Sawatzky, Johann W. (1872-1949)

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Johann W. Sawatzky: preacher and pioneer; born on 17 December 1872 in the Bergthal Colony in Russia to Johann (1841-1923) and Sara (Wiebe) (1848-1914) Sawatzky. He was the third of five children, only two of whom survived.  Johann married Barbara Penner (1880-1925) of Blumenthal in the Manitoba West Reserve on 11 January 1898 at her parents’ home. She was the daughter of Abram (1859-1898) and Maria (Heinrichs) (1860-1941) Penner. The couple had eight children.

Johann Sawatzky was born in Russia but barely knew his home country, as his family moved to Canada when he was not quite two years old. His two older sisters had died before his birth, but Johann, his ten-month-old brother, Cornelius, and his parents joined in the mass migration of the Bergthal Colony in the wake of threats to the privileges Mennonites enjoyed. The Sawatzky family arrived in Quebec on 22 October 1874 and moved on to Ontario, where they remained for a number of months. Johann’s brother died there, but his sister, Katharina, was born on 22 September 1875. From Ontario, the family moved on to Bergfeld in the East Reserve of Manitoba and then to the region of Neu-Hoffnung/Kronsgart.

As Johann Sawatzky grew up, he became involved in the community and the church. He was baptized on 22 May 1893 in the Chortitzer Church and called to the ministry of this church on 23 November 1915. His ordination took place on 19 December 1915 and he delivered his first sermon at the end of January. Preaching was one of his skills, and he gave 123 sermons between 1916 and 1921. Although he never enjoyed visiting the sick, Johann found satisfaction in his other ministerial duties. Barbara died on 27 August 1925 at the age of 45 of a blood disorder, leaving Johann with the couple’s eight children.

Barbara’s death came at a time of transition for Johann Sawatzky and other Manitoba Mennonites. Changes to their educational privileges began a migration movement within the Chortitzer Church that saw many deciding to relocate to Paraguay. With the exception of the eldest daughter, the Sawatzky family left Canada for what they hoped would be a better life in their new home. They traveled by train to New York before boarding a ship bound for Buenos Aires, Argentina, together with 50 other families from the East and West Reserves. A riverboat took them the rest of the way to Paraguay, arriving on Christmas Eve, 1926.

Life in Paraguay’s Menno Colony was not easy, but Johann Sawatzky remained hopeful about his future in the new land. One of his grandchildren had died on the journey and another just after their arrival, but Johann still believed that despite the illness and hardship the group had suffered, moving to Paraguay had been the right decision. Despite the harsh conditions in the hot and often dry land, Johann decided to stay in South America. He had grown fruit trees in Manitoba, and he soon planted date palms in his new home. Johann continued his preaching work until just a month before his death in August 1949, weathering dangerous terrain, wars, and disputes among the colonists. He never remarried, but instead lived with his married daughter until his death on 22 August 1949 in Paratodo, Paraguay.  He was buried in the Rudnerweide cemetery.

Johann W. Sawatzky was deeply committed to his community and family, and he remained devoted to his congregation throughout his life.


Buhler, Linda. “Prediger Johann W. Sawatzky 1872-1949.” Preservings No. 11 (December 1997): 83-84.

GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 5.03 ed. Fresno, CA: California Mennonite Historical Society, 2007: #344517.

Author(s) Susan Huebert
Date Published 2007

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Huebert, Susan. "Sawatzky, Johann W. (1872-1949)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 2007. Web. 1 Oct 2023.,_Johann_W._(1872-1949)&oldid=84813.

APA style

Huebert, Susan. (2007). Sawatzky, Johann W. (1872-1949). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 1 October 2023, from,_Johann_W._(1872-1949)&oldid=84813.

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