A new artwork honouring a professor from Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) and commissioned by the Hutterian Brethren Education Committee was unveiled in CMU’s new library on June 3. It honoured John J. Friesen, professor emeritus of history and theology, for his contribution to the Hutterite community.
Between 2000 and 2014, Friesen taught a number of Old Testament, Anabaptist, and Hutterite history courses to several hundred Hutterite teachers, pastors, and young people from across southern Manitoba, South Dakota, and Minnesota. The painting, created by Victor Kleinsasser of the Crystal Spring Community near Ste. Agathe, Man., depicts a group of Hutterites speaking with Friesen after one of their classes together.
Jesse Hofer, a CMU alumnus and member of the Hutterian Brethren Education Committee, said the painting represents the important relationship that has developed between Mennonites and Hutterites since Friesen taught his first course to Hutterites.
“The artistic contribution is a sign of our commitment to build and grow this relationship into the future,” Hofer said.
In addition to the artwork, the Hutterites made a $10,000 donation in Friesen’s name to help fund Marpeck Commons, the new library, learning commons, and bridge at CMU. Nearly 20 colonies contributed to the donation.
Speaking at the unveiling, Friesen thanked the Hutterian community for its generosity and hospitality, as well as the opportunity to teach them for 14 years.
“I learned so much from your communities, and in the process, made many friends,” Friesen said. He added that ultimately, the event was not about him, but about the Hutterites.
“In a society that is highly individualist, economically and socially, you provide a successful alternative communal model. In a society that is consumer-oriented, you in many ways conserve resources through sharing and communal ownership. In a society that relegates faith into ever-smaller areas of private life, you’re committed to having faith permeate and shape all areas of your life. To me, this event signals that you do not want your heritage to become a revered relic of the past, but a rich resource for the future.”
CMU President Cheryl Pauls expressed her gratitude to the Hutterian community for its support and noted that at least four Hutterites have studied at CMU in recent years.