St. Nersess Seminary on the Threshold of a New Era


By Hagop Vartivarian

NEW YORK –Armenian benefactors Haig and Elza Didizian will be honored on November 22, for their donation toward the construction of new buildings at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. This donation covers the lion’s share of the cost of these buildings, the formal inauguration of which will take place next year. In this way, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) will have achieved another act of construction in his diocese while securing the continued existence of the seminary for youth who wish to serve the church.

Of course the birth of this seminary, and the work of the years that followed, were not easy. Nevertheless, it remained an institution worthy of affection, preparing new clergymen, largely American-born. The latter eventually would be sent to Holy Echmiadzin to experience monastic life and receive a true Armenian education as the completion of their training. St. Nersess was the fruit of the vision of Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, a former Primate of the American Diocese.

Twenty years ago, the seminary found itself in a difficult financial situation. There was even the danger that it might be closed. Archbishop Barsamian appealed to Dr. Raffy and Vicki Shoghag Hovanessian, to organize a fundraising campaign in the US. This was a difficult and practically impossible task at that time because American-Armenian donors were nearly all focused on aid for the Armenian earthquake zone and the myriad of financial needs of our newly independent homeland, the third Republic of Armenia.

The task lying ahead for the Hovanessians was not going to be easy, but with superhuman dedication they turned the impossible into the possible in order to ensure the existence of the seminary. Approximately one million dollars had to be raised in order to keep St. Nersess Armenian Seminary open. Thanks to the couple’s many years of experience, their broad social circles, their tenacious work, and their charm, they were able to reach the goal of the campaign within the comparatively short period of three months. Church-loving Armenians were found who responded to their appeals. The rector of the Seminary at that time, Fr. Arakel Aljalian, worked closely with the Hovanessians for the success of their mission.

The participation of the executor of the Paul Garabedian Charles Foundation, the lawyer Arsen Hanamirian, must be gratefully noted. He had followed the work of Shoghag Hovanessian in the Armenian community for years, and thus had the confidence to make a donation. In the autumn of that year, Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin I happened to be in Florida, and met with Hanamirian there. The latter had already donated one hundred thousand dollars to the seminary, but after this meeting, Hanamirian donated a further $400,000. In this way, the contribution of an additional half a million dollars was secured, thanks to the efforts of the Hovanessians, and the total amount of donations reached $1.5 million.

Some of the other donors from 20 years ago include the Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan Fund ($150,000), the Dadourian family ($100,000), Sarkis Gabrellian ($100,000), Helen Mardigian ($100,000), Anoush Mathevosian ($100,000), Dr. Raffy Hovanessian ($50,000), Hratch Toufayan ($25,000) and Asbed Zakarian ($25,000).

Today when the new building of this seminary is nearly ready for use, we recall with appreciation the vital work Raffy and Shoghag Hovanessian carried out. It was an important encouragement for the seminary, which was able consequently to continue in its mission for the following 20 years.

(Translated from the Armenian)

Elza and Haig Didizian

Elza and Haig Didizian