Mental Health Facilities and Services, North America

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1957 Article

The earliest beginnings of Mennonite interest in the care of the mentally ill are hidden in obscurity. We know, however, that the first Mennonite mental institution and the only one established in Europe, was "Bethania", founded in 1910 by the Allgemeine Bundeskonferenz of the Mennonites of Russia, and located near Alt-Kronsweide in the Chorititza district. Motivated by a spirit of Christian compassion and of mutual aid and modeled after the Bethel institution near Bielefeld, Germany, Bethania built up a truly honorable record of service. But the disruptions of World War I, the following Communist revolution, and finally the flooding of this area by the large Dnieprostroy dam brought this great Mennonite venture to a close in 1927. Mennonite patients were given preference in the Bethania program, but as a matter of fact it cared for many non-Mennonite Russian and Jewish patients. Its treatment program followed the most enlightened practices of the time. It admitted as patients the mentally ill, both acute and chronic, epileptics, and the mentally retarded.

In the United States and Canada the pioneering years reveal little interest in an institution for the mentally ill. But as Mennonite communities stabilized and the interest in missions and education increased and the conference organization and program of service became more effective, there emerged an increasing concern for the mentally ill. This interest asserted itself in hospital circles and in sessions of conference. However, considerations of cost, the lack of leadership trained in this service, and especially the lack of a great inner compulsion caused hesitation and checked all positive action.

The only exception to this was an indirect continuation of Bethania, the Bethesda Mental Hospital of the Mennonite Brethren Church of Ontario, at Vineland, ON. It was begun in 1932 by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Wiebe, who had formerly worked in Bethania and came to Canada in 1924. They took the first patient into their home near Stratford, ON in 1932, and then purchased a farm near Vineland in 1937 where they began their work in the full sense as a private institution. In 1947 it was taken over by the Ontario District Mennonite Brethren Conference.

World War II in an unexpected manner focused Mennonite attention on the tragic plight of the mentally ill and made them sensitively conscious of this field of human neglect. Some 1,500 young Mennonite conscientious objectors in the United States who were drafted into the Civilian Public Service program sought service in mental hospitals in order to relieve the critical shortage of attendants in these institutions. Seeing the need and seeking to meet it "in the name of Christ," they caught a vision of a great service of Christian love the Mennonite church could and should render.

When this concern was presented to the Mennonite Central Committee annual meeting on 27 December 1944, it received a sympathetic hearing but it was thought best to refer this matter to the MCC "constituent groups for whatever expression they may have to give." The General Conference Mennonite Church, convening for its triennial conference session in North Newton, KS, in June 1945, was the first to take action. It urged the Board of Christian Service "to co-operate with the MCC" in establishing a mental institution and to proceed independently if the MCC failed to act. Other conferences in due course took similar favorable action.

This strong resolution was presented to the Mennonite Central Committee Executive Committee at its next session only four days later. Greatly heartened by this initial response the Executive Committee appointed a Study Committee ". . . to ascertain the extent of mental illness and mental deficiency among our people, and thus the need for church-administered institutional care; second, to survey the types of institutional care which can best be provided; and, third, to present the informational bases upon which decisions can be made as to whether there should be a joint conference effort in this institutional program."

The extensive study which brought together the results (1) of a questionnaire mailed to 1,070 Mennonite ministers, (2) of investigations of various types of mental institutions, and (3) of interviews with heads of mental health departments of state and federal governments, gave a survey not only of the extent of mental illness in the MCC constituency, but also of the probable cost of a mental hospital program and the available resources of personnel. It was a sobering and yet challenging report.

Plans matured slowly but events pressed for decision. A master plan was adopted by the MCC annual meeting on 3 January 1947. This plan, now realized, envisioned the establishment of three small mental institutions strategically located in the east, the west, and in the central area. Brook Lane Farm near Leitersburg, MD, with a capacity of 23 patients, was dedicated in November 1949; Kings View Homes near Reedley, CA with a capacity of 31 patients, was opened in March 1951; and Prairie View Hospital near Newton, Kansas with a capacity of 40 patients, was dedicated 14 March 1954. Various improvements and enlargements have since been made in all three institutions. Plans were drawn for a fourth institution in the North central states area, with a probable location in Indiana.

The emphasis in these institutions has been on treatment rather than on custodial care, but a limited number of chronic patients have been admitted. Psychiatrists had to be recruited from non-Mennonite ranks but great care was used to secure a staff sympathetic to Mennonite Christian concerns in this undertaking. Voluntary service personnel used as attendants and staff workers wherever possible likewise had to measure up to certain standards of character, motivation, and quality of service. Mennonite patients are to receive preference but in the 1950s considerably more than half of those admitted were non-Mennonites.

The management of the MCC mental health institutions was placed under an incorporated board called Mennonite Mental Health Services. The Lancaster Mennonite Conference also established a mental hospital, Philhaven, near Lebanon, PA., as an outgrowth of the experiences of conscientious objector's in World War II. Established in 1952 and since enlarged, it is now the largest Mennonite mental hospital, caring for both chronic and acute cases.

