Thiessen, Jacob Johann "J. J." (1893-1977)

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J. J. and Katherine Thiessen, 50th Wedding Anniversary.
Source: Mennonite Archives of Ontario

Jacob Johann "J. J." Thiessen was born 31 August 1893 in Klippenfeld, Molotschna Mennonite Settlement, South Russia, the third of nine children of Johann J. Thiessen (26 August 1864, Klippenfeld, Molotschna, South Russia - 31 May 1928, Klippenfeld, Molotschna, South Russia) and Margaretha (Neufeld) Thiessen (22 November 1869, Klippenfeld, Molotschna, South Russia - 2 June 1921, Klippenfeld, Molotschna, South Russia). Jacob's father Johann also had three children from a previous marriage. On 16 September 1917 Jacob married Katherine Kornelsen (23 November 1893, Tiegenhagen, Molotschna, South Russia - 2 February 1984, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), daughter of Jacob H. Kornelsen (1849-1926) and Helena (Martens) Kornelsen (1851-1945). Jacob and Katherine shared 60 years of marriage and had five children: Jacob (died aged two), Hedwig, Katherine, Helena, and Walter. Jacob died 25 August 1977 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where he was buried.

Jacob taught in the villages of Tiegenhagen and Fischau in the Molotschna Mennonite Settlement. During the emigration of 1923-25 he assisted three transports of Mennonite emigrants to leave for Canada. In October 1926, he and his family also left for Canada. In July 1930 he became a mission worker in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. This led to the establishment of the Girls' Home in 1931, with the Thiessens as houseparents (1931-56), and to the organization of First Mennonite Church. J. J. Thiessen was ordained as minister (1932) and as bishop (elder, 1938) and served that congregation until his retirement in 1964.

Interest in and concern for refugees ran like a red cord through his life activities. He was secretary (1927-1946) and chairperson (1946-1960) of the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization (which became the Canadian Mennonite Relief and Immigration Council in 1959; Thiessen was also chairperson of this council until it joined with other Mennonite organizations to form Mennonite Central Committee Canada in 1963). When that organization merged with several other Mennonite agencies to form Mennonite Central Committee Canada he became a member of that board. From 1947 to 1964 he served on the executive committee of MCC (Akron, Pennsylvania), and in 1948 he visited refugee camps in Europe, seeking to open doors to bring displaced persons to Canada. In 1950 he traveled to South America to visit Mennonite communities there, encouraging, strengthening, preaching, and counseling wherever he went.

He was deeply involved in the work of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, attending its sessions from 1927, and participating in various committees until 1943 when he was elected moderator of the conference, a position he held until 1959. In 1941 he was appointed to a committee to study the need for a theological training institute in Canada; he served as the chairperson of the committee and helped establish Canadian Mennonite Bible College in Winnipeg in 1947. He was the chairperson of the college's board of directors until 1966. Thiessen was also a member of the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCM) Board of Foreign Missions from 1947 until 1958, and of the editorial board for Der Bote from 1955 until 1977 (17 years as chairperson). In 1955 he received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity degree from Bethany Biblical Seminary, with which Mennonite Biblical Seminary (GCM) was associated.

Records indicate that he ordained 21 missionaries, 22 ministers, and 12 elders, officiated at 356 weddings and 290 funerals, and baptized more than 600 people. A man with a love for people, J. J. Thiessen helped to weld the General Conference Mennonite congregations in Canada into a strong, unified body, and laid a solid foundation of training for pastoral and lay leaders in Canadian churches.


Dyck, Cornelius J., ed. with Robert Kreider, John A. Lapp, and others. The Mennonite Central Committee Story, vol. 4: Biographies: Something Meaningful for God. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1981.

Epp, Frank H.  Mennonite Exodus: the Rescue and Resettlement of the Russian Mennonites since the Communist Revolution. Altona, MB: D.W. Friesen, 1962.

Epp-Tiessen, Esther. J. J. Thiessen : a Leader for His Time. Winnipeg, MB: CMBC Publications, 2001.

GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 6.06 ed. Fresno, CA: California Mennonite Historical Society, 2011: #405904.

Patkau, Esther. First Mennonite Church in Saskatoon 1923-1982. Altona, MB: D. W. Friesen, 1982.

Patkau, Esther. "J. J. Thiessen's Ministry in Saskatoon." MTh Thesis, Lutheran Theological Seminary, Saskatoon, 1979.

Rempel, J. G. Fünfzig Jahre Konferenzbestrebungen 1902-1952 pt. 2. Steinbach, MB: Derksen Printers for Conference of Mennonites in Canada 1952.

Springer, Nelson and A. J. Klassen, eds. Mennonite Bibliography, 1631-1961 II. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1977: 510.

Warkentin, A. and Melvin Gingerich, eds. Who's Who Among the Mennonites. North Newton, KS: Bethel College, 1943: 241.

Author(s) Esther Patkau
Date Published July 2011

Cite This Article

MLA style

Patkau, Esther. "Thiessen, Jacob Johann "J. J." (1893-1977)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. July 2011. Web. 21 Jun 2024.,_Jacob_Johann_%22J._J.%22_(1893-1977)&oldid=112831.

APA style

Patkau, Esther. (July 2011). Thiessen, Jacob Johann "J. J." (1893-1977). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 June 2024, from,_Jacob_Johann_%22J._J.%22_(1893-1977)&oldid=112831.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 885. All rights reserved.

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