Janet Broderick, who comforted parishioners through tragedies and cheered them with glimmers of Broadway and Hollywood during a decade as rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, is leaving Morristown to head for the hills — Beverly Hills.
“None of us ever owns St. Peter’s, we just have the great opportunity to stay with her for a while and be nourished by Christ’s presence within her walls,” Broderick said Sunday in a letter to her stunned congregation.
Although serving at St. Peter’s has been “the privilege of a lifetime,” Broderick, 63, said that after months of prayer and reflection she accepted an invitation to become rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in California. She starts there on June 16, 2019.
Video from All Saints welcoming the Rev. Janet Broderick:
“I thought I would retire from here, until this crazy guy from Hollywood called me,” Broderick told Morristown Green. “I laughed, and told him, do you have any idea how old I am? I said you need a 45-year-old.”
While heading west with Barney, her 10-year-old Papillon, is “actually terrifying” for Broderick, the New York native said St. Peter’s is doing well and she welcomes a new challenge.
“It’s my desire to pay it forward and show other folks what can be done,” the minister said.
Many at St. Peter’s said they are devastated.
“I’ve been saddened as each of our rectors has turned moved on to other callings. This is the first time I’ve actually cried,” said parishioner Katherine Grieder.
“Most people are heartbroken she is leaving,” said Gilma Ramos, pastor for 150 Latin American immigrants at the Living Waters Church, which worships in the sanctuary of St. Peter’s.
“These are hard-working people. They have found love and comfort at St. Peter’s… Janet was the vessel God used to bring this to my congregation. She opened the doors to us,” Ramos said.
Video: Janet Broderick offers prayer for children in January 2013, weeks after Newtown shootings:
Parishioner Finn Wentworth called Broderick “a voice of empathy and compassion, a champion of the underserved” and a “magnificent supporter of world class music in Morristown.
“She will be missed by many,” said the founder of Normandy Real Estate Partners.
Broderick, daughter of the late actor James Broderick and playwright Patricia Broderick, brightened holidays at St. Peter’s by co-starring with her brother, actor Matthew Broderick, in readings of works by W.H. Auden and Truman Capote.
Expanding the church’s community outreach, the rector oversaw creation of an after-school program for disadvantaged children, and helped forge a downtown Cultural District to benefit charities, including providing summer pool passes for poor kids.
“It has been a joy to have Janet as a neighbor, colleague, and friend,” said Pastor David Smazik of the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, who worked with Broderick to launch the Cultural District.
“Janet expressed with her congregation, and beyond, a ministry that intertwined energy and creativity with the sharing of Good News.”
St. Peter’s hosted a Morristown family displaced by a fire, and Afghan refugees. Broderick helped grow the volunteer resettlement organization RAMP (Refugee Assistance Morris Partners), which meets at the church, said Carole Rogers of RAMP.
Broderick took a chance by hiring a music director in his early 20s. Joshua Stafford responded by winning a prestigious international organ competition, presenting silent movie nights, and encouraging Hispanic children to join his choral programs.
A believer in the civic mission of local journalism, Broderick (disclosure) was an early and ardent supporter of Morristown Green. For years, St. Peter’s hosted the MorristownGreen.com Film Festival on its lawn.
The church now has a farmer’s market, a thrift shop, a bridge club for seniors, and free, nondenominational meditation sessions.
“When I first proposed doing a meditation series at St Peter’s, she jumped on it and saw it from the beginning as something for the whole Morris County community and not just a St. Peter’s thing,” said Justyn Comer, who leads the sessions.
To shore up St. Peter’s bottom line, Broderick stepped up fund-raising and leased the church annex to a fitness center.
BAPTISM OF FIRE
But first, Broderick endured a baptism of fire.
St. Peter’s had churned through three rectors over 10 years when she arrived in Morristown from Jersey City’s Grace Van Vorst Church in 2009. The parish was “feeling vulnerable and unsteady,” said parishioner Jefferson Kirby.
In Broderick’s first week, St. Peter’s grieved the sudden death of Leni Muscarella, a beloved member who had recruited Broderick.
Months later, 26-year-old chorister Lauren Failla died tragically while vacationing. The church was damaged when the municipal library across the street exploded. Early in Broderick’s tenure, hurricanes Irene and Sandy left many parishioners in the dark for weeks.
“Sandy was the making of us,” Broderick told Morristown Green. The church decided to serve three meals a day to anyone needing a break from the storm’s aftermath. “I had no idea how we would pull this off.”
Volunteers answered the call, putting the Leni Muscarella memorial kitchen to good use.
Video: Asking for help after Superstorm Sandy in 2012:
Muscarella’s widow, Sally Muscarella, said she is “forever grateful” to Broderick for her compassion.
“Janet has been an extraordinary rector. She has a gift for connecting with people, whether from the pulpit where she delivers moving sermons or in more personal settings. She is passionate in faith, vulnerable and brilliant.”
Before Broderick arrived, Kirby recounted, “we were told that she might occasionally shake up the parish, but she almost certainly would bring our members ‘closer to God.’ And I hope that will be her legacy, a congregation that is closer to God and, as a result, closer to one another and the community.”
She brought “skill, wisdom, good-humor, rectitude and faith” to that task, said Kirby, who experienced Broderick’s compassion first-hand, during his elderly mother’s final days. Broderick presided at the funeral.
“My sister from North Carolina noted at the time, ‘If we had a preacher like Janet in our area, I’d probably go to church a lot more often,'” Kirby related. “I think we all felt closer to God.”
IN THE BLACK
There have been tough decisions. St. Peter’s parted with a preschool after many years, and with a popular sexton. Broderick listed failed plans to host a YMCA satellite operation among her biggest disappointments.
A lawsuit by atheists killed a Morris County historic preservation program that granted millions to area churches –including $450,000 to St. Peter’s–for external repairs.
“That will be a devastating long-term problem,” predicted Broderick, asserting St. Peter’s merits public support. The church provides valuable social services, she said, and is more inclusive and ethical than “some institutions that don’t call themselves faith-based.”
Broderick said she leaves St. Peter’s in the black, with a budget that has grown from $900,000 to $1.4 million since she came. Revenues include member pledges, the annex lease and an endowment.
“One of the most serious, lasting gifts I tried to give St. Peter’s was the ability to feel secure, not relying on one source of income,” but on varied sources aligned with the church’s visions and values, she said.
Broderick expressed gratitude and love for parishioners and staff, and fondness for Morristown, where her daughter, Hannah Kraft, made lasting friendships while starting a vacation Bible camp for Hispanic children.
Video: St. Peter’s celebrates Janet Broderick’s 60th birthday:
Kraft, who is graduating soon from Barnard College, stayed briefly at All Saints in Beverly Hills when she was exploring television pilot productions in Hollywood, Broderick said. All Saints is larger than St. Peter’s, with about 1,000 members, many from the entertainment world.
Broderick’s father worked on a TV series in Los Angeles for five years when she was a kid.
“I remember visiting him and thinking, ‘There’s too much sunlight,'” Broderick said. “I hope I can handle it.”
Her Morristown fans have no doubts about that. But is Beverly Hills ready for her?
“California has earthquakes, but wait till Janet shakes ’em up,” said St. Peter’s parishioner Katherine Grieder.
“They have wildfires, but wait till Janet sets ’em on fire with her passion for the Holy Spirit! California has so much sunshine, but wait till they are warmed by Janet’s love.”
Video: Janet & Matthew Broderick share ‘A Christmas Memory,’ in 2018: