St. Joseph Church to close, be sold


LACONIA — The Catholic community in the city will soon be consolidated into one parish campus with the closing and eventual sale of St. Joseph Church on Church Street as well as the rectory next door.

Parishioners were notified of the decision by letter last week, in which the Rev. Marc Drouin wrote the purchase of the bank and the sale of the church and rectory will "continue the consolidation process that began in 2010 to create a unified and vibrant Catholic community in Laconia and Gilford."

The purchase of the former TD Bank building next to the Sacred Heart Church on Union Avenue will assure the church of adequate parking, address maintenance issues and reduce the costs of maintaining two campuses. Holy Trinity School will stay at its current location on Church Street, though research is being done to look at potential uses of the bank building for the school, said the letter. Drouin notes that studies have shown that parking is one of the top factors in church attendance.

Half the $500,000 purchase price has been donated by a parish family, according to the letter. The rest of the money is being bororowed from the Diocese. The loan will be paid off through the sale of the St. Joseph campus. No money from the capital campaign will be used to purchase the property.

"It's not a decision we wanted to make, but it is a decision we had to make," said Drouin Monday.

Drouin said the sale of St. Joseph Church is "not imminent," but has been a topic of discussion for about a year. He said a capital plan for the church and the rectory itemized nearly $500,000 in repairs, which he said is conservative.
He added that the parish has realized an annual deficit averaging $50,000 in recent years, and this had depleted the savings account.

In 2010, the New Hampshire Diocese decreed that the three separate Laconia parishes of Our Lady of the Lakes, Sacred Heart Church and St. Joseph Church would be merged into one parish. The parishioners chose the name St. Andre Bessette Parish with the assistance of the diocese.

The consolidation meant the closing of Our Lady of the Lakes Church in Lakeport, which was sold to the Evangelical Baptist Church. The other two church buildings remained open, with Father Drouin celebrating Mass in both. 

Both church buildings, located just a few hundred yards apart, have rich histories, with St. Joseph once commonly referred to as the "Irish" Catholic church and Sacred Heart as the "French" Catholic church. The TD Bank building was actually constructed as the home of a French-language high school operated by Sacred Heart Parish. 

The rectory next to St. Joseph Church was originally the home of John Weymouth Busiel, founder of the Busiel Mill. His son, Charles A. Busiel, first mayor of Laconia and governor of New Hampshire from 1895-1897, built a house located directly across the street, at the corner of Beacon Street East. The younger Busiel's house was known for many years locally as "the Governor's Mansion."

Drouin said the consolidation of the parish into one campus would create a "unified and stronger parish community" and allow for one priest "to minister to the community much more effectively."

There will be a meeting at noon on Sunday, Nov. 13, at St. Joseph Church to allow parishioners to discuss the future and answer any questions.

St. Josephs Church and rectory

St. Joseph's Church and the rectory next door are for sale. All church activities will be consolidated at Sacred Heart Church on Union Avenue. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

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Fire, explosion destroys home, two people and dog escape (477)


LACONIA — Fire swept through a home at 76 Winnisquam Ave. on Saturday morning, forcing one resident to jump through a window and threatening the houses to either side and leaving two adults and their dog homeless.
As firefighters from Laconia, Gilford and Belmont were dispatched to the scene, Capt. Chris Shipp requested a first alarm to recall off-duty firefighters along with neighboring departments to staff the city's fire stations. Reaching the scene in three minutes with four firefighters, Shipp found one house fully afire and two others threatened and requested a second alarm. Engine 1 ran a 4-inch hose from a hydrant on Winnisquam Avenue while a second two-and-a-half-inch hose was directed at the rear of the building. Firefighters forestalled the spread of fire to the abutting homes then turned to the burning building. As more crews arrived, firefighters ran additional hose lines into the building as well as the home to its left. Ladders were raised to reach the upper story and the tower was raised to the roof to attack fire in the attic.
Fire Chief Ken Erickson said that fire "gutted" the interior of the home at 76 Winnisquam Ave., which he expected "will have to come down." Damage to the home on one side was limited to an exterior wall and the attic while there was heat damage to the vinyl siding of the other flanking property.
The property is owned by Gail Denio, whose son Mark was home alone when the fire broker out. He escaped from the burning building by jumping through a window and was treated at the scene for cuts to his hands. A firefighter was also injured and treated at Lakes Region General Hospital.
Erickson said that the cause of the fire has not been determined, and added that in light of extent of the damage, it may not be. He said that Mark Denio told firefighters that he stepped outside to smoke a cigarette and the porch at the rear of the house "exploded" and the house burst into flame.

