THE ARMENIAN SISTERS OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
In 1843, Father Andon Peter IX Hassounian, later to become the first Armenian Cardinal, saw his community’s need for a monastic congregation of consecrated women, dedicated to the education of the Armenian youth.
Miss Serpouhi Hadji-Andonian was a devout Christian who had decided to retreat to a cloistered convent in Italy. Upon learning of Miss Hadji-Andonian’s decision, Father Hassounian urged her to remain in Istanbul, Turkey. Humble and obedient, she complied. Thus, the Co-Foundress of the Congregation of the Armenian Sisters’ of the Immaculate Conception, Serpouhi Hadji-Andonian, in collaboration with the Founding Father, began the educative mission of the Order in 1843 with twelve students in Istanbul. The sisters’ congregation was canonically established in 1847.
The Congregation, like a mustard seed, started modestly in Istanbul and flourished there with the opening of kindergartens and boarding and day schools, thanks to the wisdom and vigorous guidance of its founder and the sacrificial life of its faithful members. The Congregation was enriched with new vocations as its spiritual life, sacrifice and charity became deeper.
During the 1915 Genocide, fifteen of the Order's nuns were martyred in the hands of Ottoman Turks. Many of the Order's sisters, with hundreds of Armenian orphans, fled to Italy and found refuge in Pope Pius X and successor Pope Benedict XV's summer palace of Castel Gandolfo. The Mother House relocated its headquarters to Rome, Italy, in 1922, where it remains to this date.
The Congregation overcame difficult conditions and expanded to many countries where Armenians had made their new homes. Thus, from 1919 to 1960, approximately thirty new schools were opened in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq and France. By 2007, the Congregation had thirteen day care, preschool, elementary and secondary schools, two orphanages and one boarding home for university students.
Founded specifically for the teaching apostolate, the Armenian Sisters have never abandoned their original commitment. They responded to the voice of obedience and readily accepted new challenges and opened three schools to serve Armenian children living in the United States. In the Philadelphia, Boston and Los Angeles regions, humble beginnings gave way to well-appointed schools conducive to learning. Thanks to the Sisters’ strong faith and vigor, and their mission to preserve and perpetuate their ethnic identity, the Armenian child in America learns the language, history and cultural traditions of his/her forefathers and is being formed in the faith of his/her ancestors. Preservation of ethnic identity also helps preserve the diversity that has been one of America’s strengths from the start. It helps to make youngsters more accepting of others, makes them better citizens, and it adds cultural dimension, which enriches both the individual and society as a whole.
In 1988, following the devastating earthquake, the Sisters rushed to Armenia to share the grief and pain of their suffering people. With the independence of Armenia in 1991, a vast of work was thus created. In Gumri, Dashir, and Heshdia, the Sisters perform pastoral and social work and teach religion and ethics in State operated schools. They prepare hundreds of children of all ages, as well as young men and women, married couples, and the aged to receive the Sacraments. The Sisters travel from village to village taking the message of the Gospel to the people, organizing prayer and Bible study groups, forming choirs, conducting summer camps, and performing a variety of charitable works.