited St. Raphael Church to bless the beautifully renovated space in the narthex or vestibule and to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. After the Mass, Father Shayne Duvall invited me to visit and bless the Good Shepherd Atrium — now part of the school complex, which is in the process of great renovation.
It was my first occasion to visit a Good Shepherd Atrium, and it produced in me both wonder and excitement for the catechesis of children and for Eucharistic revival.
Based on the Montessori method of teaching, which is now over 100 years old, this particular catechesis for children began in Italy in 1954. It taps the curiosity and wonder as well as the hands-on nature of learning in young people (and I suppose in all of us)!
I was curious about the use of the term “Good Shepherd Atrium” to describe this dedicated space that was once a full classroom in the school. I looked up the word “atrium” in the dictionary to find that the first meaning described an open-roofed entrance as a central court in ancient Roman times.
Indeed, there was an open-air quality to the room filled with play areas that are specially designed to teach important lessons about our faith.
In the room, a young person was removing the characters that surrounded the Last Supper table. She pointed readily to where Jesus was.
Next to her, a young man was hard at work setting up the wooden corral filled with sheep, with the shepherd guarding the door. But there was one sheep who had evidently nibbled himself away from the fold. I was told that the shepherd was going after this lost sheep as Jesus would.
Finally, an elaborate cabinet had spaces marked for each of the vessels or objects used at Mass, from the crucifix to chalice to wine cruets to candles. A little boy was filling the cruets as he prepared the altar for the Eucharist and then explained what he was doing.
I was amazed by the serenity and calm that blanketed the room. The sense of engagement and even of awe was palpable as the young people fingered the items that made the Gospel story or the teaching of the church come to life in their imaginations.
Back in January of 2020, Ruby Thomas wrote an article for The Record in which she traced the presence of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd over the last six years, beginning in St. James in Elizabethtown and now including St. Louis Bertrand, St. Gabriel, St. Aloysius in Pewee Valley, and St. Raphael. (See https://wp.me/p9KNnM-aIR). Each of these parishes has an atrium, and each is a hidden gem.
I looked up the second meaning of the word atrium. This word also describes the upper cavities of the heart through which blood passes. How fitting! This Atrium of the Good Shepherd is a blessed occasion for the life-giving teaching of Jesus and His Church to be transfused into the hearts and souls of young people!
Our Catholic Church in the United States is preparing to embark on what has been called a Eucharistic revival. This movement will renew within us the deep teaching of the Eucharist — that gift of the presence of the Paschal mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection given for our salvation.
As we begin this process, I am struck that perhaps children will lead us back to a renewed awakening of the great gift of the Holy Eucharist and to a reverence that deepens our union with Jesus Christ our Savior and with one another.