Saturday, May 19, 2007

'Many call me Father, but my kids call me Dad'

By Tom Groening
Bangor Daily News
Saturday, May 19, 2007

The title of Jim Lovejoy’s memoir says it all: "Many Call Me Father, But My Kids Call Me Dad — The Life Story of a Married Catholic Priest."

Lovejoy left the Catholic clergy in 1971 to marry Jackie, a former nun.

But Lovejoy still considers himself a priest, and as part of a network for married priests, he performs marriage ceremonies and baptisms.

The Lovejoys and their three children — standout students and athletes while in high school — were prominent in the Belfast area in the 1980s and early 1990s. Jim and Jackie operated the Hiram Alden Inn, a bed-and-breakfast, and Jim was executive director of the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce.

Few knew they were former priest and nun, until a newspaper story revealed their past. It wasn’t something they were hiding, the couple said in a telephone interview last week, and the disclosure — part of a series of stories relating to Valentine’s Day — gave their children leave to begin acknowledging and talking about mom and dad’s earlier lives.

"They thought they weren’t supposed to talk about it," Jim Lovejoy said, before the story was published.

The Lovejoys moved to Unity after their children left the midcoast, and in September, they relocated to Charleston, N.C., to be closer to them and the grandchildren.

Daughter Jennifer encouraged Jim to write his memoir. The Lovejoys return to Belfast on June 9 for a book-signing event at the Fertile Mind Bookshop. The couple said their children are proud of the spiritual commitment their parents made and the sacrifices and choices that accompanied them.

"Jennifer kept prodding me to do it," Lovejoy said of the book. Initially, he wrote a few pages for his children, but Jennifer persuaded him to write more and that there would be interest in his story.

"It’s personal," he said of the memoir, but it covers some interesting times, including the Vietnam War and the role of celibacy in the priesthood in Roman Catholicism.

"I was a little bit critical in some places of the institution, but I am not bashing the church," he said.

Jim, 78, was ordained a priest in 1956, not long after high school in Saugus, Mass. He felt it was his life’s calling, and he willingly accepted the church’s rules, including a life of celibacy.

But after meeting Jackie and feeling attracted to her, he questioned the celibacy requirement.

As he said in a 2002 interview: "I have a vocation to the priesthood. I don’t believe I have a vocation to celibacy."

Lovejoy was working with the Newman Society, a Catholic collegiate group, at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire and Stevens Point in the early 1970s when he met Jackie. On a Sunday morning in 1971, he gave a sermon announcing to the Catholic students and faculty who worshipped at the Mass he led that he would leave the priesthood.

The sermon text is in the book.

"It was the most difficult sermon I ever gave," he said. Rather than anger at the church’s strict celibacy rule, the sermon is imbued "with a kind of sadness," Lovejoy said, as he read and reflected on it now.

"I said, ‘I found a person who I love very much, and who loves me, and I believe I have the right to marry,’" he remembers.

The sermon contains "a frankness in what I saw the church was drifting towards," he said. That sermon still represents his feelings about the church and his belief that celibacy should not be required of priests. The policy was not adopted until some 1,100 years after Christ’s birth, he said.

Several students wanted to pressure the local bishop to allow Lovejoy to stay, but he dissuaded them from doing so. Chuckling, he recounted how he waited until after delivering the sermon to send the telegram to the bishop, announcing he was leaving to get married.

The book also touches on the intersection of politics and faith. While Lovejoy was still a priest on the college campus, members of the Students for a Democratic Society approached him about a demonstration.

"They came to me and asked if I would just say a prayer" on the steps of a building. He struggled with an answer, then finally agreed. Doing so ended a period in which he said he straddled positions on the Vietnam War and put himself squarely in the opposition.

"It had a dramatic impact," Lovejoy said, and in some ways empowered him to take other stands.

In recent years, the Lovejoys have gotten involved with a group called Celibacy Is The Issue — or CITI — which is a network of about 200 former priests who are now married. They maintain a "rent a priest" Web site through which they are sought to perform marriages and baptisms.

Lovejoy estimates he has performed 40 marriages and seven baptisms.

"The profile, I guess, would be a couple in their late 20s or early 30s, with both or one of them Catholic, but who have difficulties with the institutional church," he said of the people he marries. Some have been divorced and so are not eligible by church doctrine to be married in the church, but about half simply want an outdoor ceremony, something the Catholic church does not allow.

Lovejoy is not optimistic about the church changing to allow priests to marry, or even to take a smaller step, to allow former priests like him a role.

"It will take, probably, a pope who’s liberal to begin with, and who has a wider view of the world," he said. A recent trend he has noticed is younger priests who are very conservative and very much tied to tradition.

The book also alludes to the pedophile scandal within the church, which Lovejoy believes church leaders shamefully mishandled.

But rather than fight for change, Lovejoy will continue to do what he signed on for more than 50 years ago: ministering to fellow Catholics.

"We just provide a service when it’s needed," he said.

The book "Many Call Me Father, But My Kids Call Me Dad: The Life Story of a Married Catholic Priest" is being published by AuthorHouse books (, $19.99 ISBN: 9781425984496). The book signing is 2-4 p.m. June 9, at the Fertile Mind Bookshop on Main Street in Belfast.

Photo of Fr. and Mrs. Lovejoy from Bangor Daily News

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