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The St. Andrew Armenian Church Legacy

By Hysmig Ronnie Henesian

Cupertino? Where's that? Fifty years ago, that was the question just about anyone would have asked. It was a small town whose reputation was that of being the prune and apricot capital of the world. Located near San Jose and 50 miles south of San Francisco, it was the destination of busloads of people taking the springtime Blossom Tours.

The hillsides and valley floor were covered with grape vines and fruit trees of all varieties. The near perfect weather and pleasant living conditions brought Armenians here from the Central Valley, Midwest and the East Coast. They were few in numbers, but soon a feeling of "community" arose among them.

Today, Cupertino is in the heart of what is called Silicon Valley. Electronic, computer and aerospace plants abound and traffic is heavy. It has also become the destination point of Armenians from throughout the world.

The establishment of an Armenian community goes back to mid-1950 when a social group calling themselves the Armenian Society was organized. Although it served the immediate aim of bringing Armenians together, it ultimately became apparent that the greater goal should be that of establishing an Armenian Church community in this valley.

It has been recorded by Jacob Hagopian that "the first monthly prayer services commenced in August 1960 when Dr. Deacon Shahan Sevhonkian arranged with Rev. Fr. Shahe Altounian of St. Vartan Church in Oakland, Ca. to conduct prayer services in the hospitality room of a San Jose bank. It soon became evident that there was interest in establishing a church community in this area.

Before long, the Primate, Bishop Papken Varjabedian appointed a Parish Council whose members were: Dr. Deacon Shahan Sevhonkian, Jacob Hagopian, Vartkes Miroyan and Z.Victor Paparigian; and the Ladies Aid comprised of Sue Sevhonkian, Margaret Hagopian, Belgi Garabedian, Marion Paparigian and Araxie Vartanian This Parish Council arranged for the first Divine Liturgy to be celebrated in the Santa Clara Valley by Bishop Papken Varjabedian at Trinity Church in San Jose on Sunday, January 29, 1961.

On February 7, 1961, a meeting was held at the home of Vartkes and Bernita Miroyan at which the Parish became established on a formal and legal basis. It was unanimously agreed that it would be affiliated with Etchmiadzin and under the jurisdiction of the Western Diocese and it's Primate, and would function in accordance with the by-laws of the Western Diocese. The Founding members were: George and Belgi Garabedian, Jacob and Margaret Hagopian, Vartkes and Bernita Miroyan, Z.Victor and Marion Paparigian, Dr. Shahan and Sue Sevhonkian and Roxie Yeram.

In 1962, Marion Paparigian and Ellen Markarian Jones replaced Dr. Sevhonkian and Vartkes Miroyan on the Parish Council, which the next Primate, Bishop Torkom Manoogian expanded to a total of seven members for 1963 with three additional appointments: Margaret Hagopian, Aram Henesian and Francois Nalvarian.

Religious and cultural activities were introduced in the community by this Parish Council during those first three years, and successfully enrolled a sufficient number of dues-paying members, thus securing permission from the Primate to hold our first Parish Assembly and elections in 1964.

(The above information regarding the Founding members was summarized from an article written by Jacob Hagopian in 1983.)

An organizational meeting of the Ladies Aid took place on April 15, 1963 at the home of Anahid and Francois Nalvarian with twelve members paying their dues of three dollars. Margaret Hagopian, Rose Hines and Hysmig Ronnie Henesian were elected to the offices of Chairlady, Secretary and Treasurer, respectively. The other members were: Betty Espinoza, Sofia Giragosian, Esquhy Henesian, Anahid Nalvarian, Marion Paparigian, Zabel Solakian, Asdghig Soliman, Rose Tootelian and Roxie Yeram.

In July 1963, regularly held monthly church services by visiting Priests took place at St. Timothy Episcopal Church in Mountain View. By this time a choir had been formed and participated in all the services.

The first Armenian Language Class (presently under the auspices of St. Andrew Armenian Church) was organized and taught by Anahid Nalvarian on September 30, 1963. Thirty-eight years later, her unwavering dedication as Superintendent has kept the Armenian Language School alive and continues to thrive and to serve this community.

March 21, 1964 was a red-letter day in the life of this community. The first official Parish Assembly meeting took place under the Presidency of His Eminence, Abp. Torkom Manoogian, Primate of the Western Diocese of North America, with thirty-five (35) parishioners becoming Charter members of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Santa Clara Valley.