A small mental hospital was established in Filadelfia in Fernheim Colony, Paraguay, which in the 1950s was only a home for custodial care. Plans were made, with the help of MCC, to replace it with a modern type of mental health facility. (Mennonite Life 9 (July 1954), Mental Health Issue) -- HAF

1987 Update

Mennonite Mental Health Services (MMHS), Akron PA, was incorporated in December 1952 and replaced the Homes-for-Mentally Ill Planning and Advisory Committee founded in 1947. MMHS is a health agency sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee on behalf of the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in North America. MMHS assists churches in their mission of responding to human need by providing resources and promoting wholeness of people in supportive, advisory, and collaborative services including: mental health centers (1949), developmentally disabled (1971), law offenders (1971), Mennonite Disaster Service workers (1977), international psychiatric programs (1972), and Mental Health Awareness and Education Committee (1982).

Mennonite Mental Health Services initially operated member mental health centers, but in 1969 recognized the quasi-independence of the centers. By 1971 Mennonite Central Committee appointed to the agency representatives from the centers and sponsoring churches at large, in order to support a partnership in mental health services.

The mental health centers focused increasingly on professionalism and the contribution science offered in the field of prevention and treatment of mental illness. Principles and motivation of the church coupled with a high level of professionalism soon won recognition and approval of accrediting agencies, professional associations, and federal, state, and local agencies who provided grants and contracts to those centers which applied. The following mental health centers are part of Mennonite Mental Health Services as of 1987:

Brook Lane Psychiatric Center, MD, began as Brook Lane Farm in 1947, was incorporated as Brook Lane Farm Hospital in 1959, and was named Brook Lane Psychiatric Center in 1965. It expanded from a 23-bed facility in 1949 to a 48-bed facility by 1987. Brook Lane Psychiatric Center included both in-patient and out-patient treatment, community consultation, education, diagnostic evaluation, and full-time pastoral services.

Eden Mental Health Centre, Winkler, MB dedicated 3 June 1967, was a venture sponsored by eight Manitoba Mennonite conferences and churches and the government of Manitoba. Eden Mental Health Centre affiliated with Mennonite Mental Health Services in 1968. The facility was a 40-bed hospital providing acute and chronic care for in-patients. It also offered out-patient services, psychogeriatric services, family and marital counseling, desensitization, relaxation therapy, marriage enrichment, and rehabilitation in terms of independent living and employment.

Kern View Community Mental Health Center and Hospital, Bakersfield, CA, was established in 1966 through joint efforts of Kings View, Mennonite Mental Health Services, and Greater Bakersfield Community Hospital. Originally it was part of the Kings View system, and then was incorporated in 1967 as a separate organization with its own board of directors. The hospital had 24 beds, offered in-patient and out-patient services, had a 20-bed chemical dependency program, operated the Phoenix Learning Center (a program designed to aid teenagers experiencing both emotional and academic problems), and offered pastoral counseling. In 1975 the Kern View Foundation was incorporated to provide fundraising services.

Kings View, Fresno, CA was a nonprofit corporation named in 1981 to direct all Kings View programs. Kings View Homes, Reedley, CA was founded in 1951 became Kings View Hospital in 1960, and Kings View Center in 1979. It consisted of a 92-bed in-patient psychiatric hospital, and Rio Vista (1979), an open door 16-bed residential treatment facility offering interdependent group living on the hospital grounds. Kings View Work Experience Center, Atwater, CA, was a privately operated program (1975) that provided work activity and evaluation services to developmentally disabled people. Kings View Corporation contracted with three central California counties to provide comprehensive mental health services.

Kings View Foundation, organized in 1972, developed resources to supplement funding of ongoing and new programs. MennoCare, founded in 1987, was funded by Kings View Foundation to offer homes with Christian modeling to psychiatric patients needing independent living experience. Birch Tree Home, Dinuba, CA, 1987), was licensed for five residents and operated as an independent living situation.

Oaklawn Psychiatric Center, Elkhart, IN began in 1963 as a day hospital and an out-patient clinic, including a Recovery of Hope program, that served the churches and local community. The facility expanded to include a 78-bed hospital located in Goshen, IN in 1987 and offered treatment for psychiatric and addictive illnesses.

Penn Foundation for Mental Health, Sellersville, PA, was dedicated November 1956 and joined Mennonite Mental Health Service in 1981. It was a mental health center providing intensive, day-long treatment, including group therapy and individual counseling. It reached out to the community through family life education and consultation services to schools, police, and businesses. In-patient services were provided at two local hospitals closely associated with Penn Foundation.

Philhaven, Gretna, PA, was owned and operated by the Lancaster Mennonite Conference since 1952. It joined Mennonite Mental Health Services in 1972. The facility provided mental health services including a 96-bed in-patient hospital, out-patient care, and a day care program called FOCUS. Other programs were Family Care, which placed clients in supportive substitute family settings; Stepping Stone, a halfway house; and the Recovery of Hope program.

