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Archives Father Clyde Lewis oversees cleanup after parish fire... again
Recovery begins for Rouses Point church

Sept. 20, 2017

By Shan Moore
Staff Writer

ROUSES POINT — St. Patrick's Church here is undergoing repair after a recent fire in its north tower.Rouses Point
Just a few years ago, the former St. Mary's Academy in Champlain went up in flames.

Father Clyde Lewis is pastor of both St. Patrick's and St. Mary's, so it was inevitable that someone would ask the question: “Do fires follow you around, Father?”

The priest had to chuckle as he repeated that query from a parishioner.

“In all the time I've been a priest,” he said wryly, “yes.”

Father Lewis's first assignment after ordainment was St. Bernard's Parish in Saranac Lake.

He arrived there in 1965, and soon afterwards the church burned down.

“It was arson,” he said.

Churches in Watertown and Ogdensburg must have had a little more divine protection, for they remained standing during Father Lewis's assignments there.

And while there was no fire at St. Augustine's in Peru during his pastorship there, he led the way for the church, parish center and convent to be razed.

“The church was too small,” he said. “(Plattsburgh Air Force Base) was growing — the parish was doubling.”

So new facilities rose to replace the outdated ones.

“Then I came here,” Father Lewis said from St. Mary's Rectory in Champlain. “We all know what happened to St. Mary's (Academy).”

The priest recalled his years at those other parishes even as he planned for St. Patrick's repair.

He didn't know how long the work on this latest disaster would take, but during that time, Masses will be celebrated at St. Mary's in the Village of Champlain.

So for now, the schedule is 4 and 5:30 p.m. Saturdays and 8 and 10 a.m. Sundays.

The flames, along with smoke and water, caused considerable damage in the church, Father Lewis said.
“It had been smoldering quite a while,” he said of the fire, which seemed to have started due to frayed wiring that powers the carillon.

“We'll probably have to replace two speakers for the carillon,” he said.

Tommy Laundrie, a former Rouses Point police officer, spotted smoke drifting from the tower on the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 2.

He called 911, and fire crews mobilized.

“They responded quickly,” Father Lewis said.

But while the fire was knocked down fast, water from fire hoses took down a couple of ceilings in the tower; they collapsed on firefighters, who weren't injured.

“Water was like a river coming down from the choir loft,” Father Lewis said, and so that stairway has to be replaced. Water flowed into the space above the ceiling in the church lobby, so those tiles will need replacing. And it also damaged the ceiling in the basement-level Parish Hall.

“If there's fire up in the tower, you have to use water,” the priest said philosophically.

PM Leary Restoration is doing the cleanup and repair work. “They did it at (St. Mary's) rectory after the flood,” the priest said.

Yes, he has dealt with flooding, too.

Warning that emergency in the rectory came from an alarm system that also alerted church leaders to excessive carbon monoxide released by the church boiler.

Had the water risen without interruption, the priest said, it might have topped off at 4 feet.

“Thank God, we had the alarm,” Father Lewis said.

Even so, the rectory needed some $30,000 in repairs.

And during that renovation, it was realized the electrical plugs and rectory were miswired, another disaster waiting to happen.

And the priest caught the signs of another pending crisis, this one in St. Mary's Church sanctuary.

“We were blowing (light) bulbs — I knew something was wrong there.”

The man called to look at the issue discovered the wires were badly frayed.

“He said, 'God must be in this church because it should have burned down.”

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