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Artwork honouring CMU professor’s contribution to Hutterite community unveiled

Hutterites thank John J. Friesen for teaching numerous courses over 14 years

Canadian Mennonite University President Cheryl Pauls and representatives from southern Manitoba’s Hutterite community unveiled a new artwork honouring a CMU professor last week.

Unveiled on Wednesday, June 3 in CMU’s new library, the artwork was commissioned by the Hutterian Brethren Education Committee in honour of John J. Friesen, Professor Emeritus of History and Theology, for his contribution to the Hutterite community.

Between 2000 and 2014, Friesen taught a number of Old Testament, Anabaptist, and Hutterite history courses to several hundred Hutterite teachers, pastors, and young people from across southern Manitoba, South Dakota, and Minnesota.

A close-up of the painting presented to CMU from
A close-up of the painting by Victor Kleinsasser presented to CMU from the Hutterian Brethern Education Committee.

The painting, created by Victor Kleinsasser of the Crystal Spring Community near Ste. Agathe, MB, depicts a group of Hutterites speaking with Friesen after one of their classes together.

Jesse Hofer, a CMU alumnus and member of the Hutterian Brethren Education Committee, said the painting represents the important relationship that has developed between Mennonites and Hutterites since Friesen taught his first course to Hutterites.

“The artistic contribution is a sign of our commitment to build and grow this relationship into the future,” Hofer said.

In addition to the artwork, the Hutterites made a $10,000 donation in Friesen’s name to help fund Marpeck Commons, the new library, learning commons, and bridge at CMU. Nearly 20 colonies contributed to the donation.

The Hutterian Brethren Education Committee surprised Friesen with the gift November 1, 2014 after he taught his final course with the Hutterites.

Speaking at the unveiling, Friesen thanked the Hutterian community for its generosity and hospitality, as well as the opportunity to teach them for 14 years.

“I learned so much from your communities, and in the process, made many friends,” Friesen said.

He added that ultimately, the event was not about him, but about the Hutterites.

“With the unveiling of this painting, you’re signalling I think publicly that you are continuing to embrace, incarnate, and communicate your rich spiritual heritage of communal living,” Friesen said.

Members of the Hutterian Brethern Education Committee with John J. Friesen (third from left) and CMU President Cheryl Pauls at the June 3 art unveiling.

“In a society that is highly individualist, economically and socially, you provide a successful alternative communal model. In a society that is consumer-oriented, you in many ways conserve resources through sharing and communal ownership. In a society that relegates faith into ever-smaller areas of private life, you’re committed to having faith permeate and shape all areas of your life. To me, this event signals that you do not want your heritage to become a revered relic of the past, but a rich resource for the future.”

CMU President Cheryl Pauls expressed her gratitude to the Hutterian community for its support and noted that at least four Hutterites have studied at CMU in recent years.

“Thanks also for your lives of faithfulness—to God, to one another, to the land, and to ways of discerning God’s word together through time,” Pauls said. “Thanks also for the ways you remember to live generously through time, to share again with one another and for sharing with us.”

Pauls added that Marpeck Commons—the building within which the new CMU library is located—takes its name from Pilgram Marpeck, a 16th century Anabaptist leader who brought together his faith and everyday life through his work as a civil engineer.

“The name of this building signifies through time that the vision here at Canadian Mennonite University extends far beyond us and reaches for something that learns from the community and isn’t about particular individuals in our own time,” Pauls said. “Thanks for the ways the Hutterian community remembers that through time and helps to sharpen the vision of CMU… We look forward to ongoing relationships and conversations with you.”

The Hutterian Brethren originated as the Austrian branch of the Anabaptist movement of the 16th century. Absolute pacifism and community of goods are key practices for the Hutterites, who live in rural communities made up of 50 to 150 people.

CMU’s relationship with the Hutterite community is ongoing. Harry Huebner, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Theology, will teach an introduction to philosophy course to members of the community in southern Manitoba beginning this summer.

About CMU
A Christian university in the Anabaptist tradition, CMU’s Shaftesbury campus offers undergraduate degrees in arts, business, humanities, music, sciences, and social sciences, as well as graduate degrees in theology, ministry, peacebuilding and collaborative development, and an MBA. CMU has over about 900 full-time equivalent students, including those enrolled in degree programs at the Shaftesbury and Menno Simons College campuses and in its Outtatown certificate program.

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For additional information, please contact:
Kevin Kilbrei, Director of Communications & Marketing; 204.487.3300 Ext. 621
Canadian Mennonite University
500 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg, MB  R3P 2N2