St. Francis may become Armenian church

St. Francis may become Armenian church
By SCOTT BROOKS Union Leader Correspondent

The Union Leader (Manchester NH)
May 13, 2004 Thursday STATE EDITION

NASHUA — A Hollis real estate developer hopes to turn the former St.
Francis Xavier Catholic Church into the state’s second Armenian church.

Vatche Manoukian, owner of Mile High Real Estate, successfully
negotiated a $1 million deal last week with the Diocese of Manchester
for the 19th-century French Hill landmark, which he plans to donate
to the Armenian Orthodox Church.

“It’s a very unique opportunity at a very unique time, and he’s
grabbing it,” said Manoukian’s attorney, Gerald Prunier.

The deal is contingent on a judgment in Hillsborough County Probate
Court, where the diocese hopes a judge will declare the sale
permissible under the church’s 1885 deed. However, some Catholic
parishioners, who call themselves the St. Francis Xavier Church
Foundation, opposes the sale and plans to intervene in the case,
the group’s attorney said.

“The parishioners want it to remain the St. Francis Xavier Catholic
Church,” said Randy Wilbert, the foundation’s attorney and former
president. “There’s a statute that says it’s got to be held in trust
for members of the parish. You can’t very well sell it to another
religion and consider yourself in compliance with your obligations.”

Wilbert said he hopes to file a motion to intervene by the end of
this week.

The diocese closed St. Francis in 2003 due to “declining financial
health and waning parishioner attendance,” according to its May 7
probate court filing. With the church on the market, the foundation
offered to buy it for an undisclosed amount of money earlier this year.

Diocesan officials said the foundation’s bid would not be considered.
Bishop John McCormack has said the church can no longer be used for
Catholic worship once it is closed.

Last month, the group responded by petitioning Hillsborough County
Superior Court for a declaratory judgment to keep the church a
Catholic facility.

A judge stayed the case at a pre-trial hearing Monday, allowing the
diocese to pursue a ruling in probate court.

The diocese’s filing argues a transfer to the Armenian Church would not
violate the building’s deed because it would ensure the structure’s”
continued public religious or pious use.”

In its filing, the diocese says net proceeds from the sale would go
to the St. Aloysius of Gonzaga parish in Nashua, which absorbed the
former St. Francis parishioners after their church was closed.

Prunier said his client is seeking word from the Armenian Church in
Jerusalem that it will accept the building. Manoukian, who is 54,
is asking nothing in return, he said.

New Hampshire currently has only one Armenian church, the Ararat
Armenian Congregational Church in Salem.

Manoukian’s brother, Hollis Selectman Vahrij Manoukian, said there
are few nearby churches for the Armenian community. The brothers,
who were born in Lebanon and moved to New Hampshire in 1977, attend
the St. Vartanantz Armenian Church in Chelmsford, Mass., about a
half-hour drive from their Hollis home.

“Nobody wants to travel that far,” Vahrij Manoukian said. “But if we
have one in Nashua, people will do it.”

The purchase and sale agreement is voided if the Armenian Church
refuses the gift, although Prunier said he saw no reason that would

Manoukian initially asked to conceal his name from the court documents,
but his identity remained visible through the black ink crossing
it out.

“The main reason for that was he didn’t want to be called up by
everyone asking for a donation,” Prunier said. Also, Prunier said,
“He didn’t want to be named as a party in the suit and end up appearing
as the bad guy.”