Father Tom Knoblach grew up watching his father work on cars and developed a similar passion for them.
During high school, he worked at a local auto dealership and started working on cars there, although he never had any formal mechanic training.
After he was ordained, he started repairing cars for others and learned as he went along. “You take things apart and put them back together and then you know how they work,” he said.
And now he’s sharing his knowledge.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, a group of teens from Father Knoblach’s parishes — St. Anthony, St. John Cantius and Holy Spirit in St. Cloud — gathered at Holy Spirit for the second in a series of presentations titled Vital 3.0, a program that aims to engage teens after confirmation by teaching practical skills — like healthy eating, balancing a checkbook and car maintenance.
“We’re trying to give them some basic skills that might be interesting, but also bring them back to the parish community,” said Scott Frieler, youth coordinator at Holy Spirit and St. Anthony.
The idea is to find members of the parish who have expertise to share with the youth.
Father Knoblach focused his talk April 24 on regular maintenance and how to keep a car out of the shop, emphasizing that it is far less expensive to pay for maintenance than for repairs.
“Getting car advice from someone you trust is important,” said Bernerdette Zorn, who doesn’t have a license yet but wanted to be informed before she starts driving.
Starting off in a classroom setting, Father Knoblach went over the systems in a car.
“Just like the Bible is a collection of books, a car is a collection of systems,” he said, listing them on a whiteboard.
He explained all of the fluids in a car — including brake fluid, engine oil and windshield washer fluid — what they do and how to check and change them.
After running through a list of routine maintenance practices — such as checking the oil, air filters and wiper blades — Father Knoblach highlighted common repairs the teens will likely need to address at some point.
“Get to know your owner’s manual; your owner’s manual is your friend,” Father Knoblach stressed more than once.
After going over the basics, the group headed outside. He showed them how to check the oil and tire pressure, change wiper blades, use a jack and change a tire.
“I own a car and just wanted to know more about how to fix things in case I need to,” said Nathaniel Chamberlain, a senior this year who will be taking his car to college in the fall. “And hearing about the general components [of a car] was really useful. That’s why I came. I thought it was really helpful.”
Father Knoblach has been giving advice and helping parishioners with car repairs for more than 20 years.
“I think it’s part of the works of mercy,” he said. “It’s a way to build relationships and share and use my talents. There’s a lot of things I can’t do, but with the things I can do, I try to help people that would have difficulty paying for repairs.”
It can even be considered a form of evangelization. Some of the people he has talked to at the local auto parts store where he is a regular customer are now coming to church.
“They see, here’s a guy that does what I do,” he said. “There have been some nice connections.”
And he just really enjoys working with cars.
“When I should be reading about the ecumenical councils, I read Car and Driver,” he joked.
Doing something so different from his work as a priest has benefits, he said.
“It really is a nice balance. In so much of ministry, there’s no beginning, middle or end; you never know where you are in someone’s journey,” he said. “But this has a beginning, middle and end. It’s a sense of accomplishment.”