Shepherd's Flock: Faith formation for children with special needs

April is Autism Awareness Month, and over the last 10 years, Holy Trinity Church in Washington, D.C. has established the Shepherd’s Flock ministry in response to the growing needs of families who request religious education for children with special needs. The request was prompted by parents’ deep desires to see their children participate fully in the life of the Church, including the traditions of faith and the celebration of Eucharist and Confirmation. Shepherd’s Flock Ministry offers faith formation and sacramental preparation for these individuals.

As the ministry grew and as parents and parish staff discerned more fully the particular needs of these families, they worked together to create an intergenerational ministry that serves children and their families. The “special needs” catechesis, called the Atrium model, was developed by parents and catechists over the course of several years and is based on the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd that is part of the Montessori method of faith formation for children.

Since Holy Trinity’s Shepherd’s Flock Ministry began, the number of families in the special needs community has more than doubled, and now includes four dedicated lead catechists who are all trained in the Montessori Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Dr. Linda Campanelli serves as founding member of the Shepherd’s Flock Ministry and the Atrium program. As she pointed out, group trainings have allowed Shepherd’s Flock catechists to share their experiences and provide crucial support for one another.

Children prepare for First Communion and Confirmation through Shepherd’s Flock, and receive the sacraments as they are capable and when they are ready.

Shepherd’s Flock monthly liturgies, held on Saturday afternoons, are joyful times for families who are part of this community. Judith Brusseau, the pastoral associate for faith formation and religious education, said, “The joy of the children and their families as we celebrate always touches me deeply. Children, who might otherwise not be invited to serve as a lector, cantor or minister of hospitality, shine as they serve the community.”

The closing hymn, “We are Dancing,” is always the same, and is marked by children with special needs and their families weaving their way around Holy Trinity’s St. Ignatius Chapel.

Recent News

May 27, 2020 - Now more than ever, we invoke God to wipe away the darkness of anxiety, allowing us to be guided by the light of Christ and to trust in God’s promise of new life. Over the last few months, our Jesuit provinces have been in a place we don’t often find ourselves, a place that saw our schools closed, parishes empty, and the halls of our retreat centers giving new meaning to the word “silent.”

May 13, 2020 - Fr. Daniel Lahart, SJ, president of Regis High School recently asked one of the school’s alumni, Dr. Anthony Fauci, class of ’58, to record a video for the Jesuit graduates of 2020.

May 12, 2020 - Susan Baber has been named the Associate Provincial Assistant for Secondary Education for the new USA East Jesuit Province. The new province will come into being on July 31, Susan will assume this new role in August.

Fr. Dennis E. McNally, SJ, beloved painter and professor of fine arts at Saint Joseph’s University, dies at 76.

May 5, 2020 - Let us pray that deacons, faithful in their service to the Word and the poor, may be an invigorating symbol for the entire Church.

May 1 marks the annual Religious Brothers Day, when we celebrate our Jesuit Brothers who go wherever they are needed and do whatever needs to be done.

Fr. Edward C. Dougherty, SJ, beloved teacher and minister who spent a decade in Africa, dies at 79.

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Situated on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River, Loyola on the Potomac is located 35 miles south of Washington, D.C., in southern Maryland.