The Montessori Catechetical and Cultural Institute (MCCI) was founded in 2002 to facilitate the opening of Montessori Atria beginning with the Atrium at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Great Falls, Virginia, and to sponsor training programs to prepare catechists for certification in the Montessori-based Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
In the early years of the twentieth century, Dr. Maria Montessori discovered a great many things about the development of the human person from conception to maturity through long and intense observation of children throughout the world. She recognized four planes of development, spanning the ages from birth to 24. Her most valuable discoveries were in the field of early childhood education, wherein she pinpointed what she termed "sensitive periods." Her findings have since been validated by scientific inquiry across disciplines such as developmental neurology, psychology, and sociology.
Using her discoveries, Dr. Montessori established rooms in 1906 that were specially prepared environments, utilizing her original didactic materials, which enabled children to reach a higher level of development as their inner needs were met. These specially prepared environments have become widespread around the world.
Dr. Montessori believed the fullest manifestation of her work was reached in the creation of the Atrium, a dedicated space specially prepared to meet the spiritual needs of the child. She wrote, "Respect for the child's nature, which God Himself demands of us, compels us to search most carefully for those conditions in which children can abandon themselves most easily to God" (The Child in the Church). The use of particular materials and environments affected the child spiritually in a way that almost seemed miraculous to some observers. Dr. Montessori's view was that it was not miraculous but normal - that the child, when ready and when given the freedom, would receive religious instruction in the form of presentations with joy, awe, and often extraordinary understanding.
In the 1950s, Sofia Cavalletti, a Hebrew scholar, and Gianna Gobbi, a Montessori teacher, further developed the work of Maria Montessori and established the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a way of religious formation now used by Catholics and Protestants worldwide.