Shepherd’s Flock is an intergenerational program that focuses on children and young people with special needs and their families. Our students may have learning challenges, be on the autism spectrum or have Down syndrome or other genetic disorders.
Shepherd’s Flock uses the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd model, teaching in an “atrium” environment to create a meaningful experience for the children. This model offers lessons and curriculum to support children as they experience the “sacred” in a hands-on manner. We combine, innovate and adapt these various resources to meet the needs of our students. We also use the multifaceted Loyola Press curriculum designed especially for use with children with special needs, The Finding God Adaptive Program.
In 2018, the program was awarded the New Wineskins Award from the National Conference on Catechetical Leadership for its extraordinary achievement in catechesis. Watch a video about the program.
Trained catechists, volunteers and parents work with each child on a one-to-one basis during the regular Sunday-morning class time. Our catechists create a space that meets the unique needs of the students. They interact with children on their level and bring a variety of materials for various learning styles. For many of the students, being able to touch and feel an object is comforting, so catechists set up “stations” where students can work independently. It might be a sequencing puzzle or a felt Bible story or a music station. While the class has routines, it is not a scripted, traditional, age-level lesson plan. Meeting the children where they are is one of the keys to Shepherd’s Flock’s success. Catechists work with parents to understand the needs and abilities of each student and to create learning objectives for each student.
Children who can participate in a typical RE classroom may choose to attend a traditional class on some Sundays. The Shepherd’s Flock class participates in all the other activities the RE program offers. They participate in the annual Parade of Saints as well as take part in our service opportunities.
Sacramental preparation and celebration are offered to all children, adapted to their needs. We use Loyola’s adaptive kits for Reconciliation, Eucharist and Confirmation. Children celebrate the sacraments at the last Shepherd’s Flock Mass of the RE year, and families and friends are invited to come.
Shepherd’s Flock families host a monthly liturgy followed by a potluck dinner. At Mass, the students serve as greeters, lectors and gift-bearers. All Masses are held on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in the Chapel of St. Ignatius followed by a Potluck in the Neale Room at 5:15 p.m.
What Our Pastor Says
“Introducing children to Jesus and helping them grow in the Catholic faith is so important, regardless of their physical or learning abilities. Shepherd’s Flock provides an environment for our special-needs students where they can learn in ways that connect with them. Our catechists are sensitive to the students’ needs and respectful of their dignity, which helps their students understand that they are no different from any of us; we are uniquely formed and loved by our God. Welcoming these children into the life of the parish through sacramental celebrations, as liturgy participants or in service opportunities lives out our parish mission to be transformed by the Holy Spirit and be a community that shares God’s life with each other and the world.”
What Our Catechists Say
“The world often defines our students by what they cannot do or by missed benchmarks of development. In the space we have created, they are children of God, loved and whole. In our effort to teach them the tenets of the Catholic Church and to help them prepare for the Sacraments, we seek to meet them where we are and to let them express what they know in meaningful ways. As these children grow in relationship to God, they show us how to love more simply, more completely, and they lead us to be recreated in the image of God.”
“Like the lost sheep, we are all found by Christ, who meets us where we are. He pushes aside the thorns and brambles of our lives and lifts us and brings us home to Him through the transformational power of our classroom relationships. I have come to know the deep and abiding love of God through the children and families of this ministry, and my life is forever changed.”
What Our Parents Say
“Shepherd’s Flock has become so much more than ‘Sunday school.’ It is a lively and flourishing community. It is an essential, life-giving part of our parish and one that helps us live out our mission to share God’s love with the world.”
“The message Shepherd’s Flock sends out to the students, is ‘Yes, you can!’ Our daughter has been given opportunities that would not have been given to her if we had not come to Holy Trinity. She takes great pride in her participation in Mass. She has learned to be reverent while learning and has experienced God in a way that is meaningful to her. The catechists have adapted to the students, so that the students don’t have to conform to cookie-cutter expectations of what an RE student should look like.”
“Our parish church is four blocks from our house, but the Shepherd’s Flock program is worth the extra effort it takes to get to Holy Trinity. At our monthly Mass, we all know each other. The priest greets the children by name. My son feels like he belongs here.”
“Our son’s learning challenges make it difficult for him to remember information by rote, but thanks to the truly remarkable work of the catechists, he now knows The Our Father and The Hail Mary. He has learned to enjoy certain parts of the Mass and is able to participate more. We are able to bring up God and prayers at home now, because he understands the importance of them. Positive parental engagement is necessary, but when he feels like he belongs, he’s actually eager to do it.”
“A wonderful by-product of the program has been the parents’ support network that sprung up organically. This has been especially valuable to have a safe and judgment-free place to talk about our challenges or share resources. That is critical for parents whose child has severe disabilities. You get to connect in ways that you can’t when you’re at home with a dozen distractions.”
Interested in Learning More?
If you have any questions, please contact Anne Marie Kaufmann, the Pastoral Associate for Religious Education and Faith Formation. She can set up a time for you to observe our class in action and meet our catechists.
You can enroll in the Shepherd’s Flock religious education program at any point during the regular catechetical year (September-May) by enrolling online.