About St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church
The City of Fowler is located ten (10) miles southwest of Fresno and has a population of approximately 3,800. Four families, namely M. Mukjian, Dickran Kaloostian, Peter Thompson and Harry Yanukian, immigrated here in 1898, renting vineyards for their occupation. The City of Selma, located fifteen (15) miles southeast of Fresno, is the neighboring city that makes up a large portion of St. Gregory Parish. The first Armenian settler in Selma was Hadji Asadoor Kurkjian in 1898. Armenians also settled in the Del Rey, Kingsburg, Parlier and surrounding areas. The first Armenian Church in Fowler was the Armenian Congregational Church, which was established in 1903 with Rev. Hovannes Santigian as its first minister.
The Armenian Apostolic Church held its services in 1906 and 1907 in the Episcopal Church of Fowler with Fr. Sahag Vartabed Nazaretian, Pastor of the Holy Trinity Church in Fresno officiating. Bishop Hovsep Sarajian and other visiting clergy also officiated at various times. During this time, the congregation of the St. Gregory Church consisted of 75 to 100 families. In the year 1907, the first Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Church was celebrated in the Fowler Episcopal Church. Immediately following the Liturgy, the congregation elected a Board of Trustees, their objective being the selection of a suitable site for a church building.
As the majority of the congregation consisted of members from both the Fowler and Selma communities, the question arose as to where the church building should be established. On April 15, 1909, the present church site in Fowler was selected and purchased. The construction of the church building began on February 3, 1910. The Godfathers of the foundation stones were the following: Nushan Saghigian, John Kazanjian, Harry Soghigian, John Kasparian, Dickran and Levon Kasparian, Arakel Mirigian, Hovsep Kandarian, Aharon Ajootian and Manoog Garabedian.
In an impressive ceremony the church was consecrated on April 17, 1910, by Bishop Hovsep Sarajian, in the presence of a large congregation. The St. Gregory The Illuminator Church of Fowler became the fourth established Church of North America. One week after the consecration ceremonies, Ghevont and Hayasdan Shahbazian were the first couple married in the new church. Over the years, the original Church Building has been enlarged and a Church Hall and Sunday School classes have been added. In the last four years, the Church site has been enhanced by a park, basketball and volleyball courts, playground, and courtyard, all of which are frequently used and enjoyed by parishioners. The following clergymen have served St. Gregory:
- Rev. Fr. Theodoros Isahagian (1910-1917)
- Rev. Fr. Melkeset Der Mugrdechian (1917-1919)
- Very Rev. Fr. Dirayr Markarian (1921-1932)
- Rev. Fr. Yeghiazar Ashjian (1935-1936)
- Rt. Rev. Bishop Hovsep Garabedian (1937)
- Rev. Fr. Ghevont Parounag (1938-1941 and 1944-1946)
- Rt. Rev. Bishop Mampr Calfayan (1941-1944)
- Rt. Rev. Bishop Vartan Kasparian (1946-1951)
- Rev. Fr. Shah Avak Kahana Semerdjian (1951-1962)
- Rev. Fr. Bessag Avak Kahana Sarkissian (1963-1964)
- Very Rev. Fr. Yeznig Chavdarian (1964-1966)
- Very Rev. Fr. Haigaser Bayramian (1966-1967)
- Rev. Fr. Tatoul Avak Kahana Yeretzian (1967-1980)
- Rev. Fr. Kevork Arakelian (1980 to present)
St. Gregory Church is now serving its third generation of Armenians, as well as many converts. We pray that the Parish of St. Gregory will be able to meet the challenge of inspiring those who worship in and make St. Gregory their spiritual home.