Abbot Robert Schoofs enters eternal rest

At around eleven o’clock on the morning of Saturday, 6 January 2024, our beloved confrere, Abbot Robert Schoofs, OSB, passed into eternal rest. Abbot Robert was in his ninety-fifth year of age, and a Jubilarian of both profession and ordination. He had resided in St. Stephen’s Infirmary at Conception since his arrival here from St. Benedict’s Abbey, Benet Lake, Wisconsin, in 2017, when the latter community was reunited to Conception Abbey. While he had been declining and confined to his bed in recent weeks, his departure was nonetheless something of a surprise; he made his departure without fanfare or éclat—surely the most appropriate manner of completing his long life of monastic and priestly service.

Carl Louis Schoofs was born on 16 March 1929 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Louis and Irene (Schmitz) Schoofs, the second of their four children. He was baptized at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Lake, Wisconsin, a community located on the shore of Lake Michigan and later absorbed into the city of St. Francis. He attended parochial school there, and was confirmed in the parish church on 23 November 1942. His first foray into the field of gainful employment was as a paper boy—at a time when the price of a newspaper was 3 cents. As time went on, he was also variously employed as a stock boy, a janitor at the local post office, and a construction worker.

Upon completion of his primary schooling, he entered St. Francis Minor Seminary, which offered a six-year course of study intended to prepare students for admission to a major seminary. After graduating from the minor seminary in 1947, he enrolled at St. Francis Major Seminary, but was obliged to withdraw after the first semester due to health issues.

In 1950, Carl postulated at the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit, a Trappist monastery near Conyers, Georgia, where he remained for a year and a half. He withdrew from the monastery due, as he put it, to “a lack of the stamina” required for the strict Trappist way of life. But he still felt the interior stirrings of a monastic vocation. Around this time, a perspicacious acquaintance asked him why he didn’t try the Benedictines.

After considering several Benedictine monasteries, young Carl decided to apply to St. Benedict’s Abbey at Benet Lake, Wisconsin; he was accepted there as a postulant. When asked why he chose Benet Lake, he replied, “It was the closest one to my home!” After a year as a postulant, he entered the novitiate, and a year later on 8 September 1954 professed simple vows, when he received the religious name Robert. Solemn profession followed on 8 September 1957.

Frater Robert was sent to St. Benedict Abbey’s new daughterhouse in Hingham, Massachusetts, to finish philosophical studies, and then returned to St. Benedict’s to take up theological studies. He was ordained to the priesthood on 31 May 1958 by Archbishop Albert Meyer. After ordination he was sent to Sant’ Anselmo in Rome for Monastic Studies. He was there only a year, but he was able to complete a pontifical baccalaureate in philosophy. His time in Rome also afforded him a useful experience of the wider Benedictine world.

Abbot Richard Felix had formed Benet Lake with the express aim of founding religious houses in developing nations, with a particular focus on Central America. Thus the summer of 1960 found Fr. Robert on his way to El Salvador to found a mission priory and agricultural school. He remained in El Salvador for two and a half years. He moved on to a stint at another foundation in Costa Rica, and then in 1966 to a third monastic mission in Morelia, Mexico.
On 27 July 1976, Fr. Robert was elected abbot by the community at Benet Lake. He was blessed in that office by Archbishop William Cousins on 21 September, and for the next 16 years, led the community through challenging times and events. He had the privilege of concelebrating Mass with Pope John Paul II and the Benedictine abbots of the world at Monte Cassino to commemorate the sesquimillennial of the birth of our Holy Father St. Benedict in 1980.

After his years of service as superior and spiritual father of the Benet Lake community, Abbot Robert began to feel, as he put it, “worn out.” He resigned from the abbatial office on 9 November 1992.

Sixteen months after his resignation, Fr. Robert was sent back to the mission in Morelia by his successor, Abbot Leo Ryska. He remained there until the house was closed in 2000. He was subsequently obliged to make numerous trips back and forth between Benet Lake and Morelia as he disposed of the land and property owned by the priory there.

His health beginning to fail, Abbot Robert found it necessary to take up residence in a nursing home in Milwaukee in 2013. When the Benet Lake community recognized that diminishing numbers and the advancing ages of its members were making it impractical to maintain normal operations, a process of reunification with its motherhouse at Conception was undertaken. Abbot Robert’s transfer of vows was completed in 2014, and in 2017 he, with several of his monastic confreres, relocated to Conception Abbey, where he took up residence in our newly-expanded St. Stephen’s Infirmary. Though such a move was bound to have its difficulties, Abbot Robert faced them with characteristic grace and aplomb. He entered our Apostolate of Prayer for the church and the world, ready to live out his monastic life in fidelity and hope.

Abbot Robert was both enthusiastic and willing to join in the activities of the St. Stephen’s community for as long as his health permitted. The years gradually caught up with him, though, and as the Conception community was preparing for the daily Eucharist on Saturday, 6 January 2024, he passed peacefully into eternity, having lived a life of service and witness for over 70 years.
Abbot Robert is survived by a sister-in-law, Mrs. Maureen Schoofs; by ten nieces and nephews: Jean Elvekrog; Robert Schoofs, Fr. Phillip Schoofs; Ann Hundt; Catherine Bruhn; Gregory Schoofs; Marlene Schoofs; Mark Schoofs; Michael Prieve; and Michele Wilkinson; and by many grandnieces and grandnephews; and by his monastic confreres.

Vespers of the Faithful Departed will be prayed at 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 January 2024. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at Conception on Wednesday, 10 January 2024, at 11:45 a.m. without burial service. The body of Abbot Robert will then be transported to St. Benedict’s Abbey, Benet Lake, Wisconsin. Visitation will be held from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., with Mass of Christian Burial at 11:30, followed by interment on Friday, 12 January, 2024. We commend our beloved confrere to your prayerful remembrance. May he rest in eternal peace!

Abbot Benedict and Community

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