Archpriest Father Shahe Semerdjian, 88; ministered to Armenians

Archpriest Father Shahe Semerdjian, 88; ministered to Armenians
by Jack Williams, STAFF WRITER

The San Diego Union-Tribune
May 26, 2004 Wednesday

To a growing Armenian community in San Diego County, Archpriest
Father Shahe Semerdjian represented a new beginning.

Answering a demand for a place of worship, he conducted the first
official Armenian church service and divine liturgy in the San Diego
area in 1965 at St. Andrew Episcopal Church in La Mesa.

During the next decade, while holding afternoon Armenian services
each month at the rented St. Andrew parish, he helped raise funds to
build an Armenian church.

When St. John Garabed Armenian Apostolic Church moved into its
permanent site on 30th Street in Normal Heights in November 1977,
Father Semerdjian officiated in its first service.

Father Semerdjian, who based his ministry on building a bridge
between generations of Armenian-Americans of varying backgrounds,
died Saturday at his home in Las Vegas. He was 88.

The cause of death was a heart attack, said his son, Dick.

In November 1951, Father Semerdjian arrived at Ellis Island in New
York from Cyprus at the invitation of the archbishop of the Western
Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America.

“He had $10 in his pocket and two suitcases,” Dick Semerdjian said.

Father Semerdjian, along with his wife and two children, traveled
west to Fresno by train.

Assigned to St. Gregory Armenian Church in Fowler, he worked to
expand and reorganize the parish and founded a monthly publication,
“The Orchard.” Although he conducted services in Armenian, he
developed fluency in English as he became assimilated into the small
Central Valley community.

In 1962, Father Semerdjian was assigned to St. Peter Armenian Church
in Van Nuys, where he was based for the next 30 years.

When time permitted, he would address the needs of Armenians in San
Diego County, providing the impetus for organized services and the
founding of St. John Garabed Armenian Apostolic Church.

“Father Semerdjian was a very gentle, understanding person — an
inspirational and devoted clergyman,” said the Rev. Father Datev
Tatoulian, parish priest at St. John Garabed. “He visited San Diego
often, for anniversary celebrations and special occasions.”

When St. John Garabed parish celebrated its 14th anniversary, Father
Semerdjian was honored as a special guest.

Born in Antieb, Turkey, Father Semerdjian and his family were among a
wave of Armenian refugees who in 1925 were exiled from Turkey and
landed in Syria.

Father Semerdjian attended elementary school in Aleppo, Syria, and
high school and seminary in Lebanon. During World War II, he was
assigned a secretarial position in the British Army.

He was ordained into the priesthood in 1949 in Nicosia, Cyprus.

After moving to the United States, he embraced generations of
parishioners intent on preserving their religious heritage. “They
ranged from immigrants from the old country to an influx from the
Soviet Union,” Dick Semerdjian said. “There were American-born
Armenians and those who didn’t speak English.

“His ministry tried to bring them all together, especially in the Los
Angeles and San Diego areas.”

After retiring in 1992 as pastor emeritus in Van Nuys, Father
Semerdjian moved to Las Vegas, where he helped develop the newly
formed Armenian Apostolic Church.

He maintained a second home in Pacific Beach for many years, Dick
Semerdjian said.

The weekend before his death he had attended granddaughter Lindsey
Kellejian’s graduation ceremony at San Diego State University.

Survivors include his wife, Yeretzgin Alice; sons, Gregory of Tacoma,
Wash., and Dick of Carmel Valley; daughters, Mary Kellejian of Solana
Beach and Nanette Makaelian of Tarzana; a brother, Hagop Semerdjian
of Toronto; sister, Vahanoush Iskanian of Allepo, Syria; and 10

Services are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at St. Peter Armenian
Church in Van Nuys. A graveside service is scheduled for 10:30 a.m.
Friday at El Camino Memorial Park, San Diego.

Donations are suggested to the Father Shahe Avak Kahana Semerdjian
Foundation, 101 W. Broadway, Suite 810, San Diego, CA 92101.