Book Review: Montessori: On Religious Education

It’s likely that you found my site by searching for Catholic Montessori information on the web.  I’m thrilled to be able to further point you to a wonderful treasure chest of the words of Maria Montessori herself in the three-part compilation, Montessori: On Religious Education.

In the introductory note by the editor of this gem, reprinted in 2020 by Hillside Education (Lake Ariel, PA), M. Davidson gently chides us that “we sometimes forget the foundation of the entire work [of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd] lies not only in the Montessori ‘method’ but in Montessori herself.”  She shares that she “felt inspired to be a kind of Montessori missionary by bringing her to you through this book.”

Catholic readers of Maria Montessori who have only read the second edition of The Child in the Church, edited and published by E.M. Standing in 1965,
will find new insights in the pure words of Montessori herself in this volume, specifically on the subject of our Catholic Faith.

Through careful preparation, this volume brings to us an exact reprint of the 1929 edition of The Child in the Church, a new translation from Italian of The Life of Christ in the Liturgical Year from 1949 (a reprint from the 1931 original), and a new translation from French of The Holy Mass (compiled in 1955 from talks that Montessori gave prior to her death in 1952).

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The Child in the Church

My first exposure to The Child in the Church was the 1965 second edition.  While I found much of the text to be beautiful and inspiring, truth be told, I came across passages that disturbed my Catholic sensibility.  After much searching, I located a 1929 English copy of the first edition and began a diligent, word by word comparison of the two editions.

What I found was that words and phrases were changed in – and even entire sections were removed from – the 1965 edition, which watered down the Catholicism of Montessori’s words in the 1929 edition.  (Please note that the page notations below are from the new 2020 Hillside volume, not from my copy of the 1929 edition.)

For instance, Montessori describes the impression of some Catholic priests who learned about her work with children: “Although these Fathers neither knew me, nor knew that I was a Catholic, and, although, in my book, I made no direct profession of religious faith, it seemed to them that in its very substance my method was Catholic” (Montessori: On Religious Education, 2020, p. 2, emphasis mine).

However, in the 1965 edition, the change was made to ” . . . in its very substance my method was apostolic” (1965, p.22, emphasis mine).

Montessori continues, “The humility and the patience of the mistress; the superior value of deeds over words; the sensorial environment as the beginning of the life of the soul; the silence and recollection obtained from the children; the liberty left to the child soul in striving after perfection; the minute care in preventing and correcting all that is evil, even simple error, or slight imperfection; the control of error by means within the very material for development; the respect shown for the interior life of the child – all were pedagogical principles which seemed to them to emanate from, and to be directly inspired by Catholicism.3   3See Chap. X.” (2020, p. 2, emphasis mine).  Sadly, this entire section was removed from the 1965 edition.

I find it very important to emphasize again, to answer the critics who question the Catholicism of Maria Montessori, that those editorial changes and removals in the 1965 second edition occurred after her death.

The Life of Christ in the Liturgical Year

New to me were Parts 2 and 3 of this volume, The Life of Christ in the Liturgical Year and The Holy Mass.

In true Montessori style, she captures the essence of the Catholic Liturgical Year and applies its significance to our daily secular life.  Her gift of simplifying the complex shines through once again, as she speaks to the children and those who are childlike in their Catholic Faith.

“When one has duties to perform, a calendar is indispensible, because it is a guide that orients us through the scope of a year, as a clock is a guide through the scope of a day.”
. . .
“Why do we not feel the need for a calendar that, instead of revolving around the phenomena of the external world, takes ourselves as the center, and so to speak, makes time gravitate around our own souls?

“The soul is the most important thing for us; and this is why it ought to be the most interesting, because the hours, the days, and the years pass away for each of us, marking the limits of our lives and of the time to do good” (p. 161, 162).

The Holy Mass

Reading the Catholic works of Maria Montessori feels like being on retreat,
since her words are more meditative rather than simply informative.

For this Catholic Montessori afficionado, M. Davidson definitely served as a Montessori missionary.  I encourage all those Catholic parents interested in Montessori to not pass by this precious volume.

Purchase your copy from (an affiliate link) or directly from the publisher (not an affiliate link).

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