“I am stunned,” was the reaction of Judith Tomlanovich Miller ’61 when she learned she had been chosen as a Marygrove Distinguished Alumna. That is because Judy’s friends Emily Butler Petrarca ’61 and Maryann Dolan secretly collaborated with Judy’s husband Chuck to nominate her. In summing up Judy’s extraordinary contributions to lay and Catholic communities, children, the aged and the abused, Emily says, “When she sees a need she ‘goes for it.’”
Judy’s fond recollections of Marygrove include the encouragement to question what one read or heard. She also recalls the emphasis on social service imbued in her college experience and says she pushed a book cart at a senior residence.
After several early moves about the country while her husband Chuck established his credentials as an economist, the family, which also included a son and daughter, settled in Gaithersburg, Maryland where Judy became immersed in St. Rose parish life serving on the religious education committee among others. In the early 1980s a group of women in the parish were yearning for an exploration of feminine spirituality. Responding to the need, Judy co-founded a group called Wise Women to enable women to learn, share, explore and deepen their spiritual life. Her friend Maryann Dolan says, “Judy gave us a model of collaboration that still exists in our active group.” During this period, Judy also served as chairperson of food donations and distribution for Gaithersburg Help.
According to her husband, Judy, who had been a teacher, was attracted to the field of aging, the growing numbers and the needs of the elderly. She earned a master’s degree and Certificate in Gerontology from the University of Maryland-College Park. She began as a social worker at the Montgomery County Department of Social Services. Next Judy became the director of the Friendly Visitor and Pets on Wheels Programs of the Mental Health Association of Montgomery County from 1984-2000. She reached out to isolated elderly homebound people matching them with visiting volunteers and supporting the relationship with resources. These programs provided socialization and support for the elderly and disabled.
Throughout her life, Judy has responded to the needs of others. When the sexual abuse crisis by the Catholic clergy burst upon the front pages of the newspapers in 2002, Judy immediately decided that something had to be done. She led several dozen Catholics to establish an affiliate of the national organization Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) in Montgomery County. Judy served as president of the VOTF affiliate until she left the area. The major focus of the Maryland VOTF was to support legislation to eliminate, or at least relax, the statute of limitations on filing civil suits for childhood sexual abuse so that victims can have their day in court. Judy, a person not easily intimidated, testified a number of times in the Maryland Legislature in support of reform legislation including strengthening requirements for institutions and individuals to report suspected sexual abuse of children.
After moving to Delaware in 2007, Judy continued her concern for sexual abuse victims and was named Delaware Director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP. The Delaware Legislature had just passed the Child Victims Act which eliminated the civil statute of limitation for child sexual abuse and provided a two year window to allow previously time-barred suits to be filed. For the past four years she has supported survivors during the lawsuit process and the subsequent filing for bankruptcy by the diocese of Wilmington, Delaware. She coordinates a monthly self-help meeting for survivors. Almost daily, Judy commiserates with sexual abuse survivors over the phone, attends their trials in civil court, and meets with them to hear their tragic stories. Some of the survivors even call her “mom.” She continues to raise awareness of the issue through news conferences, demonstrations and distribution of printed material.
Judy also joined an “intentional Catholic community” in nearby Pennsylvania which has challenged some of the traditions of the Catholic Church such as male only priesthood. In 2008, she co-founded Women of Vision, a spiritual sharing and learning group in the Wilmington, Delaware area similar to the Wise Women of Gaithersburg.
Judy’s busy life also includes full time child care for her three year old grandson and two year old granddaughter. Her husband also is a member of the child care team.