How times have changed.


Members of the Waukesha Catholic Study Group gather for a group photo during their May meeting at St. Mary Parish, Waukesha, when they celebrated the 75th anniversary of the group. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)

Seventy-five years later, the group has 157 members from parishes throughout Waukesha County. But despite the growth in membership, the group’s mission statement has remained the same.

“For me, it’s always been an opportunity to learn about my faith in an easier, more comfortable way,” said Betty Lawler, part of the organization since 1961. “Every time I go to a meeting, I seem to learn something. I also get to chat with my friends over a nice meal. It’s always a very enjoyable time.”

The group meets approximately eight times each year. A program includes a talk by a guest speaker, panel discussions and a luncheon. The balance of a meeting is devoted to such business matters as dues, by-laws and chairperson updates.

In the early days, the group met at members’ homes. As membership increased, gatherings shifted to local restaurants and the Waukesha Women’s Club. Today, the group meets at the Country Springs Hotel.

As the group has grown, the club has been able to give charitably to Catholic organizations throughout the Waukesha area. Among them: Catholic Memorial High School and various K-8 parochial schools, as well as St. Joseph’s Medical and Dental Clinic in the city. Funds have come from card parties, sales from a cookbook and leftover money from dues.

One of the group’s most venerable members, Betty Knoebel, has been part of the organization for 63 years. She attributes the club’s longevity to members’ dedication.

“This is a group filled with women who are willing to help,” said Knoebel, who, along with Lawler, attends St. Mary Catholic Church in Waukesha. “It’s been a good socializing opportunity. You get to meet people from all over.”

In the early years, Knoebel said, the group was so small that a member’s absence would be keenly noted by other women.

“I have fond memories of those early years; it was very casual back then,” she said. “But I’ve also enjoyed watching it grow because it was meant to grow.”

Knoebel said the addition of other parishes from areas such as Dousman was a win-win situation.

“We’ve been able to meet people from all over,” she said. “For the women in the smaller parishes, this has been a chance for them to get involved in ways they might not otherwise be able to.”

Although the group has grown, Knoebel said each member is a valued part of the organization. When the group learns of a member’s misfortune, everyone rallies around that person.

“They’ve always been very good about keeping track of everyone,” Knoebel said. “It’s big, but it’s close.”

That closeness benefited Mary Kay Muth, who has been with the group since 1964. Muth’s husband died earlier this year, and the presence of fellow members at the funeral was a deep comfort.

“There is certainly a lot of compassion in the group, and I was reminded of it that day,” said Muth, who attends St. William Parish in Waukesha.

Guest speakers over the years have varied, from local priests to students at some of the parochial schools in Waukesha. On occasion, there will even be a musical performance.

One of the most notable guest speakers was Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, who paid a visit to the club in 2004. He was on hand when the club celebrated its annual May crowning ceremony.

“I really enjoy the speakers,” said Muth, who has been part of a committee that selects visitors. “We’ve heard from some very interesting people throughout the years.”

Muth has served in nearly ever capacity throughout her tenure with the club. One of her favorite roles has been chair of the membership committee. She helped devise a plan of phoning members, reminding them of upcoming meetings and checking in to see how they are doing.

“It’s a wonderful way to interact with one another,” she said.