A History of St. Mary Armenian Church
(For an even more detailed history CLICK HERE to read pages from our 100th Anniversary Book)
The religious life of Yettem began from a 1903 conversation between Yezekial Gendigian and Tateos Davidian. Out of concern of their own, their childrens' and the community's full spiritual nourishment, they invited all of Yettem together for prayer. The first public prayer service was held on Pentecost Sunday 1903. Shaded by the trees, these first worshippers gathered in front of Tateos Davidian's home. Worship that day consisted of the singing of the hymn Aravod Loosoh (Morning of Light), a scriptural reading from the Book of Acts, a commentary by Tateos Davidian and the singing of Hayr Mer (The Lord's Prayer). The first group of people that gathered for services was rather small, but as services continued and participants increased, the need for a building in which to meet became apparent. However, the community was not yet able to erect a house of worship. In 1904, permission was granted to use the Yettem School for Sunday services.
As the Armenian population in Yettem grew, practical steps began in the building of a church in Yettem. In 1909, a building committee was elected under the leadership of Krikor Arslanian. Mr. Arslanian bought the present three acre church site. Portions of this land were sold to several Armenians for hoping that the church would be surrounded by a solidly Armenian neighborhood. Each lot was sold for $60. In this way, the church land was rendered free and clear. The master builders who were to erect the church worked for minimal wages. All the Armenians of Yettem, with no consideration of sex or age, helped in the building. In May 1909, the cornerstones of the new church were laid. Actual building began on January 17, 1911, and on July 3, 1911, the new Armenian Church of St. Mary in Yettem was consecrated.
From 1911 until 1922, St. Mary Parish most of the time had to be satisfied with fulfilling its spiritual needs with the efforts of visiting priests. It was not until 1922 that St. Mary Armenian Church had its first full-time parish priest, Rev. Fr. Vahan Guldalian. Fr. Guldalian served the parish until 1924. From 1924 until 1930, St. Mary Parish was again without its own parish priest. In 1931 the Rev. Fr. Vartan Davidian became the parish priest and served in this capacity until 1934. Again, the parish was left without a priest from 1935 to 1939.
Finally, in December 1939, with the arrival of the Rev. Fr. Garabed Kalfayan, St Mary Parish was able to fully function as a church community. His active ministry at St. Mary Parish lasted for nearly a quarter of a century when he was forced to retire because of ill health. In fact, because of many of Der Garabed's activities, including speaking and writing for Armenian papers throughout the United States, the community of Yettem gained added notoriety, because he generally signed his articles with the title "hoviv yeteemi" (the Pastor of Yettem).
During his pastorate, the choir was re-organized, as was the Sunday school. The youth group that was to become the St Mary ACYO was established in 1947 and the Ladies Society that was established in 1914 continued and expanded its service to the church and community.
On June 12, 1945, the church was destroyed by fire. after much discussion, It was decided to rebuild on the original site. During 1946-47, under Der Garabed's leadership, the church was rebuilt and still stands today. The building of the new church was begun almost immediately. In less than one year the new church was ready to be consecrated. Faced with the challenge of rebuilding in those difficult years after World War II, the Yettem community achieved the seemingly impossible. The building committee and parish council were able to raise the funds and the church was paid for upon it's completion.
When Der Garabed went into retirement in 1962, the Rev. Fr. Kourken Koudoulian became the parish priest. Fr. Kourken served as parish priest until 1969. During his pastorate, the newest of the parish organizations, the Mr. & Mrs. Club was established in 1963. February 27, 1965 proved to be another fateful day when the Yettem hall was destroyed by fire. Under Fr. Kourken's direction, a building committee was organized and set to work to build a new hall that was completed in April 1968.
From 1969 until 1972, St. Mary Parish did not have a priest. In May 1972, the Very Rev. Kachadur Sarajian arrived as the new parish priest; however, he stayed only a few months.
In march 1973, his Eminence Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian appointed Deacon John Kasparian as the spiritual administrator of the parish. On September 9, 1973, at his ordination, he was renamed Fr. Vartan. During his pastorate, many projects were completed. The most mentionable was the church stained glass window project. Ordinations of stole-bearers, sub-deacons, and deacons also took place under the pastorate of Fr. Vartan. in 1979, the Ladies Society celebrated its 65th anniversary and in honor of this occasion, donated the Armenian Martyrs Monument. Fr. Vartan served St. Mary parish until 1990 when he left to become Vicar General for the Western Diocese.
The Rev. Fr. Artoon Sempadian served the St. Mary Parish from 1991 until February 1993 when he went into retirement. Under Fr. Artoon's pastorate, the gated entrance and the fencing to the churchyard was built.
In January 1994, the Rev. Fr. Stepanos Dinglian became the Parish Priest. Under Fr. Stepanos' pastorate, a major hall and kitchen renovation began and was completed in 1999. Fr. Stepanos served the parish until June 1996 when he left because of personal reasons.
In February 1998, the Rev. Fr. Sahak Kaishian became the St. Mary Parish Priest. Fr. Kaishian served the parish until February 2003. Under Fr. Sahak's pastorate, ordinations of sub-deacons and acolytes took place as well as the establishment of the Memorial Wall and the installation of the railings to the entrance of the church.
In May 2003, St. Mary Parish was blessed with the return of the Rev. Fr. Vartan Kasparian. Father Vartan was elevated to the position of Avak Kahana in December of 2003. In April of 2004, through generous donations from community members and organizations, a new organ was purchased for the church.
On July 2, 2011, a gala 100th anniversary banquet was held and on July 3. Archbishop Hovnan Derderian celebrated the Divine Liturgy closing a year-long celebration of special events to mark the anniversary. A special commemorative book that included both a history of the last 25 years and all the celebratory events of the 2010-2011 year was published and distributed.
Father Zaven Markosyan was named as Parish Priest for the St. Mary Armenian Church in Yettem on August 12, 2012, to replace Rev. Father Vartan Archpriest Kasparian who retired on October 1, 2012.
Father Mashdots Keshishian moved from Oregon and he assumed his role as Parish Priest on September 13, 2020.
In closing, let us remember that above all, Yettem's story is the story of people's lives, keeping alive and vibrant the illustrious Christ-centered faith of their fathers in spite of every conceivable difficulty and persecution. It is a story, which has its roots deep in the past, but which always points to the future. With the grace of Almighty God, the love of our Savior Jesus Christ, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, this story will never have an end.