Thursday, June 28, 2018

Nurturing a Divine Spark

The parishioners of St. Patrick's continue to devote ourselves to nurturing that "divine spark" as we host Level One and Level Two trainings to further the Catechesis in Cedar Rapids and surrounding areas.  Let the little children come!
Watch the video below for a wonderful peek into the Catechesis.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Reflections on CGS Training

(Erin, Holly and Kate are attending Level 1 training in Ames this winter/spring and we are so grateful to have them join us in this work. Below is an experience shared by Erin during the latest training session).
“It is the child that makes the man, and no
man exists who was not made by the child he once was.” 
-Maria Montessori

I recently came back to this quote, shared with us on our first day of Level I training in  Ames this year.  Holly, Kate and myself often reflect on our training weekend as we drive home Sunday nights.  This past weekend, we could all agree, was a most moving and impressionable experience.

A great deal of our drive back was spent discussing our “surprise” atrium visitors. It was a pure, authentic, unscripted testimony from a newly married couple. In particular, a young man, who had not been back  in an atrium for 20+ years. This is just a summary of our experience. 

Aaron (Omaha, NE) went to a CGS atrium in the Twin Cities over 20 years ago. He attended between the ages of 5-9 years old, Level 1-3. He visited the St. Cecilia atrium, Ames, IA with his new wife, Rose, (an ISU vet student). Aaron had not been in an atrium for over 20 years.

As Aaron and Rose walked into the atrium together,  you could see peace and joy overcome Aaron. It was physically visible in the expression upon his face and the twinkle in his eyes. It was a beautiful thing to see. Even though this was  not the exact atrium he attended 20+ years ago, he was welcomed home by the familiarity of the surroundings. 

He scanned his surroundings. Immediately he remembered the beautiful Maps Of Jerusalem. He was drawn in, recalling how he touched and manipulated the materials. He told us of the satisfaction he felt learning by doing as a child.

He enjoyed lighting a candle to pray and sometimes getting to use the extinguisher. He was drawn to the light, it held his attention, (not in a distracting way); he remembered being prayerful.

We asked about his experience, family and other details about his religious education and faith formation. His parents enrolled him in the CGS program at their parish. He alway enjoyed coming to the atrium. Until recently, he did not realize what a unique and special CGS was, assuming all young children received religious education this way.  He attended more typical youth formation classes after the age of 10 years. 

Next, as if he were being quizzed for altar server training, he went into nomenclature. Nailed it all!!! 
He recalled the alter lessons gave him confidence and familiarity as he became a alter server. He verbally recited Good Shepherd parables. He remembered rolling up the Alleluias and placing them in a tube. On and on...

The expectations and behaviors he learned to uphold in the atrium also impacted his life. He spoke about how this was a place where there was firmly held expectations for quiet, focus and self discipline. “Some places are different from other places, you behave differently in this space because it is holy and special. There are some places you should carry yourself differently.” 

Because he spent so much time as a child  touching and creating projects with these objects in the atrium, it told him they were important. He had the utmost  respect and gratitude for everything in the atrium. “They were there for a reason, just as everything in the Catholic Faith is for a reason and a very important reason. Even before you know the theology about it, you know it is important and there for a reason.” 

Rose told us that she went to a good Catholic school with high academic achievement, but her religious education didn’t come close to what he got in CGS. She also sees how much joy he gets in serving the church.

She continued “Even today, he has a highly developed sense of order. For example, he is still keenly aware of the seasons of the church year and the liturgical calendar.” 

Suddenly, Aaron remembered a song he used to sing about it. We all joined in and sang it to him again.

“Seeing the way the program formed Aaron, I definitely want our children to be in CGS,” Rose stated.

Hearing this deeply personal testimony from Aaron and Rose was very moving for our entire group. 

We were blessed by experiencing  a beautiful example of a man made by an atrium child, and a woman grateful to be with him.

Erin Clausen
Notes from Level 1 CGS Training    St. Cecilia, Ames IA

Monday, March 12, 2018

What's happening in the atrium this week?

by Carrie Hulbert

Here we are in the midst of Lent, hopefully doing well with our "Prayer and fasting and almsgiving" (your child may know a Lent song from the atrium with those words)!  

In our atrium this week, some students were shown the City of Jerusalem presentation. This presentation was one that really touched me during our training as Catechists.  

