June 1, 2018

Longtime volunteer lives his legacy

By John Shaughnessy

Jesse ClearyFrom his 35 years of coaching in the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), Jesse Cleary has developed a special appreciation for certain children.

“The ones you remember the most are not the greatest athletes. They’re the kids who give the effort, and then they suddenly get it. When you see them get better as the season goes along, that’s a lot of why I’m in this.

“There was a boy in wrestling. He worked, and he worked. He always fell short of his personal goals. When he got that first win—I still remember the smile on his face.”

Cleary then shares the latest chapter in that athlete’s story.

“He’s an Indianapolis firefighter now, and he’s coaching his kids. That’s the legacy I like to see carry on.”

Cleary appreciates that legacy so much because it captures his commitment to the CYO. He started coaching when he was a 17-year-old student at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, viewing it as a way to give back to the people who coached him as a youth.

Still, there’s another compelling reason that has motivated Cleary to dedicate 35 years to coaching young people in a range of sports. He sees that dedication as part of the legacy he has always wanted to create for his two children, 19-year-old Connor and 14-year-old Katie.

“As a dad, I try to set an example for my kids,” says Cleary, a 2018 recipient of the St. John Bosco Award, the highest honor from the archdiocese’s CYO. “You can talk to your children and get them to church, but you have to live your faith as best you can, too.”

He strives to follow that approach at his home parish—St. Mark the Evangelist in Indianapolis—where he has served on the school commission, sung in the choir, and participated as a sponsor for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program.

“You see people at church on Sunday, but you don’t get to know them until you work with them. Then you see how much you have in common.”

He’s seen those same rewards from coaching. When he and his wife Jody coached their daughter’s kickball team this year, it gave him the opportunity to get to know her classmates better.

He also savors “when a kid you coached 30 years ago comes up to you and says, ‘Hey coach, remember me?’

“There’s not a better feeling than that. You build lasting relationships.” †


Related story: Archbishop salutes CYO honorees for living ‘the joy of the Gospel’

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