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Archpriest Father Shahe Semerdjian, 88; ministered to Armenians

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  • 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.