Mind, body, and soul: Notre Dame teacher combines passions for fitness, faith, and family

by Jenara Kocks Burgess

North Texas Catholic

January 7, 2019

Mary Cluley, who teaches physical education, greets students and parents arriving at Notre Dame Catholic School in Wichita Falls, Friday, November 9, 2018. (NTC/Rodger Mallison) See more photos from Mrs. Cluley's day.


WICHITA FALLS — As parents walk their children to the entrance of Notre Dame Catholic School in Wichita Falls at 7:30 a.m., they are greeted by name by fellow students.

They probably don’t notice that their beloved physical education teacher Mary Cluley whispered the parents’ and students’ names to the student greeter just moments before. 

“Good morning! How are you today!” she calls out, her voice like a cheerful chime, as the arriving students enter through the heavy black wooden door Cluley is holding open for them.

Some might wonder why a PE teacher is a greeter at a school, but they wouldn’t if they knew Mrs. Cluley.

The student greeters are participating in the school’s “Knightly Greeter,” program, which Cluley initiated this year. Notre Dame Assistant Principal Rachel Gutgsell said “Knightly Greeters” is only one of the many programs Cluley has brought to Notre Dame in the 24 years she’s taught PE at the school. 

Other programs include Movement with Moms, Playing with Pops, Gigglin’ and Groovin’ with Grandparents, Golden Shoe — which all incorporate family participation — and cooperative events with the community such as DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), TxDOT’s Bike Rodeo bicycle safety program, and even a health fair at the school put on by local Midwestern State University that brings in MSU athletes to work with the kids. She also has continued the tradition of Safety Patrol, during which fifth graders walk younger children safely to their parents’ cars at the end of the day.

“She facilitates these programs in addition to being a full time PE teacher,” Gutgsell said.

Cluley said of her efforts: “I try to teach [students] social skills which will help them to succeed in life, whatever their profession is. I tell them that social skills, basically, are just following God’s command to love one another as He has loved us — and to live with joy.”

On a recent November day, her joy for her vocation seemed evident as she prepared to teach two-hand touch football to her afternoon classes of second- through fifth-graders and talked of her “intense love” for that game. But she interrupted herself to talk about a moment earlier in the day. She recalled she was on recess duty and asked some second-graders if they would give up a swing so that another classmate who was looking left out could use one.

 “All three girls gave up their swings. It made me so happy,” she said with a huge smile on her face.

Cluley also took time to tell their teacher, who commended them for their virtuous behavior.

Mary Cluley leads a physical education class for first graders at Notre Dame Catholic School in Wichita Falls, Friday, November 9, 2018. (NTC/Rodger Mallison) 


“Mary [Cluley] is constantly teaching and training the students in the importance of doing the right thing,” said Teresa Brady, a fourth grade teacher who has known Cluley for 13 years. “She emphasizes the virtues to the students and encourages them to grow in serving others.” 

Cluley also helps facilitate the school’s virtue program, which starts each day with an explanation of the week’s virtue. In the first week of November, the particular virtue was “trustworthiness” with the verse, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works,” from Titus 2:7.

It’s a verse that fits Cluley in her vocation — one that her parents instilled.

“My parents, Bob and Millie, were devout Catholics who served others in every capacity throughout their lives,” she said. “After my mother passed away, my dad spent two years of his life in Lourdes, France, lifting sick people in and out of the healing waters at Our Lady of Lourdes.”

“I remember delivering food baskets with my dad when it was very cold outside in the frigid Ohio winter.  My parents taught me by their lives,” she added.             

Cluley grew up in Columbus, Ohio, attending Catholic school from first through 12th grade. She was very active in sports and cheerleading all through her school days. 

She graduated from the College of Charleston in South Carolina.

Later, when she, her husband, and three children lived in Wichita Falls, Cluley said she fell in love with the family atmosphere of Notre Dame. She was a stay-at-home mom who volunteered at the school frequently.

After a year, the principal asked her to consider taking a physical education teacher position at the elementary school.

“I thought about it and prayed about it, and the thought that kept coming to my mind is how much I loved being up here at Notre Dame for anything. I just felt a special love when I walked in the building,” she said. “So, I enrolled at MSU and the journey of 52 college hours began, with my three children!”

The summer before she began teaching, she checked out every book she could find about teaching PE.

“And the first day of school came, and I knew it was for me the first minute I was there,” Cluley explained.

She continued learning as a teacher. Her coworkers talked about her dedication to learning new ways of teaching PE, and her forward-thinking approach to finding classroom ideas through social media, in addition to teacher organizations.

“I will say to anyone I meet that I have never seen nor heard of a PE teacher who approaches her job with such a professional attitude, always seeking out new ideas and staying up-to-date on the latest trends in physical education,” said Michael Edghill, principal of Notre Dame. “Mrs. Cluley really does reflect so much of the spirit of Notre Dame.”

“My philosophy in PE is simple,” she said, “Helping young people enjoy physical activity now so that they can enjoy physical activity for the rest of their lives! I expose children to a wide variety of activities.”

Matt Ledesma, a 2004 graduate of Notre Dame High School, now serves as the school’s director of Institutional Advancement. He was Cluley’s student when he was in elementary school.

“Mrs. Cluley is the model of Catholic school educator. Her dedication to forming our students in mind, body, and soul is unmatched. Generations of students would tell you how much Mrs. Cluley played a positive role in their young lives,” he said.

 

WICHITA FALLS — As parents walk their children to the entrance of Notre Dame Catholic School in Wichita Falls at 7:30 a.m., they are greeted by name by fellow students.

Published (until 1/7/2035)
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