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Harry Loewen, just before his appointment to the Chair of Mennonite Studies, 1978.
Chair of Mennonite Studies photo

Harry Loewen: scholar, teacher and minister, was born 8 December 1930 in Friedensfeld, South Russia, the oldest of three children born to Nicolai J. Loewen (16 January 1910-1942) and Anna Wiebe Loewen (13 November 1910-4 March 1988). On 17 May 1953 he married Gertrude Penner; they had three sons. Harry Loewen died 16 September 2015 in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.

Harry was raised by his mother after his father and grandfather fell victim to Stalin’s terror in the late 1930s. During World War II he experienced the Nazi invasion of Ukraine and the retreat into Poland and then Germany. In 1948 he came to Canada with his mother, grandmother, and siblings where, in spite of an interrupted education and little knowledge of English, he gained degrees from the University of Western Ontario (BA), the University of Manitoba (MA) and the University of Waterloo (PhD).

Loewen's MA on Luther and the radicals involved a study of early Anabaptism while his doctorate concerned Goethe’s response to Protestantism, combining his love of German literature with an interest in theology. He thus established his credentials as a historian with expertise in literary studies and religion, skills he would continue to hone during his long career.

Loewen taught first at Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute and Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and then in the Department of German at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) in Waterloo, Ontario. At WLU he spent 10 happy years, becoming chair of the department.

In 1978 Loewen was invited to take up the newly created Chair of Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg. Loewen quickly established himself as a leading scholar in Winnipeg, building an innovative teaching program in Mennonite studies and reaching out beyond the university to the diverse, and often divided, local Mennonite communities.

The success of Mennonite studies in Winnipeg owes a great deal to his energy and leadership. Annual symposia brought scholars together to discuss a wide range of topics from history to literature, greatly expanding Mennonite studies from a narrow focus on religious matters. The results were first published in volumes of collected essays and then annually in the Journal of Mennonite Studies, which he edited from 1983 to his retirement in 1995. Upon retirement he was made professor emeritus of history and Mennonite studies.

Harry Loewen received many tributes, including the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada’s Award of Excellence. But he did not rest on his laurels; in retirement he continued to produce important books on a wide range of themes, including a major study of the great trek from the Soviet Union that he had experienced first hand, popular essays on Mennonite history, and collections of scholarly papers. His final book, Ink Against the Devil: Luther and his Opponents, appeared in 2015.

Loewen’s interests ranged widely; he was an occasional poet and loved nothing more than to engage in discussion and debate while remaining the gentlemanly of scholars. His wife, Gertrude, was an important companion and supporter of his work.


“Harry Loewen.” GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 16-01 ed. Fresno, CA: " California Mennonite Historical Society, 2016: #799474.

Loewen, Harry. Between Worlds: Reflections of a Soviet-Born Canadian Mennonite. Kitchener, Ont. : Pandora Press, 2006.

Urry, James. “In Memoriam: Harry Loewen (1930-2015).” Mennonite Quarterly Review 90 (January 2016): 7-8. This GAMEO article is derived, with permission, from this MQR memorial article.

Author(s) James Urry
Date Published May 2016

Cite This Article

MLA style

Urry, James. "Loewen, Harry (1930-2015)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. May 2016. Web. 16 Dec 2018. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Loewen,_Harry_(1930-2015)&oldid=134061.

APA style

Urry, James. (May 2016). Loewen, Harry (1930-2015). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 16 December 2018, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Loewen,_Harry_(1930-2015)&oldid=134061.

©1996-2018 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.