Former Lake Clear Catholic church being sold

St. John in the Wilderness was downgraded to oratory six years ago

The St. John in the Wilderness Catholic Church in Lake Clear, seen here in 2015, is currently under contract to be sold. (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

LAKE CLEAR — St. Bernard’s Catholic Parish is under contract to sell the St. John in the Wilderness oratory this spring.

The church, built in 1916 and dedicated in 1917, today also includes a gathering hall and rectory.

The Rev. Martin Cline, pastor of St. Bernard’s, said in recent years the location has been used sparingly by the parish, so it is looking to sell it. A buyer came quick, and Cline said they hope to close the sale by the end of April.

This church is different from St. John’s in the Wilderness in Paul Smiths, which is an Episcopal church.

In 2015 the parish ended weekly Masses at St. John in the Wilderness and its status was downgraded from a church to an oratory. Oratories do not hold regular services but are available for events such as feast days, funerals and weddings. Cline said in the past two years he has been at St. Bernard’s there have not been any funerals held there.

He said the building needs repair and has not been used as often as they thought it would in recent years.

“We just thought at this time it was best to move forward,” Cline said.

For 15 years Sister Carol Kraeger has made the building her home as she worked for St. Bernard’s Parish. Cline said the parish would like her to stay and is looking for a new place for her to live.

Cline’s biggest effort now is to get former St. John parishioners to attend Mass at St. Bernard’s in Saranac Lake. Part of this effort will be to transport iconic religious items from the oratory to a new home at St. Bernard’s. At the top of Cline’s list is a statue of the eponymous St. John the Baptist.

“We are going to make every effort we can to incorporate pieces of St. John’s in the Wilderness,” Cline said. “The spiritual care of the people is my responsibility as pastor.”

He would like to have familiar paintings or statues for former St. John in the Wilderness parishioners to feel a connection to their old church while attending the new.

“Just to keep connections, I think that’s a big thing for the people,” he said. “They want to be able to come in to St. Bernard’s and feel like there’s something of theirs here.”

It was a long process of consulting with the parish and diocese to approve the sale, Cline said, but the property was only on the market for six days when it found a buyer. He found this to be incredibly fast.

“I’ve never heard of any property selling that quickly,” Cline said.

The buyer offered the full asking price of $165,000.

Cline did not know the name of the potential buyer, but said he knows it is a local man who plans to use the building for a home and business. Cline said he was glad the property would not sit empty or unused, so he is happy with the sale.

Emily Fogarty of Rob Grant and Associates Real Estate is the agent facilitating the deal. She declined to release the name of the buyer until the sale is finalized.

Bishop Terry LaValley of the Ogdensburg Diocese will need to sign off on the sale before it can go through. As of Wednesday afternoon he had not yet, Cline said.

A state Supreme Court justice will also need to sign off on the sale, because the parish is a nonprofit organization. Cline said this is to ensure the state does not lose out on money it could receive.

The Holy Name of Jesus Church in Tupper Lake was recently sold after its parish merged with the St. Alphonsus parish in 2011.

Cline said St. Bernard’s plans to maintain services at its other church, Our Lady of the Assumption in Gabriels. This church has not held Mass in the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Cline said he hopes to resume Mass there at some point soon. Because the building is so small, it would require the danger posed by the virus to drop significantly, so occupancy can rise.

“I’m not a big fan of telling people they can’t come into church,” Cline said.

St. Bernard’s Parish also has an oratory at the former St. Paul’s church in Bloomingdale, although it has sold the adjoining rectory.


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