They were:

Aram & Nadine Amerian, Rose Bournazian, Louise Boyajian, Elizabeth Espinoza, Belgi Garabedian, Charles & Sofia Giragosian, Jacob & Margaret Hagopian, John Gulbenk, Aram & Hysmig Ronnie Henesian, Kevork & Esquhy Henesian, Jack George Henesian, Rose Hines, Charles Jamgotchian, Katherine Kuzirian, Zaven Victor & Marion Paparigian, David Sohigian, Sue Sevhonkian Earl & Virginia Saroyan, George & Zabel Solakian, Sr. Col. Aram & Rose Tootelian, George Solakian, Jr. Haig Tusoosian,Leo G. Solakian, Victor & Hasmig Vasgerdsian Roxie Yeram.

As of this writing, 19 of the original 35 Charter members have passed on, but not without many of them having seen a great measure of their collective dream for an Armenian Church in the Santa Clara Valley realized.

Parish Council

  • Zaven Victor Paparigian, Chairman
  • Aram Henesian, Vice-Chairman
  • Victor Vasgerdsian, Treasurer
  • *Marion Paparigian, Recording
  • *Hysmig Ronnie Henesian, Corres. Secretary
  • Jacob Hagopian, Advisor
  • Col. Aram Tootelian, Advisor

Parish Assembly

  • David Sohigian, Chairman
  • Margaret Hagopian
  • Vice- Chairman
  • Sue Sevhonkian

Secretary Secretary Diocesan Delegates

  • Haig Tusoosian
  • Zaven Victor


  • Jack George Henesian
  • Haig Tusoosian
  • Rose Tootelian

*It must be noted that Marion Paparigian and Hysmig Ronnie Henesian were the first women to permanently serve on a Parish Council in the Western Diocese.

The years 1964 through 1973 brought a flurry of activities. In October 1964, a house belonging to the Jacob and Margaret Hagopian was rented at a reduced rate and served as the Community Activity Center where ACYO, Sunday School, folk dance classes, language classes and social events were held. Our monthly church services were held at St. Mark Episcopal Church in Santa Clara, across the street from our Activity Center.

On June 27,1965, the first of four annual picnics were held at Flood Park in Menlo Park. On June 8, 1969, the picnic was moved to the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose where we continued to have this annual event for over 25 years. For many years, we participated in downtown San Jose's Tapestry in Talent street fairs selling luleh kebabs and lahmajoon in quickly constructed booths; United Nations fairs at the Santa Clara Fairgrounds; and special event food booths in the downtown streets of Palo Alto.

On July 15, 1973, under the Presidency of His Eminence Abp. Vatche Hovsepian, Primate of the Western Diocese, a special meeting of the Parish Assembly was called by Parish Assembly Chairman, Ed. Edwards who invited us to meet at a small ranch house on S. Stelling Road in Cupertino. The purpose was to discuss the acquisition of this property on one acre of land for $57,500. The vote was affirmative. The Ladies Society gave their entire savings to use as the down payment. A $40,000 bank loan was assumed at 9.25% with $320 monthly payments.

On November 9, 1973, escrow was closed and we now had a permanent home. Guarantors of the loan were Dr. & Mrs. Arsen Lazarian; Mr. & Mrs. Francois Nalvarian; Mr. & Mrs. Sarkis Kalpakian and Mr. & Mrs. Edward Kalpakian.

Within a short time, the building was substantially enlarged at a cost of $5,000 which was raised among the parishioners. Much of the work was done with volunteer help. With the gift of six new crystal chandeliers by the Kapjian Family; wall-to-wall carpeting by the Derderian Family of Los Angeles; and window and Altar curtains by Earl and Virginia Saroyan; this empty space quickly transformed into a pleasant area in which the congregation assembled for Sunday church services. With the closing of the Altar curtains, it became a place for social activities which brought the community together.

To name just a few: Bingo/Bridge and Card parties; luncheons and dinners; Christmas/Vartanantz/Martyr's Day/Easter/Mother's Day/Paregentan/Mardi Gras/New Year's parties - to say nothing of Women Saints Days/Diocesan Assemblies and Retreats. And all of this took place in our converted facilities.

It was during the expansion of this building in early 1975 that the Very Rev. Fr. Samuel Aghoyan came to us as a temporary priest. With good humor, he helped paint the interior walls.