"We had several reports of an explosion," said the chief, who noted that a propane tank was found at the scene.
The Denios lost everything they owned save the clothes on their backs. Gail Denio has worked for the city for more than 20 years. Donna Woodaman, the finance director, said that an account at GoFundMe has been established to assist the Denios and anyone wishing to contribute can do so by following this link: Those who would prefer to donate by check or cash should make out checks and mark cash donations for Gail Denio and bring them to the Finance Department on the second floor of City Hall.

11-07 Winnisquam Ave fire


Man who allegedly sold fentanyl in Tilton case withdraws plea


LACONIA — A former Northfield man who was scheduled to plead guilty Monday to selling a lethal combination of heroin and fentanyl to a 21-year-old Tilton man withdrew his sealed plea agreement because of new information his lawyer wants to explore.

The unusual twist in the case of Brian Watson, 57, began in October when his attorney, Mark Sisti, learned that a different man currently incarcerated in the Belknap County House of Correction while awaiting trial for rape, let it be known that he wanted to speak to him.

Sisti told the court that the information that Randy Nadeau allegedly has is potentially exculpatory but because Nadeau is represented by his own lawyer, Sisti is unable to speak to him without the court giving its OK.

"My understanding is his information deals directly with Mr. Watson's knowledge of what he believed he was selling," Sisti said.

With Nadeau sitting in the court and Public Defender Jesse Friedman representing him for the Watson case only, Judge James O'Neill told Sisti he couldn't "order" Nadeau to speak to him or anyone else. Sisti said that he only needs the court's permission just to speak to Nadeau because he ethically can't approach him.

In court Monday, Friedman told the court that Nadeau was unwilling to speak to anyone, but Sisti said the information he has could set his client free and there could be some kind of immunity for Nadeau depending on the information.

"I wouldn't be a very good defense attorney if I didn't turn every rock," Sisti said.

Watson is accused of selling Seth Tilton-Fogg heroin laced with fentanyl in April of 2015. Tilton-Fogg was found dead the next morning by his parents.

After a series of failed attempts to eliminate the prosecution's evidence, which includes a taped confession to Tilton Police detectives and a ruling that Watson was properly read his rights before his interrogation, Sisti and Deputy Belknap County Attorney Carley Ahern reached a sealed plea agreement in September.

While the terms of the plea agreement remain unknown to the general public, Sisti wanted that set aside until the Nadeau rape trial could be completed. In a second twist, Nadeau's rape trial ended Monday morning in a mistrial because, said Ahern, the alleged victim gave additional information during her testimony that was not previously revealed to the prosecution or the defense.

O'Neill ordered the plea arrangement be withdrawn and not set aside, meaning that should Nadeau's information not be helpful to Watson and Sisti decides to reach another plea deal with the state, it may have to be negotiated anew.

Without disclosing the former plea arrangement, Tilton-Fogg's father said that he would like to see Watson's sentence be longer than the 20 years given recently to a Portsmouth man in the U.S. District Court, District of New Hampshire for selling a lethal dose of fentanyl to another.

He said he knows nothing is going to bring his son back to him, but said he wants to see a sentence that will punish Watson, prevent him from ever selling drugs again and deter anyone else from selling drugs in the future.

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A handcuffed Brian Watson sits in Belknap County Superior Court on Monday, as Tilton Chief of Police Bob Cormier and Detectives who investigated the sale of heroin death resulting case pending against Watson look on. (Bea Lewis/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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