Daily Mass at St. Catherine of Siena Academy helps students ‘reset’ in Jesus

Students from St. Catherine of Siena Academy hold hands during the “Our Father” prayer at daily Mass. St. Catherine students participate in mandatory daily Mass, one of the only schools in the area to offer such. Photos courtesy of St. Catherine of Siena Academy

Students, parents alike cite Catholic identity as primary reason to choose school

Wixom — Students at St. Catherine of Siena Academy go about their day like most high school girls, but with one major difference: they never miss daily Mass, since it’s built into their schedules.

Right before lunch, the entire student body gathers in the chapel for a 30-minute liturgy with their chaplain, Fr. Richard Elmer, CSB, or a visiting priest from the Basilian Fathers, Miles Christi or a diocesan priest.

Most Catholic high schools offer optional daily Mass before the school day begins, and all offer all-school Masses throughout the year, but St. Catherine is one of the only area schools where all attend Mass together each day.

Principal Karen Ervin doesn’t receive pushback from parents on making room for Mass in their challenging college preparatory curriculum. In fact, when asked in a survey what they like most about the faith formation at their daughter’s school, St. Catherine parents most often cited the Mass.

“If you’re choosing SCA, our Catholic identity is the primary reason for most, and that’s also the primary reason the Mass is so attractive,” Ervin said.

Ervin notes that anxiety rates in college-age men and women are rising rapidly. At St. Catherine, the Mass offers solace and quiet in a pressure-filled culture, helping girls develop the habit of seeking calm in Christ.

“I think people minimize the importance of silence and prayer in communion with God,” Ervin said.  “That 30 minutes at Mass before lunch gives the girls a chance to be in silence, and we see how that actually increases their productivity in the afternoon, all by giving them a chance to cultivate their relationship with Jesus.”

Ervin sees a transformation in girls from their freshman to senior year, with a greater appreciation for the Mass. Most seniors move to the front of the chapel to be close to the altar.

“God’s grace is always at work, but here in the Mass, He has the opportunity to move through them — and He does,” Ervin said. “I’ve seen a transformation of conscience. I’ve seen conversions in these girls, and that’s Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.”

Rising junior Hannah Redmond says the daily Mass at St. Catherine was one of the key factors in her decision to attend the school. Redmond made a list of pros and cons for the schools she was considering, and her parents each did the same. In the end, all three listed the daily Mass as one of the main pros.

St. Catherine of Siena Academy students attend Mass as part of their daily schedule. Students and teachers alike say it helps them refocus their day.

“I don’t think I could get through a school day anymore without it. I get my time with Jesus, sort of like my ‘fill-up’ to help me with my afternoon,” Redmond said. “I like that it’s in the middle of the day because it helps me calm down and ‘reset’ if I had a bad morning. And when I’m having a good day, it just makes it better.”

Redmond’s parents, Coleen and Alan, attend the Mass sometimes as well, particularly on special days such as Hannah’s birthday.

Barbara Kirwan taught at public schools before she came to St. Catherine to teach theology and philosophy when the school opened its doors eight years ago. Kirwan says she sees great value in the Mass as a teacher.

“Whether a student is Catholic or not, it’s a time of reflection for them,” Kirwan said. “I also see value for the girls to see the different priests in their own individuality. There really is a charism in the way each of them preaches and interacts with the girls.”

Occasionally, one of Kirwan’s students will tell her that Mass is boring.

“I tell them that just because I cherish the Mass doesn’t mean I feel excited every single time I walk into the chapel,” Kirwan said. “I may not always feel it, but I know it’s the source and summit of our faith and it’s what we need to sustain us. So, I tell them to fight the boredom when they feel it and pray all the harder.”

St. Catherine alumnae who return to visit their alma mater often plan their visit for a special time of day — the Mass. Many of them seek out daily Mass at their colleges and some have even requested a daily Mass if their campus doesn’t offer one.