Contours of Wonder: Childhood and the Liturgical Imagination

By Margaret Scroope

Contours of Wonder: Childhood and the Liturgical ImaginationContours of Wonder: Childhood and the Liturgical Imagination

The University of Notre Dame has received a grant of $1.25 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to create a three-year research and education initiative intended to foster children’s participation in worship in the context of late modernity. Lilly Endowment made the grant through its Nurturing Children Through Worship and Prayer Initiative.

Situated within the McGrath Institute for Church Life’s Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Contours of Wonder: Childhood and the Liturgical Imagination seeks to renew liturgical formation in the Church by identifying the proper dispositions necessary for children and adults alike to worship God. Having identified these dispositions, Contours will develop pastoral programming that cultivates a liturgical-sacramental imagination in dioceses and parishes.

Contours of Wonder is inspired by Romano Guardini’s scholarship on the liturgical formation of the child and adolescent. Commenting on Guardini’s importance to the initiative, Timothy O’Malley, Ph.D., Academic Director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, noted: “Romano Guardini understood that if we were to develop a humane culture in an age characterized by technology, the abuse of power, and frenetic activity, we need to remember what it means to be a liturgical creature. The formation of the child in the proper dispositions for worship will not only be good for the child but also for the entire human family.”

Through Contours, Notre Dame will partner with Villanova University to host three scholarly gatherings, culminating in three research volumes. Based on this research, a series of workshops and a leadership cohort will be piloted in partner dioceses across the United States. Cohort participants will spend a year exploring new ways to approach the liturgical formation of children and will develop implementation plans for their own churches, schools, and dioceses. The initiative will culminate in a capstone conference in the summer of 2026.

To promote ongoing scholarship in this area, Contours will also host lectures and webinars throughout the three-year initiative and offer academic research fellowships to undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Notre Dame. An undergraduate course at Notre Dame will also be created, introducing Notre Dame students to contemplative and sacramental practices necessary for human flourishing.

"We are engaging with scholars from across disciplines as well as parents, catechists, pastors, and children themselves. Essential to this initiative is ensuring that our research contributes meaningfully to the academy while remaining accessible to the wider Church in a way that inspires a transformation in how children are both understood and formed,” said Lesley Kirzeder, program director of the initiative.

Dr. O’Malley concluded by saying: “We are grateful to Lilly Endowment for enabling us to participate in this initiative. Since its founding in 1970, the Center for Liturgy has had a special focus on the formation of children for participation in the liturgy. This grant, therefore, is a natural outgrowth of our mission to renew the liturgical and sacramental imagination of the Church. It’s a gift to engage in this kind of pastorally informed research and teaching that allows us to directly serve the Church in the unique way that a University can.”