It is a 3D model of the city of Jerusalem - complete with city walls, Temple, Upper Room/Cenacle, Garden of Gethsemane, Calvary, the tomb where Jesus was buried and more.


The children are able to move each piece onto a "mute" where they can re-create the city of Jerusalem. This helps them become familiar with the city.  The older children may learn of the path that Jesus took during his passion and death.  A catechist in our atrium mentioned that while she was presenting this to some children, her eyes began tearing up as she was "walking" the path that Jesus walked in the final days leading up to his death.  

The atrium is in full swing with other presentations as well.  Students have continued to learn about some parables that Jesus spoke that talk about the Kingdom of God.  You may have heard about the Kingdom of God being like a mustard seed, a precious pearl, and the leaven.  As one child shared, "I want to see the Kingdom of God.  I bet it is beautiful!

We have also begun working with the Good Shepherd materials.  This includes 2D figures of the Good Shepherd, sheep, and the gated "sheepfold" where the sheep are kept.  The children love touching the sheep and are really drawn to them.  

Even before I began this presentation to one child in the atrium she wondered aloud, "Why are the sheep in the fenced area?"  She thought for a moment and then continued, "It keeps them safe.  The wolf stays outside, but the sheep are kept inside where they are safe."  Those words can mean so much more if we really stop and think about them.  During the presentation we hear that the sheep follow the Good Shepherd wherever he goes, and that the Shepherd calls his sheep by name.  At the conclusion of the presentation, after some reflection time, I heard her ask, "Is Jesus the Good Shepherd?"  I wanted to say, "YES! He IS the Good Shepherd!" But I wanted her to discover this all on her own, so I instead responded, "Hmm...I wonder...What do you think? Do you think that Jesus is the Good Shepherd?"  Her response was perfect, "I think He is. I think that Jesus is the Good Shepherd."  May we always stay close to the Good Shepherd who calls us by name.

Thursday, March 8, 2018


by Natalie Greco

Beauty. Beautiful. Bountiful. Blessed. Abundant. 
Beyond Compare. Special.

As I contemplated the subject matter of this blog entry, the word beauty kept coming to mind. Depending on who you are, and what your current walk in life is, the meaning and definition of this particular word can be widely varied. 

IMHO (that’s in my humble opinion for those not familiar with certain acronyms), the atria, the children, the catechists, the materials, and the time spent there, are beautiful. I imagine a happy, knowing smile spread across His face, as he looks down upon our environment. To the trained eye, there is something extra special happening in those two rooms. Something beautiful. Something supernatural. And it is awesome to witness, and be a part of. However, if the average Joe were to peek in on any given Wednesday night or Thursday morning, he may not necessarily see anything beyond children “playing”. 

As they walk around atrium, with “beautiful feet” (that’s essentially walking with reverence), trying to use “beautiful voices” (speaking softly), working with beautiful materials that reveal the beauty and truths of our faith, the Holy Spirit is there. And despite the normalcy of every item, object and the circumstances, there is a sheen of spiritual beauty, shimmering and emanating from their little bodies. What a beautiful blessing my eyes and heart experience, when this special lens is granted unto me. I am struck with appreciation, gratitude, and awe. At the movement, the growth, and the love the Holy Spirit is allowing. And it is beautiful.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

by Amy Valentine


We’ve been hearing about the parables of the “Kingdom of God”. Some of the children have been  presented the parables of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32), the Precious Pearl (Matthew 13:45-46), and the Parable of the Yeast (leaven)  (Matthew 13:33) during the last three weeks. They like to use their senses of touch and smell.  We see the kids cultivating wonder and joy as they hear these stories.  

These young children continue to give us joy as we see a spiritual being inside of each one of them.  The words that come from their mouths and their personal artwork/drawings are signs that God is within them. 

Below is a song you may hear your son or daughter sing- one of their favorites:

Kingdom Song 
What’s it like? The kingdom of God.
Can we find it, in the seed?
What’s it like? The kingdom of God.
Can we find it, in our hearts?


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Become like little children

by Jennifer Francois

And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.                Matthew 18:3

During Advent we talked often of the darkness and the people who were waiting for a great light. We shared a beautiful Christmas celebration in which each of the Infancy narratives were illuminated by a single candle.  This recurring theme of Jesus as the light is something we’ve touched on many times.  As a catechist with the 3-6 year olds,  I sometimes wonder if the children are “getting it” and understanding these real meanings?  Surely not, but we are planting seeds for future understanding, I tell myself.  

