At the General Chapter of the Armenian Catholic Ardzivian Patriarchal Congregation in 1989, Father Raphael Minassian was appointed as the first Ardzivian congregational priest to the mission in Los Angeles California. In addition to promoting spiritual activities, the goal of this mission in California was to establish a second parish from our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Los Angeles which would serve as an Episcopal residence, with a residing bishop, for an auxiliary western Diocese of Armenian Catholics in the United States. This decision to establish a Western Diocese was in response to a request from the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in the Vatican.
In 1991, Father Raphael was appointed pastor of the Western Diocese but with very limited pastoral authority. Msgr. Setian knowing the purpose of the mission of Father Raphael Minassian in California, discouraged the plan at that time and supported maintaining the status quo of having one Diocese of the Armenian Catholic Church that included both the United States of America and Canada.
Father Raphael, conscious of both the purpose and extreme need for this directive to expand the mission in greater Los Angeles, took the initiative to plan a new church project in Glendale, California. He was assisted by well known personalities from the local Armenian Catholic community and many benefactors, both large and small.
In 1997, Father Raphael bought a Lutheran church located on Mountain Street in Glendale. Renovations of the structure began with the adoption to the Armenian rite. The Armenian style altar was handmade by Father Raphael and Father Dajad Yardemian. Parish offices and residential facilities were similarly planned and renovated.
In 1998, the Armenian Catholic Community of Los Angeles held the official inauguration of the new church, which was dedicated to St. Gregory the Illuminator. The primary project assumed by Father Raphael was to build a new church with a complex for an adjunct bishop for the Armenian Catholics in California. In recognition of the ambitious development project spearheaded by Father Raphael, the administration of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs church was assigned to Father Antranig Atamian. Father Krikor Shahinian was called from Sweden to assist with the spiritual activities in the parish. Father Raphael was relieved of his day-to-day duties at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs and dedicated his talent, time and energy to the design, development and renovation of St. Gregory Church.
On August 15, 1999, the cornerstone of St. Gregory Church was laid as Father Raphael initiated the demolition of the old church and its facilities, and began to rebuild it in traditional Armenian style. After two years of dedication and hard work, St. Gregory Church and its surrounding facilities were rebuilt. The property, which includes a monument commemorating the seventeen centuries of Armenian Christianity and decorated with the carved names of all sponsors and benefactors, was ready to be celebrated.
On March 18, 2001, His Excellency Bishop Manuel Batakian Exarch of Armenian Catholics in United States and Canada officiated at the consecration of St. Gregory Church. At that time Bishop Batakian, in the presence of a representative corps of the Armenian Apostolic Church and His Excellency Archbishop Renato R. Martino, permanent observer of the Vatican to the United Nation, today Cardinal and Prefect of the Justice and Peace Office in the Vatican, bestowed Father Raphael Minassian the official title and ring of Monsignor for his dedication and devotion to the church and his parishioners.
With heartfelt gratitude for the honor thus bestowed, Father Raphael declared that St. Gregory Church was built with the effort and sacrifice of all Armenians without discrimination based of denomination or any other affiliation. “We all are the descendents of St. Gregory the llIuminator, therefore this beautiful edifice belongs to all Armenians in California,” proclaimed Father Raphael. Construction continued and remodeling of the parish hall, library, reception area and offices was soon completed.
On March 17, 2002 the opening of the parish hall was marked with a significant celebration. The parish hall today is named Mr. and Mrs. Raymond & Annie Kouyoumdjian, in recognition of their substantial donation to the renovation project. The carved stones of the windows and the holy Stations of the Cross, as well as completion of the carved names on the remembrance wall are part of the final stage.
St. Gregory Armenian Catholic Church began to emerge as a spiritual and educational center for the Armenian community. Various cultural activities served as a source of introduction for the new generation to their Armenian heritage. That was the main purpose of St. Gregory Church in Glendale, California. Moreover, Father Raphael Minassian, assisted by Mr. Hrant Ajemian, who previously served as editor of the “Harach” newspaper in Paris, continued to publish the 16-page weekly newsletter “Avedaper,” which evolved into a forty-eight page monthly publication covering spiritual, cultural and social aspects of Armenian Iife. The monthly, full-color production of 2500 copies was distributed in over 10 countries around the world.
Later, Father Raphael merged the cultural and social magazine “Verelk” with Avedaper to create a new magazine called “Verelk-Avedaper.” This cultural publication was in effect until 2004 when Father Raphael left California for a new mission. At the same time, the Armenian Catholic Youth Organization (ACYO) at St. Gregory Armenian Catholic Church, along with St. Gregory’s Parish Council, Ladies’ Guild, and choir with various choral presentations established an active presence in the Armenian community of Glendale. Furthermore, reflecting Father Raphael’s innovative and outstanding musical talent, in 2000 he introduced St. Gregory’s chamber orchestra comprised of 20 professional musicians who performed monthly classical concerts futrher making St. Gregory Church an integral part of Glendale and surrounding areas.
During the same time, three major events were celebrated: the 50th anniversary of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs; the 100th birthday of Cardinal Agagianian, presided by Cardinal Renato R. Martino; and, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Aram Khatchatourian. The commemoration including a performance by a full symphonic orchestra was held on June 13, 2003 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center with more than 2500 people in attendance.
Father Raphael bore the burden and responsibility of multiple engagements and duties. He was an active member of the intercommunity Assembly of Catholic Church; oversaw the construction of the St. Gregory property; fulfilled pastoral duties for the two Armenian Catholic parishes, as well as delivered Mass in California, Nevada and Arizona on an as needed basis.
In October 2003, His Excellency Bishop Batakian with the intention of providing assistance to Monsignor Raphael Minassian, sent Father Andon Noradounkian, pastor of St. Ann’s church in New York to Glendale as assistant Pastor.
On November 4, 2004 Msgr. Raphael Minassian resigned his position and left for Rome to initiate a new vision of apostolate, creating the Armenian program for Peace Voice TV Station at the Vatican. One year later Monsignor Raphael was appointed Exarch of the Armenian Catholics in Jerusalem and Trans-Jordan as well as President of the Armenian Catholics Communications.
Father Andon Noradounkian remained alone to run the Armenian Catholic Church in Glendale working tirelessly to repay part of the remaining financial obligations of St. Gregory Church.
In May 2005, Father Andon Saroyan Pastor of St. Vartan’s Church in Detroit was appointed as Pastor to St. Gregory Armenian Catholic Church in Glendale. Father Andon assumed the position after four months. After years of serious work in the parish, in September 2005 Father Noradounkian returned back to New York to resume his position as Pastor to St. Ann Church.
Father Saroyan came to California following pastoral experiences in Beirut, Rome, France and Detroit. From the beginning of his tenure at St. Gregory, he has worked with the existing activities and committees in their apostolate. He continued with the remaining unfinished construction, including the carvings of benefactors’ names on the monumental wall of the 17th Century Armenian Christendom, the Stations of the Holy Cross, and the carved Holy Fathers stones on the church windows.
In 2005, Father Saroyan resumed publication of the official bimonthly magazine “Avedaper Verelk” to a monthly parish bulletin to keep the parishioners informed of parish activities. He arranged for completion of the underground space to be used for youth activities, as well as a conference room for the other parish committees.
In 2006, Father Saroyan celebrated the fifth anniversary of St. Gregory Church in Glendale adding two “Khatchkars” in the front yard. He intends to redo the baptismal chapel at the entrance of the left side of the church and to renew the pews and install a decorative door at the main entrance. St. Gregory Armenian Catholic Church of Glendale remains active in California.