Judith “Judy” Woods Schoenherr

Judith “Judy” Woods Schoenherr

MADISON- Judith “Judy” Woods Schoenherr, whose wide-ranging interests and concern for others, earned her a multitude of friends and supporters, died at her home in Madison surrounded by her family on Saturday, April 21, 2012, at the age of 71, as a result of ovarian cancer.

“She was a non-judgmental listener,” said her longtime friend, Dianne Greenley. “I think that’s why people gravitated to her. They felt safe with Judy.” Her mischievous sense of humor was also an important characteristic of her personality. “I think of Judy with those bright eyes, her hilarious way of seeing the world, and her gift of laughter,” said another friend. For years Judy carried in her purse a story from the New Yorker magazine that was full of cleverly misspelled words and phrases. Whenever in contact with a kindred spirit, she would take it out and read it, inspiring gales of laughter. Judy said it was better than going to a therapist. Throughout the stages of her life, as student, Roman Catholic nun, wife, mother and nurturer of relationships, Judy was a voracious reader who loved discussing books with friends. Other interests included good cooking, especially freshly baked pie, the creating of pottery, the Spanish Civil War and the concerns of her community, not to mention her ever growing collection of pop-up books.

She was born Sept. 2, 1940, in Detroit, Mich., the second youngest of the 10 children of Helen and George Woods. The siblings were all raised, however, through the loving, creative determination of their mother Helen, aided by their care for one another. Judy’s brother, George, nine years older than Judy, called her “the most beautiful baby I ever saw.” She was “really smart all through school,” he said, though he acknowledged she went through a “phase” as a teen, wearing “strange, almost Goth clothing” but emerged unscathed. “We had no idea when she told us she was going to be a nun right after high school,” said George. “She was having too much fun and so outgoing.” But she did enter The Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) in Monroe, Mich., in 1958 shortly after her 18th birthday.

During her 10 years as a sister, Judy taught school in Dearborn, Mich., and earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Marygrove College in Monroe. She also volunteered and was among the first IHM sisters chosen to open a mission in Recife, Brazil, where she served for two years. Sister Carol Quigley, IHM, an associate and close friend through the years, remembered Judy as “a natural leader who had “a lighter grasp” on the rules and regulations of pre-Vatican II convent life.” Whether driving the recycled paddy wagon the order used or preparing a skit based on a Shakespearean play, said Quigley, “Judy showed a great zest for life. She brought to the classroom a bright intellect and a sense of drama spiced with humor.” Judy left the order in 1968, served for a year as dean of students at Nazareth College in Kalamazoo, Mich., then moved to Chicago where she pursued her interest in pottery at the Art Institute of Chicago and later at the University of Notre Dame.

In 1970, she married Richard Schoenherr, a sociologist involved in a study of trends in the U.S. priest population. They soon moved to Madison, settling in a rambling old house on West Lawn after Richard accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin. They had three children, Andrew born in 1972, Maria in 1974, and Joseph “Joe” in 1975. Besides parenting the children, Judy and Richard got involved in the community: at Blessed Sacrament Parish, in a discussion and prayer group at Holy Wisdom Benedictine Monastery, in the Community Meal Program at Luke House and in their immediate neighborhood. Judy became an active member of the Madison Potters Guild. Recalling those years Dianne Greenley said, “What I remember most is the Schoenherr’s house on West Lawn; it was always the site for parties, always a welcoming place. In the midst of the March 1975 ice storm when the electricity was out for several days, Richard and Judy had heat from this ancient gas boiler in the basement, so they just took us all in.”

In 1979, the Schoenherr family spent a year in Spain in connection with Richard’s university research; Judy later earned a master’s degree in pastoral studies, commuting for a semester to and from Loyola University in Chicago. It was within a few days after the Schoenherrs celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in 1995 that Richard was stricken suddenly with a fatal heart attack. Judy and her children turned to the loyal contingent of friends with whom they had formed close ties, among them Kris and Paul Ashe, Pam and Howard Erlanger, Benedictine Sisters Mary David and Joann, Metta and Aage Sorenson, Rosie Landgraff and her family, Maureen Hallinan and Linda McNeil.

In 1999, Judy moved into a condominium in the newly rehabbed Union Transfer Building in downtown Madison with a perfect view of the Wisconsin Capitol. Here she turned her talents again to building community, reaching out to the newcomers moving into this new place. She had eight busy years there before she was diagnosed with cancer in late 2007. Then and ever after, the community of friends she had helped form stepped forward to assist her in every possible way. And as the illness grew, so did their thoughtfulness and generosity. Judy was fully able to attend and participate at Andrew’s marriage to Kelly Engle in Minneapolis in 2010. But by the time in February 2012 when Maria married Josh Van Horn, Judy admittedly needed the full support of the coterie of old friends who took over. Among these were Carol Sander and David Vanderdie, Sharon and Carl Stumpf, and above all, Ann Rifenberg, who literally moved into Judy’s home in the last months to care for her day and night. Ann insisted her contribution was a work of love, a modest return for what Judy had done for her. “Judy was the sort of person who quests, who wonders, who’s open to all that is,” said Ann. “I think she agreed with the Dalai Lama that kindness is its own religion. She was intuitively kind; it was part of who she was. Yes, she could be bossy and controlling at times but never mean about it. It’s just that she was so bright she could visualize what needed to be done.” Judy herself said toward the end that she felt hers was “a privileged life” and was grateful for her friends and the opportunities she had.

She expressed special thanks to Dr. Stephen Rose and physicians’ assistant Lori Seaborn of the University of Wisconsin Cancer Clinic and to friend Judy Koeppl, who will handle the memorial service at the Holy Wisdom Benedictine Monastery where she will be laid to rest beside her husband Richard. She also extended thanks to longtime friends Jeanette Fleury and Bob, Margaret and Jenny McClory.

Judy is survived by her two sons; daughter; one grandson, Liam; and two more grandchildren who are on the way. She is also survived by her brother, George Woods; and sister, Diane Sadanowicz.

She was preceded in death by her parents; sisters, Lorraine Loftus, Mary Ellen Rourk, Margaret Baier and Therese Dunbar; and brothers, William, James and Gerald Woods.

Funeral services will be held at HOLY WISDOM MONASTERY, 4200 County Hwy M, Middleton, at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, 2012.

Inurnment will be at Holy Wisdom Monastery Columbarium immediately following.

Visitation will be held at HOLY WISDOM MONASTERY from 5 p.m. until the time of service on Saturday.

Memorials may be made to Luke House, 310 S. Ingersoll, Madison, WI. 53703, www.lukehousemadison.org.