Prairie View, Newton, KS, was established in 1954. It was a mental health center that included a 43-bed in-patient hospital and out-patient services available throughout several states. Prairie View offered consultation services to other agencies, an extensive family life education program, clinical experiences for students in medicine, psyichiatric nursing, clinical pastoral education, and social work. Recovery of Hope, founded in 1982 by Prairie View, was a program offering a guided plan of reconciliation for troubled marriages. Growth Associates, established in 1971, a division of Prairie View, served organizations and individuals throughout the Midwest with education and consultation services.

Mennonite Developmental Disabilities Services, Akron, PA, was an outreach program sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee that was assumed by Mennonite Mental Health Services in 1971. The service was a ministry working with churches in educational and development programs fostering awareness, acceptance, and supportive care of people with disabilities. The agency provided consultation and resource materials to families, churches, conferences, and Mennonite-related direct service disability programs. The following institutions and agencies offered developmental disabilities services in 1987:

Aldaview Residential Services, New Hamburg, ON, was an agency serving mentally handicapped children, long-term to age 18 and short-term (parent relief) to age 17. Adriel School, West Liberty, Ohio, replaced Mennonite Orphanage in 1957. It was a treatment center for persons 10-15 years old whose intelligence quotients fell between 55 and 80. Bethesda Mental Hospital and Bethesda Home for the Mentally Handicapped Inc., Vineland, ON, served mentally handicapped persons 18 years and older. Craigwood Youth Services, Ailsa Craig, ON, was founded in 1954. It was a children's mental healthcenter for girls and boys between the ages of 12 and 16. Faith Mission Home, Inc., Star Route 1, Mission Home, VA (founded 1965), was a training center for brain injured children. Friendship Community, Lititz, PA (founded 1972), was a group home for mentally retarded adults. The agency offered crisis care facilities for any age, counseling and in-home services to Mennonites with handicapped children, foster homes, and supervised apartments. Indian Creek Foundation, Harleysville, PA, was founded in 1975. It offered community living arrangements, congregational services, and vocational training for developmentally disabled persons ages 21 and older. Jubilee Association of Maryland, Inc., Silver Springs, MD (founded 1978), provided group home and apartment living arrangements for mentally retarded adults. Kansas Mennonite Disabilities Council, North Newton, KS (founded 1982), consisted of a group of south central Kansas Mennonites who were interested in helping local congregations serve as a Christian resource care for persons and their families with developmental or other disabilities. Meadowlark Homestead, Inc., Newton, KS, was a 35-bed facility founded in 1951. It offered care for adults ages 18-60 who experienced chronic mental illness. Three facilities provided a continuum of care designed for transitional living. MCC British Columbia Mental Health Services Program, Clearbrook BC, was founded in 1974. It provided adult care for mentally retarded persons. The facility had two group homes, community care facilities and an achievement center. Menno Home of Saskatchewan, Waldheim, Saskatchewan, served developmentally disabled persons ages 18-60.

Other facilities for the developmentally disabled in 1987 were the following: Mental Disabilities Committee, Goshen, IN, served all ages including church awareness and respite care. Pleasant View Home for the Handicapped, Inc., Broadway, VA (founded 1970), had four residences for adult mentally handicapped and a one-day training center for severe, profound, and adults with multiple handicaps. Sunnyhaven Children's Home, Plain City, Ohio (founded 1970), was a residential facility and group home for trainable and retarded children and adults. Sunshine Children's Home, Maumee, Ohio (founded 1949), was a residential and developmental facility including community homes for people with developmental disabilities, especially retardation. Wellspring Wholistic Care Center, Freeman, SD, was a Christian counseling agency providing individual, marriage, and family counseling (founded 1979). West Coast MCC Developmental Disabilities Program, Reedley, CA, began May 1981. It was an advocacy and supportive services program for families and developmentally disabled persons of all ages. The following homes were affiliated with the program: Huntington House, Fresno, CA; Eight Street Mennoheim, Albany OR; Sweethome, Sweet Home, OR; Twenty-First Mennoheim, McMinnville, OR. --  EJ


Current listings of institutions are published biennially in MC Yearbook, e.g., (1988-89), 125-127.

For historical accounts see Neufeld, Vernon H. If We Can Love. Newton, KS, 1983.

See also Mennonite Quarterly Review 56, no. 1 (January 1982): special issue.

See also Rempel, Edwin F. Congregational Health Ministries Handbook. Elkhart, IN: Council for Congregational Health Ministries of the Mennonite Health Association, 1987: 41-46.

Mennonite Mental Health Services minutes, October 1985, October 1986, April 1987.

Author(s) Henry A. Fast
Esther Jost
Date Published 1987

Cite This Article

MLA style

Fast, Henry A. and Esther Jost. "Mental Health Facilities and Services, North America." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 15 Jul 2024.,_North_America&oldid=177169.

APA style

Fast, Henry A. and Esther Jost. (1987). Mental Health Facilities and Services, North America. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 15 July 2024, from,_North_America&oldid=177169.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 653-654; vol. 5, pp. 578-579. All rights reserved.

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