Last week, I was giving a presentation on the Altar work.  This time explaining the tabernacle and ciborium, under lock and key.  Why is there a lock on the tabernacle?  Why do we lock things up?  What kinds of things do we normally lock up? 
The child shares that his parents lock the front door locked because there are people inside to keep safe.  Also, he shares, a treasure chest has a lock.  It holds treasures!

The children have been eagerly awaiting the day that they are able to see what’s inside the model tabernacle in the atrium, a presentation they’ve yet to receive.  But this day, as I slowly reach for the key and unlock the model tabernacle, the four year old squirms with anticipation.  

“This is so exciting!” he whispers. I lift the lid off of the ciborium so the child sees how to work with these inviting materials.  I explain that this ciborium is empty, because it is just a model and not the real ciborium that the Fr. Nienhaus uses in the real church next door.  

“What is that?” the child asks, pointing inside the ciborium to a tiny piece of paper.  

We have pasting collage works that the children can work with in the atrium.  One of them has small paper cut outs of a candle, candlestick holder, and a bright red flame cut out of red paper. 

As I tipped the ciborium to look inside, I see that someone has placed one of the red paper flames inside the ciborium, probably a child from the week before.  “Well , that doesn’t belong there”, I say quickly, placing the paper in my pocket and moving along with the presentation.

And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. 

Later that day I was reflecting on the child who went unnoticed as he secretly hid the burning flame over in the altar corner. What a beautiful understanding made manifest by a child. Jesus. The Light. A burning flame. Waiting patiently for us to discover Him in the tabernacle.

And I missed it. I swept it into my pocket like garbage.

If I ever wondered if the children are understanding the messages being shared this year, I have a renewed spirit that takes takes joy in the tiniest beauty around me, made manifest by a child.  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

O come let us adore Him!

by Jennifer Francois

"Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."
Matthew 2: 1-2

This advent and Christmas season in the atrium we have been focusing on the infancy narratives.  The children have been presented The Annunciation, The Visitation, The Birth of Jesus and the Adoration of the Shepherds.  
This past weekend the Church celebrated the Epiphany and this week we will spend some time working with these materials in the atrium.  

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 
Matthew 2: 10-11

Wise men from the east were following a sign, a star that would lead them to a baby in a manger.  They brought him gifts.  Unusual gifts for a baby!  They came to give him homage, to bow down and worship this small baby.  What great things will come from such a small child?

I can't help but wonder myself, what gifts do we have that we are willing to give to Jesus?  What part of ourselves are we willing to leave at the foot of the God of the Universe,  allowing Him to use as he wills?  

Are we called to offer our gifts and walk away knowing and trusting that God can make perfect use of our unusual and seemingly useless gifts? 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Great Light

by  Geralyn Ward

“Come Lord Jesus, Come Lord Jesus, Come Lord Jesus, Come and be born in our hearts….”, the  children sang with great anticipation as they processed around the atrium.  Each child carried an item for the prayer table as we began our Advent celebration.  A purple prayer cloth was first placed on the prayer table to remind us that purple is for preparation, followed by the Good Shepherd statue, Bible stand and Bible, candle, prayer card stand, an empty manger, to remind us that we are waiting for baby Jesus, and finally the Advent wreath.  
The first purple candle was lit and we sang together, “Light one candle for hope, one bright candle for hope.  He brings hope to every heart. He comes. He comes.”  Each week of Advent the same song will be sung at the prayer table when we light the Advent wreath.  Peace will be added for the second (purple) candle, joy for the third (pink) candle and love for the fourth (purple) candle.  
“What is a prophet?”   After we lit the Advent wreath we introduced the children to the prophet Isaiah.  Prophets are people who listen deeply and carefully to God with all their heart and speak His Message to the people.  The prophets long ago foretold the coming of a Messiah.  We presented to the children a beautiful prophecy card, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”  
During Advent, a new prophecy card will be presented every week.  Some of your children have chosen the work of tracing the prophecy cards, which they can’t wait to show you!  All artwork will be sent home prior to Christmas.

