History of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary
St. Nersess Armenian Seminary was established in 1961 under the auspices of the Eastern and Western Dioceses of the Armenian Church in America (and more recently of Canada). The General Assemblies of the Eastern and Western Dioceses, at their respective meetings on April 15 and 30 of that year, adopted resolutions giving approval to the formation of a seminary. In accordance with these resolutions, a number of clergymen were invited by Archbishop Sion Manoogian, then Primate of the Eastern Diocese, to a meeting held in Evanston, Illinois, on August 11-12, 1961. At this meeting, the organizational foundation of the seminary was laid with the formation of a Board of Directors and the adoption of a set of By-Laws. A mansion was purchased in Evanston to house the school (1456 Ridge Avenue) on November 1, 1961 through the generous contribution made by Mrs. Satenig Ouzoonian of California.
The Board of Directors held its first annual meeting on June 22, 1962, and the seminary, affiliated then with Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, opened its doors on September 5, 1962. Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan (1904-1989), a man of enormous wisdom and vision, who conceived the founding of the seminary, became its first dean.
The seminary was named after one of the most revered fathers of the Armenian Church: St. Nersess Shnorhali—the Graceful—a great hymnographer, theologian, ecumenist, and Catholicos (1166-1173AD). The seminary’s mission is inspired by its patron saint’s commitment to theological inquiry, pastoral care, liturgical revival, and ecumenism. As the fundamental figure in a movement for Armenian self-understanding, and for the mutual understanding and reconciliation of Christians East and West, St. Nersess is the outstanding paradigm of the clerical ideal to whose standard we strive to prepare our students and ourselves. The school functioned in Evanston until 1967 before it moved to New York. The move to New York was deemed necessary, among other reasons, in order to bring her close to the Diocesan Center. Negotiations with St. Vladimir’s Seminary resulted in St. Nersess becoming a satellite institution. The Rev. Fr. Karekin Kasparian was appointed Director, then Dean of St. Nersess, with responsibilities of teaching and managing the school operation.
A Mission to the Youth
The first St. Nersess Religious Study Program for youth was held in the summer of 1963. The program, directed by Fr. Karekin Kasparian (then Dn. Hovhannes), brought American-Armenian high school and college-age young people to the seminary for two weeks of prayer and study of the Armenian Church’s faith, history and Christian culture. Participants enjoyed warm fellowship and the rare opportunity to mingle with Armenian clergy. These programs have continued for 50+ years under the leadership of many summer conference directors, including Fr. Karekin Kasparian, Fr. Mardiros Chevian, Fr. Arakel Aljalian, Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian and Fr. Daniel Findikyan. In more recent years, some conferences have been directed by St. Nersess alumni: Fr. Ghevond Ajamian, Fr. Tavit Boyajian, Fr. Samuel Rith-Najarian and Fr. Shnork Souin. The Summer Conferences now include two High School sessions, a Post High School session, and a Deacons’ Training Program which was initiated by Fr. Karekin. These conferences continue to motivate thousands of young people who aspire to hold positions of leadership in the Armenian Church. A vast majority of the seminary’s ordained and lay alumni were first exposed to the seminary through its youth conferences, and a majority of parish council members in the Eastern Diocese are past participants of the St. Nersess Summer Conferences.
Seminary Moves to New York
In search of higher education in orthodox theology and stronger ties with churches of the Christian East, the seminary was moved to New York and became affiliated with St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood in 1967. Our students were enrolled in the Master of Divinity program at St. Vladimir’s, where they resided while maintaining their own liturgical life and substituting some of their courses with a special program of studies offered by St. Nersess and bearing on priestly ministry within the Armenian Church. Upon completion of the joint program, St. Nersess students received the Master of Divinity degree from St. Vladimir’s and a Diploma in Armenian Church Studies from St. Nersess. This is when Fr. Karekin initiated exchanging some Armenian courses for St. Vladimir’s courses for credit.
In 1978, a property in New Rochelle was purchased and the beautiful Tudor building was adapted for use as a seminary. Instrumental in identifying the Stratton Road property was the late Edward Essayian of New York. In 1982, the Rev. Fr. Arshen Aivazian became the first St. Nersess alumnus to be appointed Dean, serving until 1984. In 1982 an affiliation with St. Vladimir’s was formalized.
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