Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian with his family members [Shahe Melelian (Arka Photography)]

LA Community Pays Tribute to Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian

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BEVERLY HILLS — An abundance of legacy and love flowed through the fitting setting of the old-world glamour Beverly Hills Hotel in a celebration banquet honoring Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian, former primate of the Western Diocese, and the First Ladies of the Auxiliary on Sunday, September 23, in an event hosted by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Western Diocese under the auspices of Archbishop Hovnan Derderian.

The theme of the afternoon, “A Legacy of Love,” recalled the strong foundation built by Hovsepian during his decades-long tenure, from 1971 until 2003, and the integral role of the Ladies Auxiliary that in unison bolstered the Western Diocese during its early life, gathering financial and spiritual support while heightening its reputation.

The cocktail hour and silent auction, proceeds of which benefited the Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian Summer Camp, featured vintage photos and articles of the activities of the Western Diocese and the Ladies Auxiliary, from the first cotillion in 1972 to the Christmas reception to many other outreach activities, which cemented the presence of the Western Diocese as a leader of religious and cultural activities in the greater Los Angeles Armenian community, the traditions of which continue on to the present day.

A venerable figure in the Armenian Church hierarchy throughout his lifetime of service, Hovsepian has served Armenian communities across the globe, particularly in North America. Accessible and modest, Hovsepian commanded the respect of his flock, dedicating his life to the betterment and preservation of the Armenian Church and becoming a centerpiece to the Armenian community’s life in California for almost 50 years.

As he strengthened the Western Diocese — which consisted of a small rented office on Crenshaw Boulevard when he assumed the role of Archbishop in 1971 to the acquisition of the impressive Diocesan Headquarters in Burbank today — he worked alongside the dedicated Ladies Auxiliary (the original 12 consisting of members of various churches, including Margaret Dadourian, Hadji Haiganoush Dulgarian, Rose Ketchoyan, Sue Chortanian, Norma Sulukciyan, Mary Vartanian, Dorothy Manookian, Isabelle Davidian, Gloria Meghrigian, Hadji Perooz Frankian, Azadouhie Keotahian and Babe Simonian). Over time, the Ladies Auxiliary expanded to include many more, including a total of 40 members who continue to serve the Diocese today.

Cynthia Norian

“What we are today, we can thank no one but Vatche Srpazan who took on this Diocese when it had nothing except those offices on Crenshaw Boulevard I remember going to as a kid,” said Rev. Vazken Movsesian, who developed a close relationship with Hovsepian, his “spiritual father,” from the very beginning of his pastoral journey. Accompanying him to his studies in Echmiadzin when he was a student, Hovsepian was present during many other milestones in Fr. Movsesian’s life, from ordaining him, to officiating his wedding, to baptizing his children to officiating the marriage of his children.

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“Archbishop Hovsepian is the Armenian Church leader you are proud to have as your bishop,” said Movsesian. “He is a true father and whatever person and priest I am today, it is because I was inspired by Vatche Srpazan’s love for his church and for his people.”

Chair of the Ladies Auxiliary, Cindy Norian, placed the city of Los Angeles into historical context when Hovsepian arrived in the early 1970s, “a young man with lots of energy and a modern vision.” She noted that there was a modest community of Armenian-Americans, but it was about to explode with the arrival of hundreds of thousands from the Middle East, where their communities were experiencing conflict and instability.

Norian cited memorable events and accomplishments with Archbishop Hovsepian, including the Pontifical Visit of Vasken I in 1987, where 4,000 people gathered at the Los Angeles Convention Center and a Liturgical Mass was held at the Hollywood Bowl, amassing aid for the 1988 earthquake in Armenia, and the many Christmas receptions and Debutante Balls.

“Vatche Srpazan was proud of what his ladies could do,” said Norian. “He would say that the ladies arrived with bags and produced banquets.”

Norian recognized the original members of the Ladies Auxiliary, some of whom were there in spirit, represented by their family members. She praised them for their decades of loving service, including former Chairs Doris Sarkisian and Lily Balian, while recognizing the “current, dynamic” Primate of the Western Diocese who presides over the Ladies Auxiliary.

Active members of the Western Diocese, Bob Simonian and Bob Barsam shared their thoughts on Archbishop Hovsepian’s legacy and their work together, touching upon his talents, ability to bring the community together and his love of the Armenian Church, his family and friends, and his two home countries of the U.S. and Armenia.

“Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, his perpetual love for the Armenian Church elevated the stature of the Western Diocese to a justifiable respectable institution,” said Simonian. “He had nothing to build from, no budget, no secretary, a rented office on Crenshaw, and a few dependable people.”

From those humble beginnings, the Diocese went on to purchase a property on North Vine Street in Hollywood to acquiring the property in Burbank, which is now home to the Diocesan Headquarters. Simonian noted that under Hovsepian’s leadership, the Armenian Churches and Schools more than doubled, an endowment was established, stewardship and programming increased, as did the role of the Western Diocese in religious and ecumenical circles.

“Our stature and stability of the Western Diocese was ensured by Vatche Srpazan,” said Simonian, who noted that Hovsepian re-established the camp program, setting new standards and establishing order. “Today the camp is dedicated in his honor and the children who now attend will one day become the backbone and leaders of the Western Diocese.”

Bob Barsam painted a portrait of Hovsepian both inside and outside of his canonical activities as someone who loved sports and outdoor activities while “working under his capable leadership in the expansion of the Western Diocese.”

“He has a keen interest in identifying individuals from the community for the benefit of the Diocese,” said Barsam. “I want to express my gratitude to you Srpazan for being part of the growth and advancement of the Western Diocese.”

Following a musical performance by Karin Mushegain, Hovsepian’s nephew, Vartan Hovsepian, along with his three children, Vanna, Vatche and Zaven, presented a short recitation in Armenian. Hovsepian elaborated on the afternoon’s theme, highlighting that there are two types of legacies, one that is created and one that is continued, pointing out that his uncle did both, “creating a vibrant and loving atmosphere for our community and also continuing the legacy of his parents, who need to be remembered because they laid the foundation.”

He noted that love is described by sacrifice and that his uncle is the embodiment of sacrificing “for the Armenian Church and for our family.”

“His sacrifices were born out of love and as a family we appreciate all he has done for us because his guidance, dedication and love have enriched all of our lives,” said Hovsepian. “He  always taught us to serve a call greater than ourselves.”

In his remarks, Derderian recalled his first meeting with Archbishop Hovsepian while at a meeting in Holy Echmiadzin with the late Catholicos of All Armenians Vasken I, recalling it as a “historic day.”

“He was strong, outgoing and mesmerizing,” said Archbishop Derderian, who noted that Archbishop Hovsepian was present during his ordination as Bishop in 1990 in Etchmiadzin.

“God Bless you and your unwavering determination for all of your accomplishments and my heartfelt gratitude,” concluded Archbishop Derderian as he invited Archbishop Hovsepian to share his thoughts.

Recognizing his family members in attendance, Hovsepian elaborated on the significance of being close to the Armenian Church “because God is the source of our energy and we get our strength from God.”

His forthright remarks traced his first days in the “wilderness” of Los Angeles and the office on Crenshaw, where he remained for two years while galvanizing the community and taking a “giant step forward with the Grace of God and dedicated people” to purchase the Vine Street property in Hollywood, establishing a respectable Diocese. He continuously guided the Armenian faithful in the West, as it grew from 50,000 to half a million, and created a legacy that bridged together a strong community with a permanent Diocesan Headquarters, doing it all “with love.”

“I couldn’t have done it alone,” said Hovsepian. “We did it all together.”

 

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