of Alberta

Peter Schellenberg fonds

Accession 2015.021

Title and Description:

Peter Schellenberg fonds. – 1926, 1955-1972. – 12 cm of textual records

Administrative/Biographical History

Peter Schellenberg was born in the village of Blumenfeld, Ukraine,  the larger town of Nikopol in the Borozenko colony on September 17, 1887.  His father died when Peter was very young; his mother remarried and the family moved to the community of Gruefeld.  He attended the village school there and later a Zentralschule where he also received some training in bookkeeping and accounting.  He received catechism instruction and was baptized on confession of his faith by Elder Isaac Dyck on June 7, 1908.

From 1908 to 1911, he worked in the Forestry Service to fulfill his service obligation as a conscientious objector to war.  After Russia entered World War I, Peter enlisted in the Medical Corps and served as a medical orderly on the western front bringing wounded men from the battlefield and caring for them on troop trains back to hospitals in Russia.

Following the war, he worked as a bookkeeper and buyer for a hardware firm.  On April 23, 1918, he and Judita Froese were married.  Three of their first four children died in infancy, and only one son, Jacob, survived to accompany them when they emigrated to Canada some years later.  This was a time of lawlessness and revolution in the Ukraine, and on the night of December 13, 1919, Peter’s family fell victim to an attack by bandits – his mother, stepfather, three brothers, one step-sister and his step-brother were murdered.

In February of 1922, Peter was elected to the ministry by the Georgstal congreation, and was ordained by Elder Isaac Dyck of that congregation on September 26, 1922.  He served in that congregation until the family made the decision to emigrate to Canada in the fall of 1926, due to increased restrictions on religious freedom, ongoing threats of violence, and the hope for a better future for their son.  They – Peter, Judita, Jacob and Great Aunt Anna Regier – left their home community in late Setpember, traveled by train to Moscow and from there to Rezeckne in Latvia, and then on to the port city of Libau.  Here there was a stopover of a week, and on October 15, 1926 they sailed from there on the steamer S S Baltriger, and arrived in Southamption, England, on October 20.  On October 21 they boarded the S S Melita and arrived in Quebec on October 29, 1926. From Quebec they left on a week-long journey westward and arrived in Rosthern near the end of the first week in November.  Here they were received by friends, the John Federau family, and travelled by train to Dundurn.  They lived and worked on farms in that community for two and a half years, then moved to the near-by village of Eyebrow where they had heard farmland might be available for purchase.  However, this did not materialize and they lived and worked on farms owned by Dietrich Thiessen and Henry Loewen.

During their time in Saskatchewan, two daughters, Marie Louise and Anne Susan, were born.  In May, 1931, they moved to Coaldale, arriving there on May 5.  Their son John was born there on November 14.  For several years they worked as farm labourers, and then, in 1934, rented land – the Wright Farm near Eight Mile Lake some distance from Coaldale and began farming. Jake went to school in Coaldale by horse-drawn school van.  Two years later, they rented an irrigation farm in the Crystal Lake district, seven miles northwest of Coldale, and farmed there until 1951.  They operated this 120 acre farm, plus another 40 acres leased from a neighbour on a 2/3-1/3 share crop basis: raising alfalfa, sugar beets, grain, seed peas and corn.  They also had a small dairy herd milking 8-12 cows and shipping cream to the Co-op cheese factory developed by Mennonites in the Coaldale area.  He had an opporutnity to work in a business owned by a local Mennonite businessman as a bookkeeper, but declined because he felt that with the required business hours he would not have the time and the flexibility to serve in the church as he felt that he ought.

Peter Schellenberg began his service with the congregation in Coaldale shortly after arriving,  Already in 1932 he was elected to lead the congregation,  He accepted this responsibility somewhat reluctantly and worked in his capacity for two years.  In 1934, Elder William Martens moved to Coaldale and served as leader of the congregation until he moved to Vauxhaul in 1938.  Peter was then again elected as leading pastor.  The congregation voted to install him as elder, and he was ordained to this task on April 10, 1949, by Elder David Janzen of the Springridge congregation.  In addition to his local duties, he participated in ‘Bibel-besprechungen’ in various communities with other pastors, and travelled to isolated communities to preach and conduct communion services.  He valued and was active in the fledgling provincial conference of Mennonite churches which became the Conference of Mennonites in Alberta and the Mennonite Church Alberta.  He and served as Vice-chiar from 1955-58.

