It was in the dark, insecure days of the Great Depression that St. James was started. Beginning in 1926 a door-to-door campaign by tireless volunteers accumulated a sufficient amount of money to make a down payment on a plot of land on Mt. Auburn St. in Watertown. This land soon bore the name “Armenian Apostolic Church.” Through the deep faith of these volunteers, most of who were factory workers, the church was sustained, nurtured and flourished.
With the arrival of Rev. Matevos Manigian, the first pastor of St. James Armenian Church, the first Divine Liturgy was held in Waverly Oaks Park on Assumption Day in 1930. From then, until the church itself was built, religious services were held at the nearby East Junior School using a portable altar that was transported back and forth for each service.
During these early years (1928) the Ladies Auxiliary and Junior Misses Clubs were formed. These organizations added impetus to the fund-raising campaign that was being conducted. The financial difficulties of the times did not deter the community from donating contributions to assist in the project.
By the spring of 1931 all the debts of the church were paid. Archbishop Ghevont Tourian, former Primate, officiated at the groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday, August 29, 1931, with the traditional sacrifice of two lambs. The four walls of the church were erected and the first Sunday Services were held on June 4, 1933. The enthusiasm and the feeling of spiritual exhilaration as they prayed and sang praises to the Lord were scarcely diminished when umbrellas had to be used for protection as the rain fell directly on the singers.
During the same year the parish began to flourish, the Sahag Mesrob Armenian School became the responsibility of the parish, and a choir was formed. From this point on, the church and parishioners began scores of activities. In 1934, the heating system was installed and the church hall was officially opened. The First Annual Bazaar was held, the three main doors were constructed, the church floor and seats were installed, a temporary electrical system was installed, and the work continued on the church ceiling, the kitchen and the stage in the hall. Attention turned to nurturing the children of the parish in the Christian faith and enriching them with the beauty of the Armenian traditions. In 1935, the Sunday School was founded. Finally, years of activity, dedication, and hard work culminated in the consecration of the church on October 31, 1937. The church was consecrated with the name “St. James Armenian Church” for one of the most revered saints in the Armenian Church, St. James of Nisibis, and according to the wishes of the church’s principal godfather and benefactor Haroutune Touloukian.
During the next few years the Parish Council became more firmly established and the Parish House and rectory were purchased.
On September 24, 1967 the Cultural and Youth Center was dedicated. This three-level structure, adjacent to the church, is a place where parishioners and friends of St. James and the Armenian community gather in fellowship and take pride in their religious and ethnic heritage. The St. James parish joined the increasing number of Armenian Churches and communities throughout the world to memorialize the 1915 Turkish Genocide of the Armenians by erecting and dedicating a monument in their memory on November 5, 1979, which stands between the Church and Cultural and Youth Center.
The Parish has continued to grow throughout the decades with the formation of the Ladies Auxiliary (1928); the Senior Choir (1933); the ACYOA Seniors (1945); the Young Women’s Guild (1948); the Men’s Club (1949); the Women’s Guild (1949); the ACYOA Juniors (1951); the Mr. & Mrs. Group (1969); the Cultural Committee (1970); the Junior Choir/Chorus (1995); and the New Vision (2000). These are a few of the many organizations that have contributed to the growth and prosperity of St. James Armenian Apostolic Church. The church has three schools under its auspices: Sahag Mesrob Armenian School (established in 1931); Mesrob Mashdotz Armenian Language Classes for Adults (established in 1982); and one of the largest Sunday Schools in the Diocese (established in 1935). St. James has had the honor of welcoming the Catholicos of all Armenians on several occasions: Vazken I, of blessed memory (in 1960, 1968, 1987) and Karekin I, of blessed memory (in 1996). The parish has also served the greater Armenian Diocese in numerous capacities, including hosting several Annual Diocesan Assemblies and ACYOA General Assemblies and Sports Weekends.
St. James has grown and continues to prosper. The St. James Armenian Church family contains many faithful parishioners with diverse cultural, social, geographical and economic backgrounds, each bringing something new and exciting to the life of our parish. The parishioners of St. James are prepared to welcome the future standing firm in their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, trusting in the Apostolic heritage, proud traditions and meaningful history of the Armenian Church.