St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Catholic Church celebrates milestones and historical Journey

On Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, the faithful of St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Catholic Church in Toronto gathered to commemorate and celebrate two significant milestones in their history: the 30th Anniversary of the Consecration of the Parish and the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the community. This momentous occasion was marked with a Divine Liturgy celebrated by His Excellency Bishop Mikael Mouradian, Eparch of the Armenian Catholic Eparchy of Canada and the United States. Co-celebrating the mass was Mons. Yeghia Kirjian, who has served as the pastor of the parish for the last 50 years. Also in attendance was V. Rev. F. Zareh Margaryan, Vice Vicar of the Diocese of Canada of the Apostolic Church of Armenia and pastor of Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church of Toronto. During the Liturgy, Seminarian Haig Chahinian received the minor orders of the church up until the sub-diaconate. It was a day of reflection, gratitude, and celebration for the Armenian Catholic community in Toronto.

The 1960s saw the arrival of dozens of Armenian families from various countries, such as Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon, to Toronto. They attended Sunday services led by a visiting Armenian Catholic pastor, Very Rev. Rochko, in a borrowed local Catholic church. However, when Pastor Rev. Rochko left in 1970, the spiritual needs of the Armenian Catholic community were tended to by Father Edward Kortikian from the Armenian Catholic Church of Narek in Montreal.

The vision for a new church

As the number of Armenians in Toronto continued to grow due to political uncertainties in the Middle East, the need for a permanent place of worship became apparent. In 1974, Father Elias Kirijian arrived in Toronto, and he began offering sacraments to the small Armenian Catholic parishioners in the city’s St. Anthony Catholic church. A spirit of determination and unity prevailed as the community embarked on a mission to build its own church.

Father Elias Kirijian took additional steps to sustain the community by obtaining an Ontario Teaching Permit, allowing him to teach French, Italian, and religion in local schools. This dual role as a priest and teacher helped support the Armenian Catholic community in its efforts to establish a permanent place of worship.

A new home for the faithful

In the 1980s, the dream of a new church took a significant step forward by purchasing land on Northdale Street, an affluent community in North York, Toronto. With the help of an architect, Haig Tovmassian, and the LATKA construction company, a grand vision was realized.

The new church was designed to accommodate 500 parishioners, a reception area for 300 guests, a fully equipped kitchen, a two-story dwelling for the pastor, and a parking lot with 100 spaces.
Construction began in the harsh winter of 1992, with numerous challenges, including legal battles and local protests. However, the community’s determination prevailed, and the church was completed on schedule by November 1993.

On Nov. 21, 1993, the newly built St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Catholic Church was blessed in a cornerstone ceremony attended by dignitaries, religious representatives, and the faithful. The Patriarch of the Apostolic Church, Hovhannes Catholicos of all Armenians, presided over the grand opening and blessing of the complex.
The church, hall, stained glass windows, statues, pewters, and various sacred items within the church bear the names of benefactors who generously supported this endeavor.
In addition to being a spiritual center, the church also stands as a symbol of remembrance. On April 24, 2002, a Memorial Monument was unveiled and blessed in memory of the 1.5 million martyrs of the Armenian Genocide. This monument, featuring a five-meter-high mahogany granite cross-stone “Khatchkar” and a basalt black stone carved eagle, serves as a reminder of the tragic events of 1915 and pays tribute to all victims of genocide.

In 2012, another monument representing the Armenian alphabet was erected at the church’s main entrance. Designed by artist Hagop Janbazian, this four-meter mahogany granite-based monument is the first of its kind in North America. It symbolizes the church’s role as a gift of faith, the Armenian alphabet as a symbol of national identity, and the April Memorial as a testament to Armenians’ Christian faith and loyalty.


A thriving community

Today, St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Catholic Church in Toronto boasts a vibrant community of 300 strong families. Alongside their dedicated pastor, they actively contribute to the Armenian community’s cultural, educational, and religious life in Toronto and beyond. From the Saturday Language School to the involvement in various community organizations and events, the church continues to fulfill its mission of strengthening the Armenian identity, preserving the Christian faith, and advocating for the Armenian cause.

As the church celebrates its 30th Anniversary of Consecration and 50th Anniversary of its founding, it stands not only as a place of worship but as a testament to the unwavering spirit and determination of the Armenian Catholic community in Toronto, reflecting a history that stretches back to the early days of Armenian settlement in Canada. The journey continues as the church remains a beacon of faith, culture, and remembrance for generations.