The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 14, 2005


— Janet Lovejoy's spiritual journey . . .

The following article is based on an interview recorded recently for the Carlisle Oral History Project, sponsored by the Mosquito and the Carlisle Historical Society.

Janet Lovejoy corrals her golden retrievers in front of her West Street home in 2000. (From Ellen Huber's photo files)
Each journey begins with a single step. When Janet Lovejoy was about eight years old, she and her dog Jules traipsed through the woods in back of her house on River Road, down to the Concord River. There she covered some branches of a tree with an old dish towel. "That was my altar," she explained. "On either side I made candles out of little birch branches, and I made a cross out of greens." Her homemade altar in Carlisle's woods marked the beginning of Janet's religious journey.

The Reverend Janet Lovejoy is a short, compact woman whose frequent smiles wreathe her face. A trio of large but polite dogs greets the visitor on a snowy morning. The former Red Lion Tavern at 621 West Street, where Janet has lived for 42 years, looks picture-perfect in the snow. Both the tavern, dating from the early 18th

Janet's spiritual journey, begun in Carlisle, has taken her far afield. Along the way she sought and consistently found clear direction from God that led to her ordination as an Anglican priest at the age of 60, service to remote communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, and a return to Carlisle.

The Lovejoys of Orchard Brook Farm

When Janet was two, she and her parents moved from Cambridge to Orchard Brook Farm, an early 19th

A year later, in 1933, Janet's mother died of cancer. Janet was only three. Very fortunately, says Janet, the Lovejoy household included a woman named Davina Cuthbert (Janet called her "Bena") who helped run the house and who looked after Janet. Also taking good care of her was Jules, her mother's Chinook Husky, who was always with little Janet. Orchard Brook Farm was surrounded by trees, which "also looked after me," says Janet. After losing her mother at such a tender age and with her father often away at work, she found comfort and security in Bena, Jules and her beloved trees. "My theology is that God is in nature and God is in those trees. I didn't figure that out until I went to seminary," she notes.

Janet has warm memories of growing up in Carlisle. "Bena and I would have walks. We would walk from our house down to what then was Mr. Kemp's home on Bedford Road [now the home of the David Woodward family] to see the wild roses that grew all along the stone walls. There are still a few, but in those days there were huge arrays of those wild roses." She also remembers Francis Booth who lived next door on River Road and had a mink farm. "I was told never to put my finger in the mink cage — but of course I did, and I lost a piece of finger!"

When Janet was six, life changed for the better. Her father remarried "a lovely woman, Polly Ensign, and she became my stepmom. She moved into our home that included Bena and 13 sled dogs!" Then, says Janet, her life got even better when her brother Freddy (Frederick H. Lovejoy, Jr.) was born, followed by brother Joe (Joseph Ensign Lovejoy) "and our family was complete."

School days in Concord

Janet started school at Concord Academy. "I was driven every day to school and back by Joe Booth, who was not only my father's dog trainer, but he also did the chauffeuring. He was the brother of Francis Booth, and today his son Dana lives in his parents' house on River Road."

World War II brought more changes for the Lovejoys. Because there was no rubber for tires and gas was in short supply, the family moved to Concord. "In 1942 we sold the Carlisle house and gave the sled dogs to the army because we couldn't get food for them," Janet recalls. "Our new house on Main Street was two houses down from Concord Academy and right next to the train station, so Daddy and I walked." Both of Janet's younger brothers later went to the Fenn School in Concord, driven there by Bill Towler, who used to drive a taxi and would take a crowd of little boys to Fenn each day.

At the end of the eighth grade, Janet left Concord Academy. "My father, mother and I all agreed that I should go to boarding school. I went to St. Mary's in the Mountains, an Episcopal boarding school, in Littleton, New Hampshire. There were 50 girls, and most of the time we skied and hiked all over the White Mountains. It was the most incredibly wonderful four years," Janet says. "With morning and evening prayers every day, church on Sunday, Bible study, psalms, and Old and New Testament studies, St. Mary's was the foundation for my life, as was the out-of-doors. Those four years made me pretty much who I am today."

Into the Quaker tradition

With a strong Episcopalian foundation, it was time to move on to college. In Janet's words, everyone thought she would not be able to go to a four-year college because she "wasn't terribly gifted scholastically!" But she proved them wrong. Working one summer at an American Friends Service Committee work camp in Maine, Janet heard about Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, and decided that it would fit her needs. Her father was dubious: "I've never heard of that school." But he and Janet took the train out to Richmond and after a full day at the Quaker college, Mr. Lovejoy saw for himself a new spirituality. He told his daughter, "That will be fine!" At Earlham, Janet majored in sociology and minored in religion, graduating in 1954.

Janet came home with her new bachelor's degree, and entered Boston University's School of Social Work in the fall of 1954. "Again, it was just the right place for me," she says. She had always wanted to become a social worker — "at a very young age, nine or ten, I used to go to New York on the train to visit my grandmother. I would look out of the windows at 125th Street where the high-rise tenements are, and I thought, 'This is where I want to be.'" After earning her master's in Social Work from B.U. in 1957, Janet started work at the Roxbury Neighborhood House.

