St. Mary began from humble origins, taking care of the spiritual needs of the Newark Armenian Community following the bleak years after WW1.
The history of St. Mary Parish is comprised of 90 years of dedication and hard work by many individuals. The Armenian Community of Newark and vicinity was officially organized as a parish in 1926. Over 1,000 people crowded into Grace Episcopal Church in Newark on Sunday, May 15th as Archbishop Tirayre Hovhanesian conducted the first Armenian service for the Newark parish. This date marked the beginning of St. Mary Armenian Church. It was a proud but humble beginning. For the next decade, services were held every other Sunday afternoon in churches rented from others. In 1938, St. Mary Parish moved to the Episcopalian House of Prayer in Newark. Although it was only rented and services were held in the afternoon, it became more of a home for the Armenian Community as the parish continued to grow with first-generation Armenian-Americans. The desire to have their own church and property also grew.
A Building Committee was formed in 1941. St. Mary began to look seriously for a permanent home. In 1947, a lot was purchased in North Newark for the construction of a church and a Builiding Committee was formed. In 1949, the Building Committee was reorganized under the leadership of V. Rev. Fr. Shnork Kaloustian and plans were drawn up to start construction of a hall. During this period, the priest was informed about a church in Irvington that was for sale. After visiting this property, a special Parish Assembly unanimously decided to purchase this church, which consisted of a church building, hall, parish house and open green area. After many years of dreaming to have their own church, it became a reality! On January 2, 1950, the newly purchased church in Irvington was consecrated in the name of St. Mary by the then Primate, Bp. Tiran Nersoyan. V. Rev. Fr. Shnork Kaloustian served as the first pastor and remained at St. Mary for five years. Through his leadership and guidance, the parish received religious nourishment. He will always be known as the Father of St. Mary Armenian Church. He eventually returned to Istabul, where he became Patriarch. In 1953, he was followed by the V. Rev. Fr. Yeghishe Gizirian, who served the parish for four years. He was a gentle, humble man who will always be remembered with special fondness. He was called to England where he became Patriarch. The V. Rev. Fr. Oshen Nicolian became the next priest for a short while. On Palm Sunday, 1958, Rev.Fr. Mampre Kouzouian began his pastoral duties at St. Mary church in Irvington. He remained for twelve and one-half years, during which time he was affectionately and reverently referred to as Der Hayr. Under his leadership, St. Mary rose to its greatest height in membership and devotion to the church. These were happy times and it became time to explore the possibility of enlarging the hall or move to new quarters to accommodate the growing needs of the parish. In 1965, property was purchased in West Orange which had an existing house and 3.2 acres of land. Plans were drawn up and fundraising committees were formed to raise necessary funds for this project. During this time, Der Hayr was called to become the Canon Sacrist of St. Vartan Cathedral. The entire parish was saddened by the news that our beloved Der Mampre was leaving St. Mary. Rev. Fr. Ari Kehiayan spent the next one and one-half years administering to the spiritual needs of the parishioners of St. Mary.
On June 26, 1971, V. Rev. Houssig Bagdasian arrived to become the next priest of St. Mary Armenian Church. In 1973, the Building Committee was informed of a church that was for sale in Livingston. It consisted of a church, hall and parish house. Negotiations began with Mt. Olivet Church. The purchase of the property was finalized in January, 1974 and the church was consecrated on May 12, 1974 by Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Primate. Hayr Soorp had an intense love for the church and its people. He taught Armenian and built up the Sunday School and Armenian School. Church attendance reached new heights. He was our spiritual leader when the church was destroyed by arsonists on March 26, 1980. This was a tragedy for the parish, but the community began the work of restoration. On March 14, 1982, our newly restored church was consecrated by the Primate, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian. This was a great day in the church history, revealing the faith and dedication of our people. In 1992, Hayr Soorp was called by the Brotherhood in Jerusalem to oversee their properties. His parting was very difficult for the faithful. From 1992 until 2000, the parish was administered by Rev. Fr. Arshen Aivazian. He was very knowledgeable in church history and protocol. Under his leadership, Adult Bible Education was formed. He was later called to become the parish priest of St. Paul Armenian Church in Fresno, CA. In June, 2000, the parish welcomed the arrival of Deacon Vartan Garabedian. During his one year of service, he organized the first summer camp, with over 30 children in attendance. On September 9, 2001, Rev. Fr. Shnork Souin became the new priest at St. Mary. Der Shnork served at St. Mary for 10 years. He was instrumental in creating the church website to keep the parishioners informed of events. Love Your Church day has become an annual event for the parishioners to help clean the church in preparation of Holy Week. The Genocide Memorial Garden and Khatchkar were dedicated during his time at St. Mary. Under the generosity and guidance of Hratch and Suzanne Toufayan, construction of a new hall began. Der Shnork left St. Mary to begin his service at Sts. Sahag and Mesrob Church in Providence, RI. Since August 12, 2012, Rev. Fr. Arakel Vardazaryan has been serving St. Mary Armenian Church as its priest. He, along with Yeretzgin Anush and their son Raffi, have brought a new energy to St. Mary.
Shortly after his arrival, on November 12, 2012, the dedication of the newly renovated and expanded Haroutune and Siranoush Toufayan Hall took place. Thanks to the generosity and vision of Hratch and Suzanne Toufayan, their dream became a reality. Der Hayr has redesigned the church website as well as The Gantegh. May his faith and spirituality continue to guide us for many years to come. After 90 years, St. Mary Armenian Church remains strong in her commitment to our Christian faith and heritage. With this spirit, our parish will be blessed with continued success and fruitfulness.
1948 – Very Rev. Father Shnork Kaloustian
1953 - Very Rev. Father Yegishe Gizirian
1957 – Very Rev. Father Oshin Nicolian
1958 – Rev. Father Mampre Kouzouian
1970 – Rev. Father Ari Kehyaian
1971 – Very Rev. Father Houssig Bagdasian
1992 – Rev. Father Arshen Aivazian
2000 – Rev. Deacon Vartan Garabedian
2001 – Rev. Father Shnork Souin
2012 – Rev. Father Arakel Vardazaryan