He became our permanent priest on August 1976 and remained with us until September 1977. Upon Fr. Sam's departure, the Very Rev. Fr. Sipan Mekhsian became our spiritual leader for four years from March 1978 to March 1982 during which time our congregation grew.

Deacon Hovsep Movsesian arrived in Cupertino in March 1982, and on Sept. 26, 1982, he was ordained Rev. Fr. Vazken Movsesian. With his bride, Yeretzgin Susan, they became an integral part of our church family. The births of Varoujan, Sevan and Christopher brought joy to all of us.

Father Vazken Movsesian celebrated his first Divine Liturgy at our church on Sunday, October 24, 1982 in the presence of his Eminence, Abp. Vatche Hovsepian and an overflowing congregation, followed by a joyful banquet in Father Vazken's honor at the St. Sava Serbian Church hall in Cupertino.

On November 14, 1982, a special Assembly was called by Parish Assembly Chairman, Michael Kuzirian for the purpose of discussing the feasibility of constructing a church and hall on the present site, which met with the approval of the members.

A Building Finance Committee was immediately formed with Kirk Henesian as the Chairman. On his Committee, were the following: Stella Amerian; Bedros Chakmakjian; Suzanne Devletian; Victoria Dixon; Andy Kapjian; Sue Sevhonkian and Roy Terrell. The Committee worked together for 5 years and raised approximately 3/4 of a million dollars, and eventually merged with the Building Committee headed by Mike Kuzirian. On the Committee were Tony Aivazian; Aram Henesian; Andy Kapjian and Ace Paul.

An initial fund-raising meeting was held on June 15, 1984 at which time Andrew & Stella Amerian, and Aram & Nadine Amerian jointly donated $100,000 toward the construction of our new church, which was a great impetus to getting the campaign started. A total of $200,000 was raised in that one evening from the congregation. It must also be noted that subsequent to their first gift, the Amerian Brothers and their families generously donated additionally large amounts of money during the construction of the church.

At the suggestion of Fr. Vazken Movsesian and the Parish Council, the name of our church was officially changed by His Eminence, Abp. Vatche Hovsepian, from Armenian Apostolic Church of Santa Clara Valley to St. Andrew Armenian Church in honor of one of our benefactors, Andrew Amerian.

On November 17, 1985, His Eminence, Abp. Vatche Hovsepian officiated at the groundbreaking ceremonies for our new church with a banquet following at the Italian Gardens Restaurant in San Jose.

From the time of the ground breaking to the day we vacated the old building on Sunday, May 1, 1988 and moved into offices on the second floor above the Baskin-Robbins in Cupertino, all the organizations shifted into high gear and this parish's main focus was the raising of funds for our new church. Picnics, food fairs, social events, telephone solicitations and voluntary gifts from members of the community, were the primary methods of raising money.

On June 24, 1988, our beloved old church building was razed and the land cleared. Thereafter, our congregation met regularly at St. Sava Serbian Church in Cupertino. In the first week of July 1988, the basement of our future building was dug and construction begun under the watchful eyes of the Building Committee members.

Some difficulties were encountered along the way, but ultimately construction continued. Then, tragedy struck on December 7, 1988 when Armenia was devastated by an earthquake! Our own fund raising came to a halt while the concentration of our community was shifted to the needs of our people in Armenia. Our pastor, Fr. Vazken Movsesian, marshaled all the forces of our community to raise money, collect and pack clothing, medicines and essential equipment which were then sent to Armenia.

It must be noted that it was through Fr. Vazken's tireless effort that St. Andrew parish raised in excess of $100,000 from the community at large in the Santa Clara Valley for Armenian earthquake relief. Donations were received from schools, local organizations, individuals and corporations from throughout the Santa Clara Valley (Silicon Valley) as well as from our own Armenian community.

Work continued on our building. It was exciting to watch the daily progress of the construction. On September 1, 1989, the main dome was lifted onto the roof with the aid of a massive crane; and on January 6, 1990, the two huge crosses made and donated by Haig Sarkissian Precision Co. were placed upon the large and smaller domes of the church.

With special permission from the City of Cupertino, we were able to celebrate our very first Badarak on Easter Sunday, April 15, 1990. Walking through the temporary plywood doors at the entrance, the overflow crowd of congregants stood in awe at the enormity of our sanctuary with it's high dome and Armenian architectural design. Standing among the scaffolding and construction equipment, they joyfully celebrated this momentous day in the life of our Church. At long last, the major construction completed, the doors to St. Andrew Church were opened on January 6, 1991 for the jubilant celebration of Armenian Christmas with a banquet held in our unfinished facilities downstairs, by now named Amerian Hall.

