Saint Mary: 

In 1954, the Dadour Dadourian fund, and several contributors made possible, through a loan to the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, the purchase of a property consisting of three story home and detached building located at 1184 Ocean Avenue, in the seaside town of Elberon, New Jersey.  There were 25 members of the church at the time, many of them summer residents.  After extensive renovation to the structure, the first Badarak was officiated by His Eminense, Archbishop Mampre Kalfayan, on June 24, 1956.  For eight years, church services were held with a Vemkar, a blessed stone, maintained on the altar.  During the 1985’s and 1969’s, the building served as a retreat and vacation home for the clergy of the Diocese during their one-week sumer conference.  It also served as one of the sites of the summer religious study conferences sponsored annually by the Saint Nerses Armenian Theological Seminary.  The deacon in residence was Deacon Levon Hekimian.

Saint Mary remained a church that held only summer services until 1969, when visiting priests were sent to serve the community on a yearly basis.  The first priest to serve the community year-round was The Reverend Father Vertanes Kalyjian (197201976), followed by The Very Reverend Father Avak Assadourian (1977-1979) and The Reverend Father Guregh Kalfayan (1980-1982).  Over the years, many visiting priests also faithfully served this community.

From Saint Mary to Saint Stepanos:

By the 1980’s, the condition of the church had deteriorated, while because of the demographic changes taking place in the central New Jersey area, the vitality of the Armenian community had grown, along with the Armenian population in the area.  Seeing the profound needs of the parish, on Sunday, January 19, 1986, Mr. Kevork Hovnanian unveiled to the congregation a scale model and fully completed drawings for a new church structure and parish hall, and offered to build the proposed structure on the same site as St. Mary’s, and to underwrite the financial obligation of its construction.  The Parish council and Assembly accepted Mr. Hovnanian’s proposal with enthusiasm.  The Primate, His eminence, Torkom Manoogian, and the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of the Armenian Church approved the project and the plans.

Arrangements were made with the Asbury Park Chapter of the A.G.B.U. to hold Sunday church services in their building until the new church was completed.

In April of 1986, the three-story building of Saint Mary Church, which had served its community for thirty years, was demolished to make way for the new Saint Stepanos Church.  Groundbreaking ceremonies, officiated by His Eminence, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian were held on Sunday, May 25, 1986, at the site.  On July 20, 1986, His Eminence officiated the Cornerstone Blessing rites.  The church was consecrated on June 14, 1987. The donation was made in memory of Mr. Hovnanian’s mother, Yester Hovnanian. Mr, Hovnanian’s father, as well as the new Church were named after Saint Stephen (Stepanos in Armenian), who was the first Christian Martyr of the New Testament. The Parish council and the Church Assembly decided to name the church hall the “Kevork and Sirvanrt Hovnanian Hall”.

The architecture of Saint Stepanos:

Saint Stepanos church bears much of the characteristics of the ancient Armenian churches that are acknowledged to be brilliant contributions to the history of world architecture.  Its architect, Ramon H. Hovsepian of Worcester, Massachusetts has used a brown, man-made stone that resembles tufa, a volcanic rock indigenous to Armenia.  The trim on the exterior of the building is copper; a slate roof covers the entire church, with the exception of the dome.  The intricately folded pyramid-shaped dome rests on twelve-sided, drum-shaped structure of the nave; the number twelve symbolizing the twelve apostles.  Made of gold anodized aluminum, it reaches sixty-five feet into the air.

The interior of the narthex (or foyer) has an arched ceiling, with a smaller arched ceiling at each entry door.  The entire east wall is made of marble from floor to ceiling.  A stained glass mural fills the arch framed between the nave entrance and the narthex and is depiction of Saint Stepanos.  The nave has a sixty-five foot high center ceiling, with a pleated ceiling rising from a level of twenty-eight feet above the floor and reaching to the apex of the peak. The exterior walls of the nave have six arched stained glass windows of one-inch thick faceted slab glass set in an apoxy and sand plaster, made by Heimer Stained Glass Studios.  Inscribed around the arch are the words in Armenian “Siretzek Uzmiminas, Zi Asdvadz Sehr eh” (Love One Another Because God is Love).  The altar painting is by Gregory Gevorkian and depicts the Mother of God and Child Jesus.  The wall painting in the Apse (back of the altar) is by Nicholas Holidyck.  It depicts the Coronation of the Virgin, after a painting of the same name, attributed to Mkrtoom Hovnatanian, 1823, Etchmiadzin Collection.  The baptismal font is to the right side of the altar and a votive candle stand is found to the left.

The overall dimensions of the 12,000 square foot building are essentially 172 feet deep by 68 feet in width.  Included in the church structure are the narthex, the nave (which seats 186 worshipers), and the adjoining activities center.  The Sunday school center, which includes seven classrooms and an assembly area in the lower level also contains on the upper level, a community hall (accommodating 200 people) with an adjoining fully equipped commercial kitchen.  Also contained within the overall structure are various functional rooms, including a Pastor’s office, Trustees’ Office, miscellaneous storage rooms, vestry rooms and other facilities.  In addition, a building, which had existed on the site has been completely renovated and modernized for use as a Parsonage.

Saint Stepanos Endowment Fund:

The St. Stepanos Armenian Church Endowment Fund was the brainchild of the late Mr. Kevork Hovnanian, the benefactor of the Church, who had the foresight to establish the Fund to insure that the Church would have the financial resources to both initially help the community to sustain the parish’s expenses and defray those expenses related to the maintenance of the edifice and the parish house.

A substantial portion of the seed money for the Fund was generated at the time of the consecration of the Church.  With their generous contributions, many of Mr. Kevork Hovnanian’s friends and business associates participated in the creation of the Fund.  The Fund is a completely independent entity and is governed by an independent board of directors under the leadership of Mrs. Sirvart Hovnanian.

During the first 26 years of St. Stepanos Church’s existence, the Fund helped close the annual budget deficits of the Parish, while maintaining the Church edifice and its properties.  The Fund also purchased the land adjacent to the Church to insure its future expansion as the community grows and matures.

During the Year 2012, the Fund provided the finances to completely rebuild the Parish House which had become extremely dilapidated.

The St. Stepanos Armenian Church Endowment Fund was the brainchild of the late Mr. Kevork Hovnanian, the benefactor of the Church, who had the foresight to establish the Fund to insure that the Church would have the financial resources to both initially help the community to sustain the parish’s expenses and defray those expenses related to the maintenance of the edifice and the parish house.

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