OCONTO FALLS — Prayer has always been important to Karen Knoerzer, so there is no better way to begin her day.
“I start by asking Our Mother Mary to help us and our family through praying the rosary,” she said. “I do Lectio Divina. I like the ‘The Word Among Us.’ That’s the one I use.”
Knoerzer again turns to prayer when she arrives at Washington Middle School in Oconto Falls, where she has taught art for the past 25 years.
“I ask Jesus to bless the classroom and (I bless) my computer with holy water,” she said. “In the afternoon, I pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet.”
The school and St. Anthony Church in Oconto Falls are home to Knoerzer. She grew up 10 minutes from Oconto Falls in the Town of Morgan, the eldest of five children of Wilbur and Marguerite Fieck. Her parents, who own a 120-acre farm, served as models of faith.
“Mom was a homemaker and Dad worked two or three jobs — farmer, mailman and at the machine shop,” said Knoerzer. “They were very faithful to go to church. Mom was in prayer groups and she helped with the prayer team at St. Anthony. She was also involved in retreats.”
Knoerzer’s high school art teacher inspired her to pursue art education. She studied at the now- closed Silver Lake College in Manitowoc.
“I really appreciate the memories there,” she said. “I had really great instructors. The sisters (Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity) were wonderful.”
Following graduation, Knoerzer stayed in Manitowoc for a teaching position. She then taught in Stevens Point before “God brought me right back” to Oconto Falls, she said.
In college, Knoerzer began teaching religious education and has continued to be involved in faith formation ever since. She currently team teaches 10th grade with Don Schmidt at St. Anthony.
“I tell Don, ‘I teach all day long, so I will just be your little tag team assistant,’” she said with a laugh.
They recently organized a 40-days walk at faith formation. The sophomore students created pro-life posters and walked through the building to visit each of the classrooms.
“If we can get them young, now, thinking about pro-life, hopefully, they will be able to help somebody else or help themselves,” said Knoerzer. “We hope that they will have that memory that every year those posters came around and we were always talking about how wonderful life is.”
When she returned to Oconto Falls, Knoerzer helped start a children’s liturgy at St. Anthony. She is involved in the Parish Council of Catholic Women (PCCW), music ministry and prayer groups, including Praise His Holy Name and Seven Sisters. On Tuesday evenings, she attends adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Mass at the church.
The Praise His Holy Name group meets on Sundays for song, Scripture and sharing. They have met virtually during the pandemic. Seven Sisters is a group that prays for the parish priest during the week. Each person has a specific day to pray for an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
“I’m a substitute now,” said Knoerzer. “That was very powerful praying for Fr. Joel (Sember, former pastor at St. Anthony) on Fridays, sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament or doing the Stations of the Cross. You think about the duties your parish priest has and just pray for him to do well.”
Knoerzer is thankful to the priests who have heard her confessions for their support through prayer and presence. She points to Fr. Sember, Fr. Greg Parent, administrator at St. Anthony Parish, and the priests at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. Knoerzer participated in walking pilgrimages to the shrine led by Fr. Sember.
“It’s about the journey,” she said. “You get to know yourself and how you handle things when it’s Wednesday (on the weeklong pilgrimage) and it’s raining.”
Knoerzer’s experience with Koinonia (a weekend fellowship experience to encounter Jesus) inspired her to bring prayer into the school. The prayer team would usually meet in her classroom, but currently gathers virtually on Thursday mornings.
“We praise God for blessings and then pray for students, staff and any needs that have been brought to us,” she said.
“We meet for 15 minutes. I send out the petitions and thanksgivings we had that day. There is a whole group of another 15 people who will be praying those intentions during the week,” added Knoerzer. “Some are retired. Others might be people who can’t come at that time. It’s nondenominational. It’s wonderful that you hear songs they enjoy singing at Mass or their church. Sometimes we sing a song if someone wants to lead or I will send a song to the group.”
Knoerzer credits her husband, Greg, for supporting the many ways she lives out her faith. Now retired, he takes care of tasks around the house and enjoys cooking. Knoerzer has two grown children, Jon and Amanda, two stepchildren and eight grandchildren in her blended family. Her godfather, Wayne Gunville, her uncle, now deceased, and his wife, Rita, also served as models of faith. Wayne was very inspirational in Koinonia and TEC (Teens Encounter Christ), she said.
The saints are also an important part of Knoerzer’s prayer life, especially her patron saints, Ann, Therese and Catherine, she said.
In addition to teaching art, creating art is one of Knoerzer’s passions. She said that painting is the most enjoyable medium for her, but recently she has been working more with clay. She takes a retreat each summer to do pottery and ceramics. When she retires from the classroom in the future, art will remain an important part of her life.
“I always thought I would like to get more into my painting and possibly illustrate a book,” she said. “I also love traveling. I’ve gone to Europe a couple times. I have two sisters who serve (in the military). I’m very proud of them.
“I will get more involved in the church somehow when I’m not at school,” she added, “something God has planned for me.”