“Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet numerous trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (Jn 1:2 – 3)
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Prov 17:17)
Brad Allen recently told me that Julie Freeman is very good at identifying the strengths of her staff. As Brad also exhibits, many of Our Lady of Perpetual Help school faculty and staff wear many hats. Both of these are true for Mindy O’Harra. Previously Mindy was a substitute teacher and part-time intervention aide at the school while also working outside the school as a personal trainer. When Sam Seggerson, our previous physical education teacher, retired last Summer, Julie realized that Mindy was an excellent fit for that position.
Mindy is a product of Catholic schools, having attended St. Stephen Martyr’s elementary school and then graduating from Bishop Ready High School. Exhibiting the importance of personal connections that Fr. Watson so values, it was at Bishop Ready that Mindy first met Julie and, through her, has formed a connection with the parish and school. Forming yet another connection between the school and parish, Mindy also serves as our Athletics Director, responsible for all sports involving both the school and PSR students.
With her background as an intervention specialist, Mindy still maintains a caseload of those students despite working as both a physical education teacher and Athletics director. These students face their own personal adversities and Mindy is proud to support them and enjoys the one-on-one interaction when her gym classes are more group lessons, so to speak. Her unique position with its number of roles also gives her the opportunity to “use gym as a reward and get those students [with special needs] to succeed.”
Outside of the intervention program, Mindy also enjoys facing the other students with adversity in athletics. As she explains, “It’s just a learning experience; they learn the most through losing.” Mindy also knows there are some games some students love while other hate them, but that adversity is also part of the learning process. No doubt as adults all of us have aspects of our jobs that we love and others that we love… not so much. Being able to identify these daily frustrations and handle them in a constructive manner at a young age will be extremely beneficial to our parochial children.
Beyond Our Lady’s school, Mindy is also responsible for all athletics sponsored by the parish. The current pandemic has certainly impacted the ability to participate in sports, but Mindy is happy that things are slowly beginning to return to normal. She is also happy to serve as a bridge between the school’s gym classes and the larger parochial athletics program and sees her role as a physical education teacher particularly useful for this. “Through gym I can identify kids who might be helped by sports and recruit them. It’s helped to get more than a few signed up.” Doing so also helps to further tie the school students together with the PSR students. As Mindy says, “Athletics is just an extension of bringing us all together.”
Regarding those sports, Mindy recognizes that our shared Catholic faith is central to everything we do at the parish, including athletics. Games begin with prayer, and there is a mutual respect between teams and competitors as well as building relationships. Mindy believes sports are a common language that can bring our parish together as well as build relationships between our parish and our surrounding ones. After a pause Mindy further explains, “We’re teaching them morals, ethics, adversity.”
She is also glad that our diocese begins sports at the Kindergarten level instead of much later in public schools. As Mindy explains, “That starts them building a community in Kindergarten instead of waiting until middle school.” She then adds, “It brings all of the parish together.”
Perhaps one of Mindy’s greatest challenges is reigning back the competitiveness of her school and PSR kids. “Even if you’re not keeping score, they want to know who is winning.” As a parent I can completely attest to that; when the twins come up with a completely imaginary game that has no possibility of a score before long, they want to know who is winning.
The greatest joy Mindy receives as a physical education teacher at the school is the enthusiasm the kids bring to the gym. Given the current restraints of the pandemic, the students are largely confined to their desks throughout most of the school day. However, when they reach their gym class, the students are able to exhibit that energy and excitement that makes them kids. “The little ones run up and hug you and you get to see their smiles and laughs.” Mindy also enjoys being able to see all the kids in the school throughout the week, “I’m so blessed to be able to see everyone.”
Mindy describes herself as “pretty transparent,” and loves the kids even when “I push them a little harder” than they would like. However, Christ himself pushes us a little harder than we would like; “Afterward he appeared to the Eleven themselves and as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” (Mk 16:14)
In her sparse free time, Mindy coaches high school sports and is present at her own children’s games. Athletics is an extension of her own faith and it brings her, “happiness, peace, and knowing that all of this is happening for a reason.” She is appreciative of the opportunity given to her, “I absolutely love it,” and given helping kids through their adversity, Mindy immediately responds, “That’s why we are here.”
By Eric Brooks