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Penner, Katy (1924–2008)

Proper Title

Katy Penner fonds

Dates of Creation

1940–1977, 2000–2008

Physical Description

2 cm of textual materials

Biographical Sketch

Katherina (Katy) was born in Schoendorf, Borozenko, South Russia, on March 15, 1924, to Cornelius C. Penner (1889–1958) and Helena Penner (1893–1975). Her father was a Mennonite pastor whose life was constantly in danger, given the new communist administration in the Soviet Union. In 1926, the family immigrated to Canada and farmed southeast of Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Cornelius continued pastoral ministry, serving as the first and long-time minster at the Reinfeld Mennonite Brethren Church, a church that organized in 1927.

At fifteen, Katy was baptized and joined the Reinfeld church, enjoying the Christian fellowship of choir and Sunday School teaching. During her second year studying at Herbert Bible School, she recommitted her life the Lord and accepted the challenge of preparing to be a missionary nurse in the Belgian Congo.

In 1943, Katy began a long period of education in preparation for a nursing career—completing high school, Bible School, nursing school (R.N.), and Mennonite Brethren Bible College (B.R.E.). On August 10, 1952, she was ordained to missionary ministry with Peter R. Lange, Cornelius C. Penner, and Heinrich F. Klassen officiating. After a year of studying tropical medicine in Belgium, she arrived in Kajiji, Congo, during the summer of 1953 to begin her nursing assignment with the Mennonite Brethren Board of Foreign Missions.

Katy spent 28 years in Congo, later called Zaire. Her missionary work was interrupted when she came back to Canada to care for ailing family members. During this time, she completed her degree in nursing (B.S.N.) and taught in the School of Nursing at the University of Saskatchewan. In 1982, she was invited back by the Zairian church to upgrade the nursing school to the R.N. level. Five R.N. classes graduated under her administration before she retired to Canada in 1989.

At her passing, Dr. Ferdinand Pauls gave these words of tribute: “Katy was an administrator. Throughout her career she combined teaching with administration. However, her greatest challenge was running the nursing department of an 1,800-bed hospital in Kinshasa (1972–1975). The experience she had gained teaching nursing students in a church setting was now put into practice in a secular setting with huge challenges in the level of training, integrity, and professional standards. She was honoured for this work by the personal physician of Congo’s president” (MB Herald, July 2008, p. 20).

Katy loved writing and published two books: one a family history and the other, Diamonds in the Sand (Windflower, 2001), depicting her life in Congo.

In retirement, she cared for her sister until Multiple Sclerosis finally took her sister. Katy moved to Kelowna, British Columbia, in 1996, and passed away on March 8, 2008.

Whether teaching Sunday School, a Bible Study, or a nursing class, “Katy’s lasting legacy was her attitude of selflessness, her lack of desire for personal gain, and her willingness to give herself so that other people might fulfill their dreams” (obituary).

Custodial History

On June 17, 2016, Anne (Penner) Tymos, Katy’s sister, donated two boxes of Katy’s photographic missionary slides and several files of Katy’s personal papers. Ann also donated several binders of their father’s (C.C. Penner) papers and sermon notes (see Acc. Nos. 2016-14 and 2016-15).

Scope and Content

The Katy Penner fonds consists of her educational record (diplomas, degrees, transcripts, and certificates), an autobiographical summary, a tribute from Dr. Ferdinand Pauls, and her obituary. Two boxes of missionary slides are also part of the fonds, but are yet to be sorted. The fonds documents the assumptions, motivation, vision, and everyday life of a Mennonite Brethren missionary and the particular organizational culture of the Mennonite Brethren mission during the decades in which she served.


  • Title based on contents of collection.
  • Accession number: 2016-14.
  • Volume No.: 1024.
  • Finding aid consists of a description and a file list.
  • Description created by Jon Isaak, August 2016.
  • Two boxes of her missionary slides still need sorting and description.
  • No restrictions to access.
  • Language: English.

File List

Volume 1024

  1. Katy Penner’s autobiography, “Reflections on My Life.” -- 2000.
  2. Tributes to Katy by Dr. Ferdinand Pauls. -- 2006, 2008.
  3. Obituary and funeral bulletin. -- 2008.
  4. High School, Bible School, Bible College, and Nursing diplomas/degrees and transcripts. -- 1940–1977.
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