Kornelsen, Helen (1920-2012)

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Helen Kornelsen. Photo courtesy Victor Wiebe.

Helen Kornelsen: missionary, was born 17 September 1920 in Kuzmitsky (Alexandrovka), Verkhnodniprovsk Raion (district), Ekaterinoslav, Chortitza Colony, Ukraine to Johann Kornelsen (1884-1974) and his third wife, Katharina Janzen (1895-1956). After the dramatic 1929 Moscow escape Helen arrived in Canada with her family, settling in Watrous, Saskatchewan on 27 March 1930. Helen was baptized on 6 August 1939 at the Bethany Mennonite Church in Watrous. She was an avid reader but her public schooling ended at age 15. In 1940/41-1941/42 she attended Rosthern Bible School. About this time at a Thanksgiving service at the North Star Mennonite Church in Drake, Helen experienced a call to mission work, but felt unqualified. With the encouragement of K. G. Toews, the principal of the German-English Academy (now called Rosthern Junior College); she enrolled in the Academy and graduated in 1945. While in school Helen was accepted as a candidate for India by the Mennonite Foreign Mission Board.

With the support of the Saskatchewan Women’s Conference she attended Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1948. In June of that year Helen was ordained as a missionary at the North Star Mennonite Church. As the first missionary from Saskatchewan to serve under the General Conference Mennonite Church Commission on Overseas Mission, Helen began her 37 year missionary career in India working mostly in Christian education.  

Helen’s first six year term in India was spent learning Hindi, teaching in Jansen Memorial High School in Jagdeeshpur and supervising a dozen village elementary schools. Helen then returned home for a two-year furlough, during which she spoke in many churches and also earned a Master of Education degree from Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas. She also studied journalism at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. During her second leave in 1962, she attended a six-week International Writer's Seminar in Wisconsin. Her subsequent terms involved working with women, guiding adult literacy programs, translating the Herald Press D.V.B.S. books into Hindi and Sunday School teaching. Helen’s educational experience then led her to become an instructor for Christian education courses at the Union Biblical Seminary first in Yavatmal and later in Pune, Mahrashtra State, India. 

In 1985 Helen retired and returned to Watrous, Saskatchewan, where she remained very active with genealogy and family history research, publishing two family histories. She researched one of the first Russian Mennonite missionaries to India, John F. and Susanna (Schowalter) Kroeker and also also translated diaries, journals and documents from German into English. Helen died 15 May 2012 and was buried in the cemetery of the Bethany Mennonite Church, Watrous, Saskatchewan.


Kornelsen, Helen. Our Family Tree: Cornelsen – Kornelsen: The Johann Jacob Kornelsen Family 1884-1974. Watrous, Sask.: Private publication, 1998. 212 pp.

Patkau, Esther. Ministry of Rosthern Bible School Alumni 1932-1994. Saskatoon, Sask., 1994: 27-28.

Archival Collection

"Helen Cornelsen Collection." Mennonite Heritage Centre Archives, Winnipeg, Manitoba. http://www.mennonitechurch.ca/programs/archives/holdings/papers/Kornelsen,%20Helen%20fonds.htm.

Author(s) Victor Wiebe
Date Published July 2012

Cite This Article

MLA style

Wiebe, Victor. "Kornelsen, Helen (1920-2012)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. July 2012. Web. 29 Sep 2023. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Kornelsen,_Helen_(1920-2012)&oldid=95630.

APA style

Wiebe, Victor. (July 2012). Kornelsen, Helen (1920-2012). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 September 2023, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Kornelsen,_Helen_(1920-2012)&oldid=95630.

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