Marriage and family

At Earlham College, Janet had met Art Taylor, a Quaker, and they were married in 1958. The combination of the Quaker and the Episcopalian made for an excellent way of life, according to Janet. Art was a banker at State Street Bank and Trust and Janet continued working at the Roxbury Neighborhood House. "We lived in Boston on Pinckney Street when our daughter Caryl was born in 1959, and then we moved to Lincoln because we wanted a dog!" Macy, the golden retriever, joined the family, daughter Hilary was born in 1962, and soon the house in Lincoln was too small.

"One day," says Janet, "my father called us up and said, 'Janet, there's a house available in Carlisle. I would suggest that you go and look at it and buy it.' That was this house [621 West Street], and we started our real family life here in an old tavern. Our daughter Polly was born in 1965. We had a menagerie at times — three horses, a donkey, at least two dogs, five cats, and a rooster and chickens. So the house has seen a lot of living, but it hasn't changed. The trees are the same; we still have dogs, and the girls are around." (For more on the Red Lion Tavern, Janet's home, see the December 10, 1999, Mosquito. To read about Bill Bovey's childhood in the tavern in the 1930s, see the June 25, 2004 issue.)

Both Janet and Art were on Carlisle boards in the 1960s — Art was a Selectman and Janet was a member of the first Recreation Commission.

A spiritual journey

Asked to reflect on how her religious life developed, Janet says, "As I look back on it, in my spiritual life God was with me always, especially after my mother died and before my stepmom came. I was really alone but I had Jules, I had Bena, and I had the trees — my dad had built a treehouse for me in our orchard. I didn't realize until I went to seminary in 1986 that those trees that I was playing under were dancing for this little girl." When Janet was at St. Mary's, she used to worship the rocks and the trees, and she began to realize that she was worshipping God through them.

A "watershed experience" in 1986 pushed Janet further along her religious path. At that time, she was divorced from Art and her daughters were grown. She was at Trinity Church in Concord, her home church, one Sunday when a friend spoke about being a hospital chaplain. "I knew that that's what I was to do and the next day I signed up for Clinical Pastoral Education at University Hospital in Boston. She was there for three years, studying and counseling patients, when she realized that she needed to learn more about ethics and the Scriptures. Janet enrolled in Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) in Cambridge, where she "learned an enormous amount. I wasn't there to be ordained a priest. I was there to learn what I needed to become a better hospital chaplain. But after I graduated in 1989 [with a master's of Divinity] and went back to the hospital, I found I couldn't do it. I had lost what I considered to be the holy spirit. My mentor and I agreed that God was calling me elsewhere." But where?

Baby Janet Lovejoy, her mother Caryl and dog Jules warm by the fire at Orchard Brook Farm circa 1932. (Courtesy photo)
A priest in Newfoundland

The answer came from God, once again at Trinity Church, where she was listening to a bishop describe his experiences in Africa. She knew right away that Africa was not for her ("It's hot; it's buggy and I refuse to go there" she told God.) "I believe that God talks to me," Janet explains, "and God said, 'You are to go to Newfoundland.' This was where I had been a seminarian for two summers because my mother had also been there as a student volunteer when she was 20. The closest I could get to finding her was to follow in her footsteps. So I went to Botwood, Newfoundland, near Gander. There the bishop ordained me as a deacon, and within four months I was ordained to be a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada."

Janet had planned to stay in Newfoundland for three years, but shortly after she was ordained, in 1990, her daughter Polly's husband Mike died suddenly in Carlisle after an asthma attack. Janet came home, returned briefly to Newfoundland, but soon made the difficult decision to come back to Carlisle to be with Polly.

After her return, Janet was the assistant at St. George's Episcopal Church in Maynard for eight years, off and on. In the fall of 1994, she traveled to Labrador, again following in her mother's footsteps, to the small town of Rigolett, where she spent ten months serving the Inuit community. "Finally," she says with great satisfaction, "I was exactly where my mother had been — in the communities of Northwest River and Cartwright."

Prayerfully waiting

Back in Carlisle, Janet stays happily involved with her children and grandchildren: Polly lives next door to her with her son Michael, 13, who is in the seventh grade at the Fenn School. Hilary lives in Westford, and Caryl lives in Richmond, Virginia, with daughters Emily, 13, and Natalie, 9.

Today Janet is "prayerfully waiting for the direction that I need from God to take that next step." While she waits, somewhat impatiently, she serves as a Priest Associate at Trinity Church and plays a lot of tennis. She volunteers, but not as clergy, at the Open Table every Thursday night and is on the board of Belknap House in Concord, which she describes as "very sad because it's closed, and we're deciding what to do next." She adds, "I may do more with Concord Academy, and I do see my classmates — we get together once a month."

Janet gazes out the window at the snowy scene. She pauses, and says with a smile, "And I'm waiting!"

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito