Saturday, August 21, 2004

Montessori method helps teach religion

By Karen Vance
Enquirer contributor

MADISONVILLE - Begin a Biblical quote from Isaiah, and 8-year-old A.J. Pucci can finish it easily. He can tell you about the symbolism of each part of a Mass and the meaning of each of the sacraments.

But the fourth-grader's deep knowledge of his Roman Catholic faith isn't why his mother is enthusiastic about the education he's receiving at a unique Catholic school in Greater Cincinnati.

"The rich program at Queen of Angels (Montessori) is so different. It's not memorization. It's living the material," said Christy Pucci of Anderson Township. "It's amazing. They really live it. They feel it. It's wonderful. It's not something they memorize. There's a love in their heart."

Pucci attributes her children's mature connection to their faith to a unique religion curriculum at the independent Queen of Angels Montessori, 4460 Berwick Ave., Madisonville, known as the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

The school has used the curriculum, which allows for a hands-on approach and independent learning of religion as early as preschool, since opening with 28 students in 1998. Beginning Wednesday, about 150 students through the sixth grade will attend the school.

The curriculum was developed by Sofia Cavalletti and her Montessori collaborator, Gianna Gobbi, in Rome in the 1950s. Since then it has spread to Sunday schools, parishes and sacrament-preparation classes - not only in Catholicism but also in the Episcopal and other Protestant churches - in the United States and 18 other countries.

But using the curriculum in a regular classroom setting is rare. The school's principal, Dan Teller, is aware of only about a dozen day schools that use it to teach religion and theology.

"We're not here to learn a lot about God. We're here to know God," Teller said. "There's a lot of content, but the main difference is the emphasis here is about building that relationship with God."

The main feature is an atrium, an area in each classroom with religious materials for students to work with and learn about, ranging from figurines and buildings to help tell Biblical stories to a mini-altar and special dishes to demonstrate and talk about the Eucharist.

"It's not a textbook program. The children have a great capacity to have a relationship with Christ. We're giving them the conditions for them to deepen that relationship," Teller said. "They can learn about scripture and liturgy in a visual, concrete way."

For Pucci, who will have four children enrolled at the school this fall, seeing her children enthusiastic about their faith and praying on their own has made her reflect on her own days in Catholic school.

"As a parent, it's amazing to me the spirituality they have at such a young age," she said. "I remember Reconciliation was scary, but when I asked A.J. if he was ready for it, he said he couldn't wait to be closer to God."

For more information about Queen of Angels Montessori School, visit


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