Joy, wonder, awe and excitement were expressed on the faces of the children as we pondered together the Annunciation, Luke 1: 26-38.  The catechist lit a candle and slowly read the words from the Bible.  “What did you hear?”  The peg dolls of Mary and the Archangel Gabriel along with Mary’s house and a dove for the Holy Spirit were then placed in front of the child(ren).  The same scripture verses were read for the second time from a small, handwritten book while the catechist stopped periodically to move the peg dolls.  “What did you see?”    We pondered together, “Who is this baby?” 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

He is coming....

by Rianna Brazee

What did you hear?  Have you been listening?  Someone is coming!  It is a great light, it is a baby with so many names.  Listen again, people have been waiting for him, he is a special baby whose birth is announced by an angel.  Do people normally find out they are having a baby from an angel?  Do you think anyone else has ever found out this way?  Who must this baby be?  How do you think Mary felt when the angel appeared?  

“She wasn’t scared!”  one little boy proclaimed.  I wasn’t sure he had been listening, sometimes I’m not sure anyone is listening, but then he continued, “Mary’s not scared of anything!”  

And I stopped, paused to ponder this proclamation.  Mary not scared of anything?  How could she NOT be scared.  She was pregnant out of wedlock, married to a man she may not have known very well and now 9 months pregnant she has taken on something akin to the Great Race to Bethlehem.  But it’s Mary.  Mary who had God inside of her.  Whose blood and breath sustained this miracle as He crashed into our mess.  Mary.  

When the angel comes, she is concerned; she asks a question.  “How can this be?” and when she hears that, “nothing is impossible with God” she responds, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”  Mary is not scared, she is open and receives God

When Mary travels 80 some miles to visit her cousin Elizabeth and somehow she knows that Mary is pregnant, Mary isn’t indignant, she doesn’t accuse her of gossip or slander, no, instead, “ My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”  Mary is not scared or bitter, she is thankful and filled with joy.  

We don’t hear her complaining about the trip, the ride, the food, the accommodations.  We don’t hear her cursing God for her lot in life or questioning His ways.  No!  Mary is not scared, she is filled with wonder and ponders all these things in her heart.  

Little one, I think you are right, “Mary’s not scared of anything.”  

May we find His peace by uniting ourselves to Him who banishes fear and brings joy. May your Advent be a preparation for His coming, for surely HE IS COMING.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Holy Ground

We have a song we sing as we prepare to enter the atrium:

This is holy ground
We're walking on holy ground
God is in this place and so this place is holy.

This is holy time, 
God's given us holy time.
God is in this place and so this time is holy.

These are holy hands,
God's given us holy hands,
God is in this place and so these hands are holy.

This is holy work, 
God's given us holy work
God is in this place and so this work is holy.

"Thus it will be seen that the work of the Atrium would be a much broader thing than merely 'teaching the child his catechism' - It will be like a surrounding and pervading atmosphere in which they will live and move and have their being."

Dr. Maria Montessori, "The Child in the Church"

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A glimpse into the Atrium

“If we want to assist the child in his or her religious experience, an important area which we must attend is that of prayer. Prayer is, first of all, listening to God. It is the particular key which opens up the mystery of God’s relationship with God’s creature; it is a key which belongs to God, but which God gives to all… Prayer is initiation to the mystery of God and is, itself, a mystery… our task is that of creating the conditions for silence and reverence which will help the child focus on and listen to God. We do this, first of all, by preparing an environment with a prayerful atmosphere.”    

Gianna GobbiListening to God with Children, page 117-118

Friday, November 10, 2017

This week in the atrium

by Sam Krumbholz

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!

Psalm 66:2

We gather at the prayer table and listen to this verse.  What do you hear?  Answers range from  "Jesus is talking to us"  to "Shout for joy!"
The catechists then present more practical life works to the children in small groups.  Some of the boys and girls learn how to use a funnel to pour water, and others learn how to sweep, dust, or polish.   Many skills are designed to help take care of the environment.   A small group of children gather at the geography area to learn where Mary learned she would be the mother of Jesus.   A marker with a dove is placed on the topical map of the city of Nazareth.  Next, a marker with a star designates the town where Jesus was born, Bethlehem.  Finally, the city where Jesus lived, died, and rose from the dead, Jerusalem, is marked with a cross.  Children may come back to the geography area after this presentation to work on their own.  They may choose to make a map in the art area.  The rest of the time in the atrium you can see and hear children doing various works.  Some are quiet in concentration while others softly sing or hum.  We gather together at the prayer table at the end of our time together.  We sing "He's got the whole world in his hands".   The last verses include each child's name.  The smiles on the children's faces are extra joyful! 

