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Penner, Cornelius (1889–1958)

Proper Title

Cornelius C. Penner fonds

Dates of Creation


Physical Description

7 cm of textual materials

Biographical Sketch

Cornelius C. Penner was born in Schoendorf, Borozenko, South Russia, on May 2, 1889, to Kornelius Penner (1843–1933) and Helena Friesen Wiebe (1852–1932). Besides other siblings, Cornelius had a twin brother named Heinrich.

A spiritual revival in 1908 created within the Penner family a desire to participate in mission work in India. It was suggested that one of the twins prepare for missionary work. Cornelius volunteered and spent two years at the Bible School in Friedensfeld, Zagradovka, led by Kornelius B. Unruh (1849–1910). The plans were for Cornelius Penner to continue studies in Germany, but in 1910 he was called up for military service by the Russian government and he elected to serve three years in the forestry service as an alternative to military service. With the start of World War One, his studies were again delayed; this time he served his military conscription as an army medic with the Red Cross for four years until the end of the war in 1918.

On June 16, 1918, he married Helene Penner (1893–1975) and the couple moved back to his father’s village of Schoendorf, Borosenko. During the civil war that followed World War One and the Revolution, several of his family members were massacred during the bandit raids. After the communists managed to establish relative order by the end of 1920, privately owned farms, estates, and factories were confiscated and redistributed (collectivized). Famine, disease, and death were widespread. Religious freedoms were curtailed by the new atheistic Soviet regime.

In 1923, many Mennonites began to plan for immigration. Having become the minister of the of church in Schoendorf, Cornelius felt responsible to stay and provide spiritual care in these desperate times. After three years of increased harassment from the Soviets, Cornelius came to realize that if he and his family were to survive, they too would need to leave. On June 14, 1926, the family managed to leave, having secured passports and exit visas (see description in Katy Penner, Diamonds in the Sand [Windflower, 2001], 6-8).

The Penner family immigrated to Canada and Cornelius made the happy reunion with his twin brother who had immigrated earlier. Cornelius and Helene started their Canadian life farming southeast of Swift Current, Saskatchewan.

While farming, Cornelius continued pastoral ministry, serving as the first and long-time minster at the Reinfeld Mennonite Brethren Church, a church that organized in 1927. Cornelius ministered for 38 years in total and served on conference committees with the Mennonite Brethren (e.g., Fuersorgecomitee or denominational spiritual watch-care/welfare committee for South Saskatchewan). He and Helene retired in 1954 and moved into the town of Swift Current. Cornelius passed away on February 18, 1958.

Custodial History

On June 17, 2016, Anne (Penner) Tymos, Cornelius’s daughter, donated her father’s personal papers.

Scope and Content

The Cornelius C. Penner fonds consists of some of his personal papers, sermon notes and Fueursorgecomitee presentations, minutes, and correspondence. The fonds documents the preparation, practice, and everyday life of a rural Mennonite Brethren minister and the particular organizational culture of the Mennonite Brethren church during the decades in which he served.


  • Title based on contents of collection.
  • Accession numbers: 2016-15.
  • Volume No.: 1024.
  • Finding aid consists of a description and a file list.
  • Description created by Jon Isaak, August 2016.
  • No restrictions to access.
  • Language: German, Russian, and English.

File List

Vol. 1024

  1. Cornelius Penner’s personal diary, reflections and poetry. -- 1913–1916.
  2. Collection of family letters, poems, newspaper clippings. -- [196-]–1972.
  3. Cornelius C. Penner obituary in Mennonitiche Rundschau (April 2, 1958). -- 1958.
  4. Speech manuscripts of presentations Cornelius made to the Fuersorgecomitee. -- [194-].
  5. Meeting minutes of the Fuersorgecomitee meeting held in Saskatoon. -- 1947.
  6. Collection of correspondence and reports related to the Fuergsorgecomitee. -- [193-]–[194-].
  7. Two small format collections of sermon notes/outlines. -- [193-]–[195-].
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