The 10th Anniversary of
St. Garabed Armenian Church
in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Baton Rouge, the capital city of the state of Louisiana in the U.S. has always been a well known name for the Armenians of the Diaspora as well as of Armenia and Artsakh. Besides being a geographical designation, the name carries a reputation for upholding a strong Armenian spirit and maintaining Armenian traditional values through its numerous events, such as cultural, educational, social, national and religious or church-related activities. Its reputation is wide-spread no only among the Armenian communities but throughout Northern America.
This is how the Louisiana Armenian Community started in 1975, a handful of families, immigrants mainly from the countries of the Near East such as Syria and Lebanon, started to get in touch with the Armenian families of the neighboring regions, and gradually they formed a strong community and for 10 years now, they have made the Armenian Apostolic Church, Saint Garabed, the focus of their communal life. Every Sunday they congregate there to connect to their roots, their history, their national identity, and they pledge allegiance to remain faithful to their ancestry.
Mr. Sarkis Kaltakdjian and his wife Nora were the first Armenians who settled in Baton Rouge. They reckoned that the region was very befitting to establish their rug gallery, and quite soon they became recognized as well-respected merchants. A few years later, his relatives from overseas joined him there, such as Serop Kaltakdjian from Damascus, Boghos Moutafian and his family from Beirut, and his mother and sister Antaram Kaltakdjian, and in no time, they felt the need of an Armenian centered communal life. Actually, there were some Armenian families spread in different parts of Louisiana, especially in New Orleans, but a systematic organization to bring them together and organize national, cultural and religious events was non-existent. It is true that a few such activities were initiated by a handful of Armenians on an individual basis, but there was a strong need for a centralized organization, which, forunately got started in no time, and upon Dr. George Adrouni's suggestion, the "Armenian Association of Louisiana" came to life. This was soon followed by the formation of a special committee to secure ther egistration of the association with the government as a 'non-profit' organization, and in no time, several activities started to take plae in the form of picnics, festivals, celebrations of Armenian and American holidays, lectures, etc., creating great joy and enthusiasm for the Southern part of the U.S.
1992 became a blessed year for Louisiana Armenians. Upon the invitation of the Association's Board of Directors, the prelate of the Eastern Diocese of Armerica, His Eminence, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, paid a visit to Louisiana. On this occasion, the Archbisop celebrated the Holy Mass in Serop's Restaurant, attended by a large number of enthusiastic parish members.
During their official meeting, the Board requeted teh Prelate that clergymen be assigned and sent to Louisiana aat least 5 times a year to officiate the Holy Mass and other religious ceremonies for the benefit of the local Armenian community.
Upon the recommendation of the Prelate, a 7-member Board of Trustees for the church was fromedcomprising the following individuals: Mr. Serop Kaltakdjian, Mr. and Mrs. Sarkis Kaltakdjian, Mr. and Mrs. Varoojan Keramian, Mr. Steve Johnons, and Mr. Boghos Moutafian. Also, taking into consideration that Houston was the closest region to Louisiana with the most organized Armenian community, it was decreed that its religious administrat be handed over to Houston, whereupon Father Terenig Kondralian was appointed as the first visiting clergyman followed in 1985 by Father Nerses Jebejian.
In the years 1990 - 1992, the Louisiana parish gradually grew and became recognized as one of the members of the Eastern Diocese. In 1991, Baton Rouge was endowed with an Armenian Saturday school operated by a handful of Armenian ladies who volunteered to teach children Armenian literacy skills, Armenian history, dance, songs and anything that would connect them to their national roots and identity.
Among the clergymen who visited Louisiana and contributed to the growth of the parish by their sermons an dother religious activities, it is imperative to mention the names of the following: their Eminences Archbishop Torkom Manougian, Archbishop Mesrob Moutafian, Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, Archbishop Yeghisheh Kizirian, Archbishop Kajag Barsamian, Archbishop Nerses Bozabalian, Bishop Ararad Kaltakdjian, Reverend Father Zaven Vartabed Yezijian, as well as the following priests: Father Mesrob Benilan, Father Terenig Knodralian, Father Nerses Jebejian and Father Abel Manougian.
In the previous years, the Armenian Holy Mass would be celebrated in the host churches of Saint James and Saint Luke in Baton Rouge. It is understandable that no matter how loving were the feelings of these two church members toward the Armenians, the vision of owning their own church building was the cherished dream of the Armenian community, which fortunately soon got realized. In 2004, an edifice on Florida Street in Baton Rouge was placed on sale. Father Nerses Jebejian, the parish priest, encouraged the church board to purchase the building, and making the necessary modifications, convert it into an Armenian-style church. It was soon realized with the financial contribution of Mr. and Mrs. Vasken and Higo Kaltakdjian. In addition, several members of the community made the pledge of sharing the expenses from the Holy Alter to the Baptismal font, the alter curtain, the seats, the icons, and anything that was needed to transform the building into a typical Armenian church.
