by Catherine Maresca
(Note, Anna Guida passed away in December, 2021 after many years of serving children as a Montessori guide and catechist.)
In 1984, Sofia was offering a Level 2 course (the first in the US) in St. Paul MN. I was present as an attendee and Anna Guida was present, cooking for Sofia in the basement of our dorm. Among other things, the course had a discussion about the color of the sheep – should they remain white, as in Sofia’s original material, or represent the natural colors of sheep seen throughout the world. At the heart of our conversation was a concern that children of color would feel excluded from a white flock of sheep.
Late one evening I wandered down to the basement and found Anna in the kitchen. I had met her the previous year and felt an easy familiarity with Anna because we were both from Western Pennsylvania. Experiencing her particular accent and expressions made me right at home with her. A little while into our conversation she asked me, with real concern in her voice, why I was doing this (discussing the color of the sheep) to Sofia. Anna’s absolute love and respect for Sofia and Gianna’s work was paramount, and Anna took my queries quite personally on their behalf.
I answered by offering her our experience in Washington, DC of Black children coloring their sheep various shades of brown. This points to their understanding that all humans are among the sheep of the Good Shepherd, and we catechists began to realize all the colors of the world’s sheep should be represented in the material. Anna listened carefully, and kindly challenged me to be faithful to the original material.
The following year we both returned for another Level 2 course led by Sofia, and Anna I had another late-night kitchen conversation. Again, she raised the topic of the color of the sheep. She began by saying, “I think I know what you were talking about.” She went on to describe a presentation of the Good Shepherd during the year. A few children were seated on the floor surrounding the material on a small mat. One of the children was an African American girl.
After introducing the text Anna slowly began to bring out the material. First the shepherd and then the sheep, one by one. The little girl followed Anna’s hand watching each sheep come out of the box and placed in the sheepfold. After the last sheep was in place Anna sat back, clearly finished. The child’s face fell as she looked at Anna. Anna’s sense was that the child was waiting for a sheep like herself to come out of the box. And she realized that the correlation of skin tones to sheepskin colors by young children of color really exists.
I was grateful that Anna shared this with me. I don’t know if she ever changed the color of her painted sheep to match those of the parable, but she revealed her deep regard for the children as well as Sofia in these conversations, and her humility in continuing our conversation with this observation.