With regard to his work and leadership, C. L. Dick, in his book, The Mennonite Conference of Alberta. A History of its Churches and Institutions, stated the following:  “He was utterly dedicated to the church and treated its membes with complete integrity. From 1937 to 1949 he lived some seven miles northwest of Coaldale.  It is seriously doubted that it ever entered his mind that the weather was too cold or wet to attend services, both morning and evening.  Not only that, he felt it important to be in church well before services began. On occasion when roads were impasable, he walked to and from services.  He felt poeple had a right to expect him to be there.  Most members of the congregation had a great deal of confidence in him both as a spiritual leader and as a friend who respected confidences.  Schellenberg was intelligent and studious – qualities that suited him well for his task as a minister. He was genuinely humble and tothe outside observer, was in some instances too ready to give way for the sake of peace.  At times he seemed to lack the self-esteem and self-confidence to give strong leadership, particularly during times of stress.”

Peter retired from active service as pastor and elder on January 16, 1965, having served some 43 years in the ministry.  After his retirement he continued to conduct Bible Study groups, worship services in the local ‘Altenheim,’ and preached on occasion when asked to do so.  His wife, Judita, died on September 12, 1966, and war buried on September 17 – his birthday.  They were a close couple, gentle and considerate in their relationships with each other and their children.  She had been a strong and cosnistent support to him in his work in the church.  After her death, Peter continued to care for their daughter, Marie, who was suffering from a slowly debilitating nerve disorder.  In the fall of 1974, he suffered a slight storke which, although it did not incapacitate him severely, made it impossible for him to live completely independently and care for Marie.  In November of that year, he and Marie moved to the Fraser Valley to be near his eldest son, Jacob, a lay minister in the West Abbotsford Mennonite Church.  He entered the Menno Home in Abbotsford in late December 1974.  Marie also became a resident at the Menno Home and so they were able to remain in contact during the ensuing years.

During his years at the Menno Home, Peter continued to read, correspond with friends and with his children, reflect and make notes on various biblical themes.  He was concerned that his family and the Mennonite people should remain faithful and not leave the teachings of Scripture and spent much time in prayer for his children and grandchildren and for the church.  In the year before his death, failing eyesight obliged him to cut back on his reading and writing.

He enjoyed preparing sermon outlines, and gained inspiration in doing so.  He therefore continued preparing neatly typed sermon outlines, even after he was unable to preach.  Some of the early sermons were entered in small note books, or handwritten on small sheets of notepaper, but most of the later sermons were typed out in full.  He died on April 1, 1982.

Scope and Content

The fonds consists of several small notebooks containing sermon outlines, a few handwritten sermons on small sheets of notepaper, and dozens typed out in full.  The collection sustained some water damage and is a fragile condition.  There is one sermon dated 25 September 1926, a collection from the year 1955, and then sermons covering the years from 1963-1972.

Source of Acquisition

Gift, on behalf of the family, by Kim Thiessen.


Accession 2015.02

GRANDMA #1015027

File List

1-1. Sermon dated 25 September 1926.
1-2. Small notebooks and small envelopes of undated and 1955 handwritten sermon notes
1-3. Sermons, 1963
1-4. Sermons, 1964
1-5. Sermons, 1965
1-6. Sermons, 1966
1-7. Sermons, 1966
1-8. Sermons, 1967
1-9. Sermons, 1968
1-10. Sermons, 1969
1-11. Sermons, 1070
1-12. Sermons, 1971
1-13. Sermons 1972
1-14. Genealogical and biographical information about Peter and Judita (Froese) Schellenberg, provided by their grandson, Terry Schellenberg.