To oversee the construction and remodeling work during this preparatory phase, a committee was appointed, which later became the first Board of Directors of the church composed o the following: Mr. Boghos Moutafian, Mr. Sarkis Moutafian, Mr. Khatchig Moutafian, Mr. Vasken Kaltakdjian, Mr. Shavarsh Kaltakdjian, Johnny Kaltakdjian, and Mr. Sarkis Boyajian.
May 13-14, 2006, is a historical date for the Lousiana Armenians: the prelate of the Eastern Diocese, Archibishop Kajag Barsamian performed the anointment ceremony of the new church, under the name of Saint Garabed. On this occasion, the prelate conferred upon the main benefactor of the church, Mr. Vasken Kaltakdjian, the medal of honor of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, sent by the Catholicos of all Armenians, His Holiness Karekin the Second. Likewise, Mr. Boghos Moutafian was recognized by the Catholicos in a special pontifical bull.
The first Parish Council of the newly annointed Saint Garabed Chruchs was formed by the following parishioners:
Father Nerses Jebejian, President and Parish Pastor
Mr. Vasken Kaltakdjian, Chairman
Mr. Sarkis Bovajian, Vice Chairman
Miss Tamar Meguerditchian, Recording Secretary
Mr. Johnny Kaltakdjian, Assistant to the Secretary
Mr. Sarkis Moutafian, Treasurer
Mr. Khatchig Moutafian, Assistant to the Treasurer
Mr. Harout Marzwanian, Advisor
The Parish Council took the decision to have the Holy Mass celebrated once a month and keep on having diverse activities focusing especially on social and cultural gatherings, such as organizing dinners on New Year's Day, Christmas, Easter, commermoration o fApril 24, evocation of the heroic battle for the defense of Hadjin and partaking of the traditional "Jidaboor", as well as annual festivals and "kermeses". American national holidays would also be observed, such as Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Valentine's Day, Labor Day, and Halloween. The Armenian community would be invited to the assembly hall of Saint Garabed Church, and around dinner tables the families would have the opportunity of sharing and acknowledging the significance of the celebrated event.
Following the construction of the church and the assembly hall next to it, the Armenian community felt the need of having a cemetery lot at their proximity. Mr. Serop Kaltakdjian, Mr. Vasken Kaltakdjian and Mr. Boghos Moutafian became the main financial contributors to that purpose. They likewise secured the legal permit for the lot, and thus the wish of the community was ultimately fulfilled.
In 2007, his Holiness Karekin the Second paid a visit to the Armenians of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The Catholicos was ceremoniously ushered into Saint Garabed Church, and after the prayers, His Holiness gave his message to the congreation. On October 17 and upon the request of the church board, the Catholicos perfomed the blessing ritual of the cemetery.
In 2010, the cemetery was adorned with a huge Khachar prepared in Armenia and dedicated to the memory of the Armenian Genocide martyrs. The benefactors of this monument were Mr. and Mrs. Khatchig and Nora Moutafian. The Khachkar was later anointed by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian.
Among all these efforts and expenses, the considerable financial and moral contribution of the church board as well as of the parishioners to the victims of Katrina hurricane in 2005 deserve great praise and appreciation.
In 2016, Father Tateos Abdalian is the present pastor of the parish and the following were the members of the Parish Council.
Mr. Vasken Kaltakdjian, Chairman
Mr. Khatchig Moutafian, Vice Chairman
Mrs. Cyn D. Anahid Reynaud, Recording Secretary
Mr. Kevin Jirayr Romeo, Assistant to the Secretary
Mr. Sarkis Moutafian, Treasurer
Mr. Sami Ara Kobrossi, Assistant to the Treasurer
Mr. Krikor Kaltakdjian, Advisor
At present, the Louisiana parish, composed of about 200 Armenian families in the cities of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and LaPlace are spiritually connected to the one and only Armenian Church of the region, whose 10th anniversary, in 2016, was celebrated with great joy and pride. Through this brief history of the founding of the church, our sole message to the Armenian community is the following:
In the Diaspora, wherever we are, we have to listen to the knells of our silent church bells, to the cry of our stony monuments, since this is the abiding debt of each and every Armenian soul. In this century, while we are struggling with all kinds of afflictions, while witnessing the decline and decadence of Christian family and moral values, it becomes imperative for each and every one of us to preserve the present and the future of our nation, through our language, our ancestral faith and traditions, which has to be the sole spiritual debt and pledge of every Armenian on the threshold of the 10th anniversary celebrations of Saint. Garabed.
Let this divine message permeate into the heart of each one of us. Let not the emotions created by today's festivities be temporary and of short duration. Amid all our daily turmoil and challenges, let's stop a minute to hear the supplication conveyed to us through the cherished "sharagan" of our Holy Mass:
"Heavenly King, Keep Your Church Forever Unshaken."