The Reverend Berjouhie A. Bergler died on July 10, 2008 at the age of 86.
Rev. Bergler was born on January 18, 1922 in Musa Dagh, Turkey, to Rev. Dikran and Araxie Andreassian. Her family, along with other Armenians, fled Turkey and settled in Lebanon. Their story, written by Rev. Bergler’s father and published by the Armenian Missionary Association, is called Escape to Musa Dagh or The Banishment of Zeitoun and Suedia's Revolt.
In Beirut, Lebanon, Rev. Bergler attended the American Junior College for Women. She transferred to Keuka College in Keuka, NY, sent by her family to continue her education. She graduated as class valedictorian from Keuka with a BA in Sociology in 1948. She earned her BD in Ministry from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, Rochester, NY, in 1951, again graduating as valedictorian as well as the only woman in her class. She continued her studies in a PhD program jointly sponsored by Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University.
While pursuing her PhD from 1953 until 1959, Rev. Bergler was Assistant Professor of Religion at Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA. Her students at Mt. Holyoke considered her an excellent teacher and she was well-respected by her departmental colleagues. She also preached regularly at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst, MA. Her preaching was characterized by a congregant as "meaningful, filled with beauty and dignity.”
Rev. Bergler served as Director of Religious Education at All Souls Unitarian Church in New York, NY, from 1960 to 1961. In 1961, she was the first woman to preach at that church in its 142 year history. On May 6, 1962, she was ordained at Community Church of New York City jointly by five New York churches as Minister to College Students. During the three years of her Metropolitan Ministry to College Students, Rev. Bergler established campus ministries at Columbia University, New York University, Hunter College, Adelphia University, and Vassar College, among others.
In 1965, she married Robert Bergler and they settled in Highland Park, NJ. Rev. Bergler joined the faculty of Douglass College of Rutgers University as Assistant Professor of Religion and continued teaching there until her retirement in 1984. Rev. Bergler considered her teaching to be a "calling” and her presence on the faculty to be a "specialized ministry” which enabled her to contribute to the growth of the Unitarian Universalist movement. Even though her work was primarily academic, she often conducted weddings, dedications, and memorial services. Her friend, Laura Felker, said that as Berjie performed weddings and dedications, "it was the unusual combination of intelligence, grace and gentle kindness which made these occasions all the more special. She took care in the way she interacted with others and made a lasting impression on all who knew her.” She and her husband were also active members in the Unitarian Society of New Brunswick, NJ.
In a letter of reference for Rev. Bergler’s application for Fellowship, Rev. Sophia Lyon Fahs said "Her personal integrity is of the finest. Her philosophy of life is wholehearted and all-encompassing; and she is forthwright [sic] in expressions of her thoughts, as well as unusually capable intellectually in expressing them”.
Rev. Bergler is survived by her sister, Alice Rabah, and niece, Naddia Libbus of North Carolina, her nieces, May Rabah of Belgium and Cynthia Brook of England. She is missed by friends across the country whose lives she touched with her gentle, intelligent, and caring nature, especially by Laura Felker who provided support and care to Berjie in her last years.
At Rev. Bergler’s request, a simple graveside service has been held. Donations to honor Rev. Bergler may be made to a fund named for the aunt who raised her - the Isgouhie Andreassian Fund for Scholarship Aid of the Children of Ainjar, Lebanon who are the descendants of the People of Musa Dagh. The donations should be sent to the Armenian Missionary Association of America, 31 West Century Road, Paramus, NJ 07652.
Messages of remembrance may be sent to Rev. Bergler’s sister, Alice Rabah, 401 Ironwood Dr., Chapel Hill, NC 27516 and her friend and caregiver, Laura Felker, 12 Shady Brook Ct., Hillsborough, NJ 08844.