By Carrie Hulbert

We had another wonderful week in the atrium!  It is so interesting each week to observe the children and see what works they are drawn to.  The practical life activities are still very interesting to the children in our atrium, but they are slowly drawn more and more to other things they have been presented.  Several students worked in the altar area.  A few of the older children received the second Altar presentation.  Another child wanted to see the liturgical colors presentation again.  

During our final time at the prayer table, we again passed around the Good Shepherd statue.  One of the children who is usually silent as the statue is passed around, held onto him for a long time and finally said, "I want to say I love you, Jesus."

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

CGS Vocab 101

by Jennifer Francois

The atrium has a language all its own and the children are picking it up readily.  Since this is not a traditional religious education or preschool environment, we don't use typical words like "classroom", "toys" or "teacher".  Instead we use more traditional Montessori words to describe the coming and goings inside our atrium.

Atrium:   The atrium is the room where the children meet.  It's an early church word for the space where catechumens were prepared for fuller life in the Christian community and where they prepared to share in the Sacraments.  Not necessarily in the church and not on the street, but it exists as an in between place of prayer and preparation.   The atrium is a more like a “retreat house for children” than a classroom.  They are being prepared for fuller participation in the mass and in the life of the Church.

Catechist:  an adult who comes along side the child as a guide to the atrium. Not a teacher in the usual sense of the word, but rather a person who creates a specially prepared environment where the child can encounter God in scripture and liturgy.  A catechist must complete a 90 hour formation course by an approved formation leader for each level of CGS.  The catechist recognizes that she participates with the Holy Spirit as she and the child contemplate with wonder the mystery of God.

Materials: This is the word that the children may use to describe the things they work with during their atrium time.  They are mostly of a natural or a valuable nature and often times handmade by the catechists themselves, their husbands or parish members.   For example, the raised surface map, globe, art shelf supplies, pouring pitchers, crystal cruets, and silver trays and lovingly hand painted wooden peg dolls are all considered materials of the atrium.  An example of using this word properly might be: "After I worked with the sponges and water, I restored my materials to the shelf".  

Work:  purposeful activity of the child in an atrium. At the beginning of the atrium session, after initially gathering together, we might dismiss the children one at a time by asking them, "Do you know what work you would like to choose?"  Setting up the model altar would be considered a "work" as well as pouring beads using a funnel or putting together a pasting collage.  An appropriate question for your child on the way home from CGS might be, "What works did you choose today in the atrium?"

Grace and Courtesy:  little lessons on manners that help the child learn positive social behaviors. We have been teaching these lessons from the first day in the atrium. Some of these might include: greeting a person by shaking their hand and looking at them in the eyes, getting an adult's attention by resting their hand on their arm or shoulder, saying excuse me as they pass by anther child, not stepping on another's mat, etc.  

Presentation: a lesson given to a child.  Sometimes the presentations are one to one.  And sometimes a catechist will give a presentation to a small group of 3 children.  The child is always asked if he would like to receive a presentation, and he has the choice of responding yes or no.

Mat:    You could travel to a Montessori school anywhere in the world and you will see Montessori students working at floor mats as well as at child-size tables. The purpose of the floor mats and tables is to define the student’s workspace and to reinforce Montessori's principle of "freedom within limits". The Montessori preschool students are shown how to walk around the mats, how to place their work on the mats and how to respect one another’s personal workspace. They also learn that it is never okay to disturb a classmate’s work or join a classmate’s work unless permission is given by that student.  - from the North American Montessori Center website.

Restore materials:   A term used in atrium that means to put away the things that you have been using.  Once a child has chosen a work from the shelf, placed it on his work mat, and worked with the materials, he will be expected to return the items to the shelf where he first got it, so that the next child can use them.  A catechist might say after ringing a bell,  "Let's restore our materials now that our atrium time has come to an end".  

Atrium voice: Very similar to an inside voice.  But even quieter!  A little louder than a whisper.

Atrium walk:  Very similar to regular walking.  But even slower!  And more careful! For example: "Thank you for using your atrium walk as you carried that tray of glass pitchers and 200 small beads."

Care of the Environment: this is a Montessori term for "housekeeping" for lack of a better word.  This term encompasses several works we have for the children to help take care of our shared space.  The children take pride and joy in caring for our special environment.  Example of this include plant watering, dusting, sweeping, flower arranging, pencil sharpening and sometimes silver and brass polishing.