On March 3, 1991, His Eminence Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian celebrated the first ordination in our new church when he conferred the offices of Deacon and Sub deacon to Raffi Nalvarian and Zaven Paparigian. In a moment of casual conversation with Raffi, the Surpazan had made a negative comment about Raffi's hair style and said that he wanted to cut off Raffi's pigtail. Without hesitation, Raffi said that he would sacrifice his pigtail if someone would donate $1,000 to the church. After the services, a banquet was rendered in honor of this special occasion at which the Surpazan addressed the audience and related his conversation with Raffi. After the laughter died down, a young couple arose and said they would donate that $1,000. Asking if there were any more such offers, it would seem that God's spirit entered many of the parishioners. Within 15 minutes, $30,000 had been donated in cash and services to install the new church kitchen.

On Saturday, May 16,1992, the formal Consecration was begun with the ceremony of "opening the doors" of St. Andrew Church by His Eminence, Abp. Vatche Hovsepian and other church dignitaries.

On Sunday, May 17, the main benefactors, Mr. & Mrs. Andrew Amerian and Mr. & Mrs. Aram Amerian led the entourage into the church, followed by His Eminence, Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian; His Eminence, Archbishop Hoosig Santourian of Etchmiadzin; Bishop Aris Shirvanian of St. John Church of San Francisco;Rev. Fr. Vazken Movsesian and clergy from our sister parishes in the Bay Area.

Following were the thirty St. Andrew Church Godfathers, as follows:

Andrew & Stella
Aram & Nadine Amerian
Leon & Theresa Bezdikian
Victoria Dixon
Arpi & Alex Djenguerian
Aram & Hysmig Ronnie Henesian
Jack & Anahid Henesian
Kirk Charles Henesian
Joseph Hovsepian
Amerian Luther & Grace Izmirian
Andy & Mable Kapjian
Florence Kashian
Ann Kulbashian
Nubar & Carol Manoukian
Francois & Anahid Nalvarian
Zaven & Grace Paparigian
Ace & Lorraine Paul
Sue Sevhonkian

In researching our church's history, many hundreds of pages of printed material have been gleaned in search of names, dates and events. It would be an impossible task to record every event of importance in our 40 year history. So many faithful parishioners have given of their time, energy and financial resources for a cause in which they fervently believed, and that is the establishment and maintenance of a "home" where there is friendship and respect among the its people; and where we, as Armenians, can keep our cultural heritage and our religious beliefs alive.

We must recognize the roll of our clergy in the early days beginning with Primates, Bishop Papken Varjabedian, Bishop Elisha Simonian and His Eminence Archbishop Torkom Manoogian who had the foresight to encourage this fledgling community. We acknowledge and greatly thank our Primate, His Eminence, Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian under whose leadership, encouragement and spiritual guidance this parish has grown and flourished.

The contributions of Very Rev. Fr. Sam Aghoyan and Very Rev. Fr. Sipan Mekhsian during the early years of this parish, were immeasurable. Their encouragement and guidance sustained us.

From March 1982 to December 1996, Fr. Vazken Movsesian's youthful energy, enthusiasm, perseverance and progressive ideas were a guiding force in this community. He set the philosophical course we maintain today of having a Church in which every Armenian has a welcoming "home". Upon the departure of Fr. Vazken Movsesian, Rev. Fr. Hovsep Hagopian served as Pastor of our Church for a period of time.

On February 27, 2000, His Eminence, Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian officially installed Rev. Fr. Datev Harutyunian as our Parish Priest to lead the community and to minister to its spiritual needs. Fr. Datev, Yeretzgin Silva, Deramayr Sirouhie, Dicran and young Sirouhie were warmly welcomed and endeared themselves to their new family. With Der Datev's wisdom, guidance and leadership, we shall remain a strong and cohesive parish.

To all the clergy who have had a part in the establishment and the life of St. Andrew Armenian Church, we express our heartfelt gratitude.

In the 1990s, we were firmly established in the Santa Clara Valley with the creation of a magnificent edifice and thriving community in which we can all take pride. Here we are in the 21st Century and our church knows no bounds. Those of us who created something from nothing, now bestow this legacy to future generations. May they be wise stewards of their inheritance.