The Michigan Catholic: Music teacher returns for a second verse at Shrine

Music teacher returns for a second verse at Shrine
by Daniel Meloy

January 25, 2018

Shrine Grade School music teacher Michelle Hurley, a 2001 graduate of the Royal Oak parish’s high school, returned to teach at her alma mater after 14 years in public schools. She credits the school’s faith and family-like atmosphere with drawing her back.
Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Royal Oak — It didn’t take long for music teacher Michelle Hurley to get acclimated to her music room at Shrine Grade School in Royal Oak.

After all, she spent plenty of time there as a student.

Hurley came to the school this fall as the new music teacher, but her Shrine journey began many years ago: Hurley is a lifelong National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica parishioner; both of her parents graduated from Shrine High School; and she and her three sisters went through Shrine.

Seventeen years later, she’s back to where she started.

“I’m from Royal Oak, lived here on and off my entire life,” said Hurley, of the class of 2001, who grew up a few blocks from the parish. “I always loved music, choir, and have been singing solo since the third grade. I knew early on I wanted to be a teacher, and by high school I knew I wanted to teach music; it’s been such a big part of my life.”

After graduating from Shrine and later from Central Michigan University with a music degree, Hurley’s teaching career took her through public and charter schools in Troy, Hamtramck, Flushing and Novi.

“I thought I would end my career in Novi,” Hurley said. “I had a really great job, a state-of-the-art music room. The whole time I was at Novi, I thought I had my dream job there.”

Though she enjoyed her job in Novi for 12 years, the daily commute from Royal Oak was taking Hurley away from her family. And ultimately, she missed being in a Catholic school environment.

“(At Shrine), we are allowed to talk about God, which in a music class does come up,” Hurley said. “Every year I did a holiday program, but the Christmas programs (in a public school) had to be very generic. I thought I had this gift for music, a passion for teaching, but I wasn’t using it in an area that talked about Jesus Christ.”

Since coming to Shrine, Hurley has taken up teaching “Knights in Harmony,” the fifth- and sixth-grade after-school singing group at Shrine Grade School, and started the “Knights in Lights” program, a third-grade drama club.

Hurley said being re-integrated into the Shrine community has been a blessing, but she especially loves being closer to her three daughters: Ella, Evelyn and Faith, who attend Shrine’s grade school, pre-school and early child care center, respectively.

“I live five minutes away, versus a 35-minute drive. My home life has benefited from this so much,” Hurley said. “Part of my job now is I get to go to church on Fridays with the school, and I get to go to church with my children.”

Being a mother to Shrine students gives Hurley a parent’s perspective while teaching, something she says makes her more appreciative of the sacrifices and expectations of parents who send their children to Catholic schools.

“Parents are sending their children to a Catholic school for a reason,” Hurley said. “They are making a huge sacrifice, no matter who the family is. I have a complete respect for that. Because I’m a parent, I almost cherish these children more; I am one of the parents. So I understand the precious gift I’m given.”

Being able to walk the halls and see class assignments talking about Jesus, the saints and a big cardboard cutout of Pope Francis, Hurley is truly grateful to teach in a Catholic environment. She feels the Holy Spirit has called her back, and her principal, Katie Fotiu, agrees.

Michelle Hurley, music teacher at Shrine Grade School in Royal Oak, leads her class in a song Jan. 11.
Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

“It’s totally the work of God’s hands that she is here with us,” Fotiu said. “He was able to make it work for our (school) family.”

When the job opened in July, the opportunity to teach music in a faith-filled environment proved to be enough to draw Hurley back into the Shrine system, Fotiu said.

“For her, it was her passion and commitment to the Catholic faith that made us know she was the perfect hire,” Fotiu said. “It isn’t just about teaching music, but she can interact with these kids in ‘Knights in Harmony’ after school and be part of the new drama program. You walk into her room and it radiates with excitement, with passion.”

Hurley recognizes she left an amazing job in Novi. But she knows she did it for an incredible mission at Shrine — something she’ll never regret.

“To me, music is one of the greatest gifts this earth has been given, and to be able to share that with children, to instill some sort of love of it, whether playing an instrument, singing or listening to it, that’s my calling,” Hurley said. “I just love that. I love that I’m able to teach music about the Lord when I’m here. It doesn’t feel like work when I come here.”

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