The year 1953 witnessed the formal establishment of the congregation of St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church. The first membership meeting was held on October 16, 1953, where the first Board of Trustees was duly elected with the following members: Ashod Der Minassian, Lemyel Amirian, Frank Korkmazian, Garo Mootafian, Khoren Sahagian, Krikor Daigian, Armen Bazikian and Suren Saroyan. The board then called upon the assistance of several active ladies to form a Ladies’ Auxiliary. The first Divine Liturgy was held on December 27, 1953, in the SerbianChurch, and Reverend Father Yeghishe Mkitarian, a visiting priest from Fresno, celebrated the service. Mr. Krikor Krouzian directed the choir and Mr. Movses Markarian acted as deacon.
The Board of Trustees felt the need to energize the Armenian youth and bring them closer to the church. In 1954, The Young Armenian Christian League (YACL) was formed under the guidance of the Board of Trustees. Thirty four youth joined this group. The YACL members were also members of the choir organized and let by Mr. Krouzian, in whose home the rehearsals regularly took place. The choir also created an opportunity for social interaction among young couples who were introduced to one another, some of whom were fortunate enough to find their marital partners.
In 1954, with the approval of the general membership meeting, the Board of Trustees appointed a building committee whose prime consideration would be the acquisition of a site suitable for a church. The members appointed were: Messrs. George Mardikian, Lemyel Amirian, Krikor Krouzian, Vahram Haroutounian, Armen Bazikian, Avedis Karageozian, Shavarsh Mazakian, and Sam Harrison.
In 1955, after a long and arduous search, the Building Committee submitted four sites for consideration: (1) Jackson and Laguna Streets (2) 14th Avenue and Balboa St. (3) 19th Avenue and Judah St. (4) 51 Commonwealth Avenue.
In the interim, and with great difficulties, arrangements were made with the American Episcopalian, Greek, Syrian and Yugoslav churches in which to celebrate our church services. It is with a deep sense of gratitude that we recall the leadership and kind assistance given to us in those trying days by the Board of Trustees, and the priests who conducted the church services from various Armenian church communities, includeing Father Yeghishe Mkitraian from Fresno, Father Ashod Minassian from Los Angeles, Father Kourken Koudoukian from Los Angeles, and Father Papken Kasparian from Fresno. These priests came alternately every month to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in one of the above mentioned churches.
The need for our own church property reached a crucial point. After an extensive research and study by the Building Committee and Board of Trustees, their findings were presented to the general membership meeting ant it was suggested that 51 Commonwealth Avenue would be best suited for St. Gregory the IlluminatorArmenianApostolicChurch in San Francisco.
In 1956, the membership meeting approved the purchase of the Commonwealth property for $67,500. The building already had a large library that could accommodate 120 people, a kitchen, and a number of other rooms that could house all the sister organizations and a few classrooms.
The Board of Trustees decided to temporarily convert the library into a church. Father Vahrich Shirinian was invited to assume the responsibilities of permanent pastor. He moved to San Francisco with his family in June of 1957. His first Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the temporary quarters of the building on June 9, 1957. Father Vahrich and other parishioners took it upon themselves to transform the library into a chapel and on November 24, 1957, the first service was celebrated in the “church”.
The general membership meeting, after hearing the reports of the Board of Trustees and the Building Committee, along with all the sister organizations, voted to adjunct with the Holy See of Cilicia. By a special decree (Gontag) from His Holiness Zareh I, St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church officially came under the spiritual and administrative authority of the Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia.
Meanwhile, the Building Committee continued his work. On September 20, 1959, Archbishop Khoren Paroyan, Prelate of Lebanon, on a special envoy from his Holiness, Catholicos Zareh I, while visiting other parishes in America, visited San Francisco and presided over a banquet where $60,000 was raised for the building fund of our church
Father Vahrich Shirinian was then assigned to the Holy Martyrs’ Encino Parich. In 1963, Father Nareg Shirikian was invited to take his place by the ordinance of the Prelacy, Central Executive Committee, and the Board of Trustees to server the St. Gregory Church parish. Father Shirikian gracefully accepted the invitation of the Board of Trustees and moved to San Francisco with his family to assume the duties of pastor of our church.