HISTORY OF ST. THOMAS ARMENIAN CHURCH
The Armenian Church of Bergen County (The Saint Thomas Armenian Church) is the result of a deep inner dream that was in the hearts of a group of foresighted second-generation Armenians whose burning desire was to build a church for the ever-growing Armenian Community of Bergen County.
That seed was germinated by our own Haig Markarian of Bergen County, who repeatedly carried the message “the Church is a must,” to everyone he met and everywhere he went. By constant diligence and world-of-mouth campaigning, he eventually managed to gather his group of friends to join in an initial meeting.
This group, consisting of Jack Chashafian, Haig Tashjian, Stephan Ananian, Richard Turnamian, Charles Shakarjian, and Albert Tfank, decided that Bergen County (which consisted of over 1,000 families) was in need of an Armenian church.
They formed a committee and sent invitations to their friends to attend a dinner in April of 1958 at the Swiss Chalet restaurant in Ramsey, New Jersey. There they discussed the possibility of building a church to continue the Armenian heritage and culture in our children by keeping them together through a common purpose. Everyone was enthusiastic, and thus completed forms listing their names and addresses, as well as the names and ages of their children.
A ‘Mr. & Mrs.” Club was formed, chaired by Vahan Najarian. The purpose of the club was two-fold: to encourage more Armenians to join, and for the purpose of raising funds.
A Board of Trustees was selected to organize a parish and to discuss a site for the Church. The Trustees were: Jack Charshafian, Chairman; Armen Bogossian, Treasurer; Peter Daghlian, Secretary; Dr. Gerard Balakian, Anoosh Poosikian, Haig Tashjian, Malcolm Topalian, Richard Turnamian, Vahan Najarian, Stephan Ananian, and Haig Markarian.
The plans for the Church were completed in 1964, just before the start of construction. The exterior design resembles somewhat of the Byzantine style.
Historians give Armenians credit for developing the concept of the “dome.” The first dome was constructed in the seventh century of wood and supported by stone arches. Armenians are also given credit for developing the use of intersection arches to support a dome structure. The true Armenian church has a gabled, or pointed, roof; but the St. Thomas roof has been modified to express a vaulted or curved roof and interior ceiling line. The structural design and construction of the Church utilized wood in every aspect. It should be noted that the Atrium roof is also constructed with interesting arches.
St. Thomas baptistery was donated in memory of Kegam Sahinyan by his beloved wife Arsaluys Sahinyah and children, Dr. and Mrs. Levon and Ani Capan and Mrs. Seta Sahinyan Yavru-Sakuk. It was designed and supervised by Mrs. Ani Capan. This baptistery was dedicated and consecrated in 2007.
At times, our enormous financial responsibilities have seemed overwhelming, but through the cooperative efforts and generosity of many, they have always been met. We owe appreciation not only to our leaders, but also to the many individual parishioners and friends of St. Thomas who have provided the support so essential to our existence. The parish is a blessing for which we are thankful.
It is interesting to note that through our efforts between 1957 and 1965, the obstacles in our way only increased our ardor for something better and more perfect. The goal that was achieved was beyond anyone’s expectations.
- April 1957: Dinner at Swiss Chalet restuarant in Ramsey, NJ attended by 80 couples. Formation of the “Mr. & Mrs. Club.”
- June 1957: Declaration of Purpose.
- October 6, 1957: Picnic at Mazdabrook Farms in Parsippany, NJ.
- November 13, 1957: Dance at Empire Country Club.
- September 7, 1957: Archbishop Mampre Calfayan (Primate) assigns Deacon Arthur Davidian to our group. Sunday School registration takes place at Masonic Temple in Teaneck, NJ.
- September 21, 1957: The Sunday School moved to the more spacious Woman’s Club of Teaneck, offering an auditorium, stage, basement, kitchen, and lobby.
- 1958: Purchase of 7.6 acres of land in Tenafly, NJ for $47,000.
- July 17, 1960: Deacon Arthur Davidian is ordained as Reverend Dajad.
- July 24, 1960: Catholicos Vasken I blesses the Church grounds. The Church auditorium is completed at a cost of $175,000.
- March 12, 1961: The altar is consecrated by Primate Archbishop Sion Manoogian, and the first Holy Badarak is celebrated.
- February 1962: At the request of Archbishop Manoogian, Der Dajad resigns as Priest to take a teaching position at the St. Nerses Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. Der Arnak Kasparian becomes the parish Priest after serving 11 years at St. John’s Armenian Church in Detroit, Michigan.
- 1963: Parsonage on Church grounds is completed. The Parish Council reorganizes the Church building committee.
- April 25, 1964: Contracts signed to build the Church for $221,650.
- May 23, 1964: Blessing of cornerstones by Archbishop Manoogian.
- April 4, 1965: Consecration of St. Thomas Armenian Apostolic Church.
- 1986: Expansion of the complex, including addition of the Atrium, classrooms, and a larger kitchen.
- July 1, 1991: V. Rev. Fr. Papken Anoushian, Esq. becomes the parish priest.
- 1993: V. Rev. Fr. Papken Anoushian, Esq. is elevated to the rank of Dzayrakooyn Vartabed.
- June 5, 1993: Final mortgage payment is paid and celebrated (mortgage burning).
- 2007: Dedication and consecration of baptistery.
- June 2013: Dedication of the Araxi Diratzouian Children’s Playground.
- 2014: Total renovation of the Church lobby and restrooms.