Through 'Epoch Week,' St. Catherine of Siena students learn value of service

St. Catherine of Siena Academy students sort food at Gleaners Community Food Bank during the school's annual “Epoch Week.” The week of service, which takes place each year around Catholic Schools Week, invites students to place others before themselves in prayer, service and ministry. (Photos courtesy of St. Catherine of Siena Academy)

Wixom all-girls school puts others first through volunteering, tutoring and evangelization, putting faith into action

WIXOM — St. Francis of Assisi is credited with the famous saying that Christians should “go forth and preach the Gospel,” and “if necessary, use words.” 

In his 2017 pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron echoes these words of St. Francis of Assisi when he reminds the faithful of the Archdiocese of Detroit that “every person in the Archdiocese is called to encounter Jesus anew, to grow daily as his disciple, and to give witness to the power of His mercy.” 

Each year, around Catholic Schools Week, one local Catholic school takes such witness to heart. The 280-student, all-girls St. Catherine of Siena Academy in Wixom each January hosts a week of prayer, growth and witness known as “Epoch Week.”

St. Catherine students begin each “Epoch day” with daily Mass at various Detroit churches before putting their faith into action by embarking on local “mission trips” throughout the city, volunteering at places such as Washington Parks Academy, Michigan Foster Care Cabinet, St. Christine’s Soup Kitchen, St. Paul’s Street Evangelization, the Methodist Children’s Home, and the Detroit Rescue Mission. 

St. Catherine students pose for a photo at Gleaners Community Food Bank during Epoch Week.

During their time, students tutor, pack food boxes, share meals and simply serve. As is often the case, when students give, they receive. 

“The beauty of Epoch Week is that it relieves us from our typical duties and encourages us to remove our stubborn, selfish motives at the sight of those in need,” student Maddie Gecosky said.

Senior Maddie Campagna added, “The most memorable moment of my week was when I was out on the streets of Detroit praying with the homeless. I asked a man what he wanted us to pray for. He answered, ‘A better world with kindness and love.'”

Students also understand what it means to “pay it forward.” The week following Catholic Schools Week, St. Catherine students support prospective students in a fundraising effort to make the education that has transformed them possible for others.

While St. Catherine students help more than a dozen organizations during Epoch Week, the school doesn't stop there. Annually, a busload of students attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C., and biannually the school sponsors a mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

On the last day of Epoch Week, before the girls departed the Detroit Rescue Mission, one of the guests approached a student, shook her hand, and asked her where they were from. The student proudly professed, “St. Catherine of Siena.” They boarded the bus to a standing ovation from all the guests. 

Paul Stuligross is a freelance writer whose daughters attend St. Catherine of Siena Academy.