St. Catherine Academy begins new tradition with outdoor homecoming dance

St. Catherine of Siena Academy students pose for a homecoming photo under the pavilion at Paradise Park in Novi, where the all-girls school chose to host its homecoming dance during the pandemic. Now, due to the success of the outing, students at the school want to start a new tradition, hosting homecoming every year at the outdoor venue. (Courtesy of St. Catherine of Siena Academy)

One of the interesting things about any Catholic school that is named after a saint is when that school exhibits a direction that would make its patron or patroness smile. Such is the case with St. Catherine Academy in Wixom, whose patroness is St. Catherine of Siena. St. Catherine’s 2022 homecoming was planned on the fortuitous heels of the previous "COVID year." It’s an odd story, but one that makes sense considering the school’s patroness.

In his book, “Thirty-Five Doctors of the Church,” Fr. Christopher Rengers, OFM Cap., writes of St. Catherine, “St. Catherine in a particular way shows us the heart of Christ in our world today,” indeed a world where adjustments have needed to be made these last few years. “For in her own era,” he writes, “was trial and change in the Church.”

No one can argue the last few years haven't been riddled with change. During the COVID year, St. Catherine Academy took on that challenge when it planned a “COVID-protocol” homecoming dance for the 225-student school. “It was a way we could bring some sense of normalcy to our students, while still allowing them to embrace their sisterhood, and be sensitive to COVID concerns,” said Lia Johnson, president of St. Catherine Academy.

In response, the school held their annual homecoming dance at an outdoor venue, Paradise Park, in Novi. The night included bonfires, putt-putt golf, go-cart racing and lots of bonding.

“Everyone around the world was navigating the COVID landscape rather blindly. The SCA community was right there with them," Judy Hehs, principal of St. Catherine, recalls. Hehs relays that St. Catherine's staff and faculty got great pride out of teaching their students in person, even with all the protocols and challenges.

One of those challenges was how the school could create some sense of normalcy amid such a difficult time, and to show that faith wins over fear, by holding a safe homecoming dance.

The idea began with the student council, Hehs said.

“With masks still being de rigueur, the seniors had to get creative. Maybe what they needed was a giant tent set up on the athletic fields, under which a dance floor could be set-up and the DJ could play the music of the day. They soon learned that it wasn’t as easy as it seemed,” Hehs said.

Through some prayer and discernment, the student council finally came up with the idea to hold the homecoming at Paradise Park, an outdoor area that was comfortable and safe. And to boot, there were lots of things for students to do.

“It took a little cajoling,” says Hehs, “but momentum soon gathered around the Spirit Week theme of Candyland with the HOCO dance at Paradise Park” and the rest was history.

Now, the very thing the school was compelled to do out of safety has suddenly become the thing students want to do for a better homecoming experience. And it sounds as if it will become the new homecoming tradition for years to come.

Included in this new tradition will be those go-cart races, giant slides, s'mores, fair rides, rope climbing, and notwithstanding, some dancing, too. The event has always been heavily attended, and you know that “rule” most schools enforce; the one mandating that students arrive no later than 8 p.m. and leave no sooner than 10 p.m.? Well, that hasn’t been a problem. What it amounts to is lots of good, clean fun over something begun in an era that needed some “adjustment.”

Hehs knew it was a success when one of the first things a student-council member asked her was, “When can we book the pavilion again for next year?”

Who says God doesn’t work in mysterious ways? “Start being brave about everything. Drive out darkness and replace it with light,” St. Catherine once wrote. I’m sure the girls there would agree.

Paul Stuligross is a retired police officer. He currently teaches theology at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Novi.


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