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Navy calls local pastor to Africa

Priest serving four churches is called to active duty as chaplain in Djibouti

April 21, 2012
By CHRIS KNIGHT - Senior Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - The pastor of the four Catholic churches in the Saranac Lake area has been called to roughly a year of active military duty.

The Rev. Mark Reilly will leave in early August for the African nation of Djibouti, where he'll serve as a chaplain. Reilly is currently the pastor of St. Bernard's Church in Saranac Lake, St. Paul's in Bloomingdale, St. John in the Wilderness in Lake Clear and the Church of the Assumption in Gabriels. He is also a Navy Reserves chaplain.

"The Department of the Navy notified me recently that I have been 'involuntarily mobilized,' which is to say I am being recalled to active duty without my having volunteered for it," Reilly wrote in a letter to parishioners that was inserted in the churches' bulletin last weekend.

Article Photos

The Rev. Mark Reilly in October 2010
(Enterprise file photo — Chris Knight)

Reilly said his orders could keep him away for up to 400 days, but he said it would more likely be a year or less. He'll be stationed in the Republic of Djibouti, which is located on the Horn of Africa and is bordered by Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Reilly has been the pastor here since the fall of 2010. Prior to that he was a teacher and spiritual director of Immaculate Heart Central Jr./Sr. High School in Watertown, and pastor of several rural churches in that area. He also was an assistant pastor at St. Bernard's from 1997 to 1999.

A native of the Syracuse area, Reilly attended Le Moyne College and later joined the U.S. Marine Corps' Officer Candidates School. He was commissioned a second lieutenant, went on active duty as a helicopter pilot and saw combat during the first Gulf War.

He later resigned his commission and entered seminary school in 1992, but Reilly didn't leave military life entirely. He joined the reserves, and in 2005 and 2006 he served as a chaplain at Marine forward operating bases in Iraq.

"It had been my plan to retire from the Navy Reserves when my current orders were due to expire in March of 2013 - a plan which I had made known to friends, relatives and parishioners rather frequently," Reilly wrote in his letter. "As it happens the Department of Defense has the ability to 'involuntarily extend' one's service obligation before retirement in certain cases. This is one of those cases."

Reilly said he contacted Bishop Terry LaValley, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg, as soon as he received word of his mobilization.

"He is considering options and possibilities, and will assign another priest to serve as our parishes' temporary administrator in my absence," Reilly wrote. "The bishop has also assured me (much to my own relief) that I will continue to serve as pastor of our parishes of the mountains and lakes upon my return."

Reilly didn't return several messages left this week at his office at St. Bernard's. Officials with the diocese also didn't return messages seeking comment about who will administer the local parishes while Reilly is gone.

Once he returns from Africa in the late summer or fall of 2013, Reilly said he plans to retire from the Navy.

"I thank you in advance for your understanding and cooperation in dealing with this challenge, and I trust God will bless and protect us all in the coming months," he wrote. "I ask for your prayers, and assure you of mine."


Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or



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