Brief History of St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church
“Well done good and faithful servant” Matthew 25:21
The genesis of St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church began in April of 1985, with the first Divine Liturgy celebrated by His Eminence Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian, then primate of the Western Diocese. The service was in response to repeated calls to the Primate by the leaders of the Orange County Armenian Community— chiefly, Mr. Antranik O. Zorayan. Accompanying the Primate at this first Divine Liturgy was the Khatchadourian Choir. This first service was a joyous and momentous occasion, attended by over five hundred faithful.
Following the Divine Liturgy, the Primate appointed the first Parish Council and charged them with organizing the parish. The first Parish Council meeting was presided by the Primate and held at the residence of Paul and Rose Hachigian. At this meeting, Mr. Hachigian was elected as the first Parish Council Chairman. The parish was then named “the Armenian Apostolic Church of Newport Beach.” Subsequently, the Primate appointed the first Ladies Society, which was chaired by Mrs. Rose Kaskavalciyan.
Monthly church services were held on a regular basis with visiting clergy officiating and celebrating the Divine Liturgy. The Khatchadourian and Gomidas Choirs, as well as choirs of sister churches, assisted singing the Divine Liturgy during these early formative years. Monthly newsletters were published to keep the faithful informed of upcoming church events.
As time passed, it became clear that the acquisition of a suitable church property was essential to growing the church. Thus two additional committees were established: 1) a Building Committee, headed by Mr. Civan Kalfa, whose task was to identify potential land and church properties that might be available for purchase, and 2) a Memorial Building Fund Committee, headed by Mr. Antranik Zorayan, which was tasked to raise the funds that would be required to acquire a church property. In the meantime, the parish moved to St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Corona Del Mar. While at St. Michael’s, a church choir was organized.
In 1988, our current church facilities became available for purchase at a cost of over $1M. The Primate, Parish Council, Building Committee and Memorial Fund Committees were all in favor of purchasing the property. A special Parish Assembly meeting was held and the parish overwhelmingly approved the purchase. An offer to purchase the property was made and a contract signed in March of 1989.
The acquisition of the church property created an atmosphere of excitement. Countless individuals donated significant resources and all church programs and activities were sharply focused on making sure that our dream of having our own church would become a reality within a short timeframe of seven years. The church was renovated and a marble altar and candle niches were installed.
Encouraged with the progress made by the Parish, the Primate assigned Rev. Fr. Moushegh Tashjian as the first pastor of the Parish. Fr. Tashjian assumed his pastoral ministry in April 1992. On June 13 and 14, 1992, the Primate, Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian, consecrated the church and renamed it St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church in accordance to the wishes of Mr. & Mrs. Civan and Pina Kalfa, Godfathers of the Church. This was a very festive occasion and all those who attended the Consecration Service gave thanks to God for the blessings He bestowed on St. Mary.
With the tireless efforts of Fr. Tashjian and an enthusiastic group of people, St. Mary further grew and became a focal point for Armenians living in Orange County. Programs were established to ensure the future vitality of our Armenian community: a Sunday School to teach our youngsters the basic tenets of our Christian faith, a Saturday Armenian School (run by the Orange County Chapter of Armenian General Benevolent Union), an Armenian Church Youth Organization to keep our teenagers in the Church while teaching them their faith in a fun and sports-oriented environment, and a Zvartnots Youth Choir and Dance Ensemble to teach our children church hymns and folk dances. A Cultural Committee was also established to provide a forum for informing our faithful of historical and contemporary significant events. A Social and Entertainment Committee was also founded which for several years provided a forum in which Parishioners could meet each other in a fun-filled environment while raising funds that were urgently needed by the Church.
At this point the Church Choir had grown significantly and in honor of our founding Primate, the choir was renamed to St. Mary Hovsepian Choir. In 1997, a Belltower was constructed and dedicated, which provided a distinctive traditional Armenian facade to St. Mary. In 2000, a Trust Fund was established, reporting to the Parish Assembly, whose principal responsibility was to secure endowments to guarantee the future financial stability of St. Mary.
The St. Mary Trust Fund, in full cooperation with the Parish Council, undertook a future facilities needs study. The principal contributor to this forward- looking assessment was Mr. Aram Bassenian, a recognized world- class architect. His volunteer work prepared a pathway for the future expansion of St. Mary’s facilities and identified the need to purchase adjacent properties in order to permit future expansion. Motivated by Mr. Bassenian’s plans, the Parish Council and the Trust Fund secured the authorization of the full Parish Assembly and the Diocesan Council, and purchased the apartment building adjacent to the Church as well as a nearby residence. The full scope of our future expansion plans will be implemented once all of the adjacent properties are acquired.
Other programs were also developed to address the needs of our growing community. Notable among those were the Mommy and Me and Mr. & Mrs. Club. The latter program provides a Christian environment so that young married couples may socialize and raise community awareness, while the former program provides quality time for young mothers and their infants to come together in a church atmosphere.
The election of our current Primate, His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, has had a major impact on the spiritual awakening of many parishes in the Western Diocese. At St. Mary, attention was directed toward having our youth become active participants in church life by serving at the altar and in the choir. Several acolytes and deacons were ordained and are faithfully assisting the pastor during the celebrations of the Divine Liturgy.
The rich history of St. Mary cannot be fully told in this short summary There have been numerous parishioners, some of whom are no longer with us, who have contributed their talents, time, and resources to building this Church. Our sincere appreciation and thanks for a job extremely well done. All of us have been blessed by our experiences at St. Mary and the lifelong bonds our church has forged. We look to the future with confidence in knowing that St. Mary will be there for generations of Armenians living in Orange County.
Summarized by Dr. Vahram Biricik