By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
A Donovan Catholic Facebook post announcing the passing May 18 of Karin Krenek remembered her as “the kind of teacher who makes impressions on the lives of her students, inspiring them to reach higher; the kind of a friend whose hugs and smiles and laughter uplifted them on tough days; a wife and mother and sister whose imprint on the world will never fade.”
Throughout the minutes, hours and days that followed the unexpected loss of the Toms River high school’s beloved drama teacher -- the accuracy of that post emerged with breathtaking clarity. For seven days, St. Joseph Parish, Donovan Catholic and St. Joseph School united as family to mourn Mrs. Krenek’s death and celebrate her life with prayer.
Prayer, in fact, was the immediate response from students, alumni, faculty and staff who were present at a mini-theater retreat led by the drama teacher when she stepped into the nearby doorway of the high school chapel and soundlessly slipped from this earthly life.
Michael, one of her four children and a Donovan Catholic alumnus, was assisting his mother at the retreat. He went immediately to her aid and when he realized there was no earthly help to be had, turned immediately to the students. Leading them in the Our Father and the Hail Mary, Michael Krenek initiated the wave of prayer that would rise over the campus for seven days.
The prayer rolled on throughout that first day, cresting with an afternoon Mass for everyone in St. Joseph Church celebrated by Father Jerome J. Guld, parochial vicar. At the weekend liturgies, students wearing T-shirts from the musicals Mrs. Krenek so delighted in staging with them, raised their voices in hymns and songs in her memory.
Pinned to those T-shirts were the small Miraculous medals she bestowed as keepsakes on everyone involved in the productions, said Father G. Scott Shaffer. St. Joseph’s pastor and director of Donovan Catholic, Father Shaffer described that week as one in which the bustle of the world was suspended. It culminated, he said, when well over 1,200 people came to the wake service May 23, waiting patiently in a line that “wrapped around the church and along the parking lot for four hours straight.”
If anything reflected Mrs. Krenek’s impact on the school she devoted 15 years to – including five as drama director – it was that turnout during the funeral rites, Father Shaffer said. “It was a beautiful wake service with 60 kids in the choir, all performing arts kids,” singing their hearts out for Mrs. Krenek, he said.
The next day’s Mass saw the church filled to overflowing with parishioners, students and alumni, faculty, staff and members of the community at large. The outpouring, he said, underscored Mrs. Krenek’s generous nature and the deep faith she willingly shared with the students and everyone around her.
It also affirmed the fact that “the parish and the schools are family and we did what a family does, what families are supposed to do,” said Father Shaffer.
“We came together, we cried, we laughed, told stories and we prayed. We continued living this life as we reflected on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus,” in the Mass, secure in the knowledge of Mrs. Krenek’s deep reserve of faith, one which she never hesitated to share with the students she treasured.
Blessed Are We
For JoAnn Tier, diocesan superintendent of schools, the reaction of the parish and schools to the death of Karin Krenek spoke volumes about the impact that the Catholic faith has for those who believe.
“The Mass on the day she passed away was a beautiful way to begin to remember and process the events,” Mrs. Tier said. “At the funeral, the church filled with administrators, faculty and staff of Donovan Catholic and St. Joseph School, parents, PTA members and the broader community in a standing room only setting, was a beautiful way to support the family of a beloved teacher,” she said.
“The Mass was a tribute to Karin Krenek’s memory and in speaking with those who worked with her and knew her, it was clear she saw the face of God in all with whom she interacted,” she said.
She noted the joy that permeated the atmosphere at the end of the Mass as adults holding sparklers lit the way for the processional line in a “farewell salute to an exceptional human being and friend.”
Thomas Ball, a member of the Donovan Catholic religion department and assistant campus minister, shared his sense of how the unexpected death brought out the best in the community.
It was fitting, he said, that everyone felt called to “gather where our foundation is. We needed to go together, to pray together as one. To feel the unity of the community.”
Father Shaffer, whose admiration for Mrs. Krenek was clear, spoke of how much it meant to be able to bid her farewell in the way she would have wanted.
From the first moments, to the last, he said, the community drew together in faith. “Literally within moments, her son, who, like his mother, has a great ability to bring people together, had all of the kids praying. He brought all those kids together and he didn’t leave them.”
“Whatever may be, the blessing, the great blessing of Catholic schools is that the kids get it … being the director of the school and the parish pastor, there is such gratification that this is what we do and (the kids) did it beautifully. When we are trying to see God’s hand in something, they do.”
A scholarship will be established in Karin Krenek’s name to keep her memory alive at Donovan Catholic. Details will be announced when available.