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Funeral and Memorial Services
Memorial Contributions
When Communities Grieve (Reflection, Emerson Lesher)
A Legacy of Faith, Hope and Love: Rodney Sawatsky's Vision for Messiah College (PDF) (Chapel Address, Douglas Jacobsen, 4/20/2004)
Celebrating the Legacy of President Rodney J. Sawatsky (PDF) (The Messiah College Bridge, Summer 2004)
Photo Gallery: Sawatsky Tribute Dinner
Video Tribute

Condolences may
be mailed to:

The Sawatsky Family
c/o Office of the President
Messiah College
Box 3000
One College Aveneue
Grantham, PA 17027

E-mail a reflection/tribute of President Sawatsky for the Sawatsky Family.

Rodney J. Sawatsky

Messiah College mourns the loss of President Emeritus Rodney J. Sawatsky

President Emeritus Rodney J. Sawatsky Messiah College announces that its former president, Rodney J. Sawatsky, Ph.D., died at his home on the morning of Saturday, November 27, in Waterloo, Canada, due to the progression of a cancerous brain tumor he was diagnosed with last year. Dr. Sawatsky, 60, who had served for ten years as president of Messiah College, from 1994-2004, officially retired from the college earlier this year in June.

Dr. Sawatsky is survived by his wife of 40 years, Lorna Ewert Sawatsky, and their three daughters, Tanya, Lisa and Katherine Sawatsky, who reside in Canada. Following his retirement, Dr. and Mrs. Sawatsky, both native Canadians, moved to Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada, to be closer to their family.

Funeral services were held on Wednesday, December 1 at 11 a.m. at the First United Church of Waterloo, 16 Williams Street, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Visitation hours were held on Monday, November 29 and Tuesday, November 30 from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Edward R. Good Funeral Home, 171 King Street South, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Condolences may be sent to the Sawatsky family, c/o Messiah College, Office of the President, Box 3000, One College Ave., Grantham, PA 17027. The Sawatsky family has requested that memorial contributions be sent to Messiah College for the college’s “Campaign for Student Enrichment.” A public memorial service was held on Thursday, December 9 at 7 p.m. at Messiah College, in Brubaker Auditorium, followed by a reception with the Sawatsky family in Lottie Nelson Dining Room at 8:30 p.m.

“Messiah College has lost a dear friend, a visionary leader and a brilliant Christian educator,” said Kim S. Phipps, interim president of Messiah College. “Throughout President Sawatsky’s illness, both Rod and Lorna taught our community many lessons about grace, about faith, and about living life with a profound sense of purpose. Rod Sawatsky will be greatly missed, vividly remembered, and his legacy will deeply endure,” Phipps said.

In a statement President Sawatsky sent to Messiah College students and employees in April, prior to undergoing surgery at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, he wrote, “The abundant life is defined by its quality and not its quantity. In that spirit, we seek to live each day as fully and as joyfully as we can in spite of the uncertainties we face. We remain deeply grateful for God’s active and continuing presence in our lives … May we all remain people of hope rather than despair … ”

President Rodney J. Sawatsky: Career Highlights at Messiah College

Dr. Sawatsky was inaugurated as the seventh president of Messiah College in July of 1994. Early in his administration, he directed several key initiatives to enhance both the mission and quality of Messiah College. Soon after his arrival, he led a collaboration of Messiah’s trustees, students and employees to create the college’s new mission and identity statement. Placing academic excellence and the college’s Christian heritage and identity at the forefront, Messiah committed itself anew under Sawatsky’s leadership “... to educate men and women toward maturity of intellect, character and Christian faith ...” Sawatsky went on to guide the formulation of the college’s strategic plan. Articulating Messiah’s foundational values, educational objectives and emerging focal points in the coming century, the plan focused the college’s efforts on promoting student learning and advancing scholarship and teaching. To this end, the plan emphasized educating the whole person—body, mind and spirit—by building a Christian community of learning which embraces a wide diversity of students, encourages international study, and fosters a spirit of unity and service.

Under Sawatsky’s administration, the college has also strengthened the resources and focus of its college ministries program, adding a full-time director of campus ministries and a college pastor. In 1997, Messiah launched the Agapé Center, a centralized program which coordinates and supports all of Messiah’s student service-learning programs including various urban ministries, volunteer activities of many kinds and other church and community service opportunities both nearby and abroad.

Under Sawatsky’s leadership, Messiah has added several new facilities to its campus—including the Jordan Science Center in 1999, providing state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories for students in the natural sciences and health studies, and a home for the new Oakes Museum. In October 2003, due to the success of Messiah’s current $50 million comprehensive campaign, To Serve & To Lead, the college finished construction of Boyer Hall, the campus’ largest academic building and opened the new Larsen Student Union.

Click here to view the video tribute
Messiah College produced this video as a tribute to President & Mrs. Sawatsky's ten years of dedicated service and leadership and was debuted at President Sawatsky's retirement dinner celebration in June, 2004.
Recognizing its most distinguished alumnus and trustee—the late Ernest L. Boyer, Sr.— Messiah College established The Boyer Center under Sawatsky’s administration in 1997. Offering an archive of Boyer’s papers and memorabilia, The Boyer Center facilitates scholarship projects which advance the noted educator’s ideas and contributions. Under Sawatsky, the college also launched the Sider Institute, a center dedicated to the advancement of Wesleyan, Anabaptist and Pietist studies, reflecting Messiah’s own denominational roots in the Brethren in Christ Church. The college has also grown in its ability to attract external sources of funding, such as a $2 million grant from the Lilly Foundation, awarded in 2000, which Messiah is using to help students explore the concept of God’s vocation in their own personal and professional lives.

In 1999, Sawatsky, in conjunction with the Board of Trustees, launched an academic restructuring of the college. Focused on enhancing student learning, the new structure organized the college’s academic program into five interdisciplinary schools, each led by its own academic dean. The new structure was implemented in the 2001–2002 academic year and has resulted in academic growth, innovation and increased community engagement, particularly in the greater Harrisburg region with the public launch in May of the Harrisburg Institute, a residential living and learning community housing Messiah students in downtown Harrisburg. Since coming to Messiah, Sawatsky has guided the college in its quest for continued excellence in all areas of its operation and mission—enhancing Messiah’s academics, Christian service and ministry, student programming, athletics, state-of-the-art facilities, technological innovations, and visibility in the arts.

During his presidency, Sawatsky was also heavily involved with service in the greater Harrisburg region, serving on the boards of such organizations as the Harrisburg Symphony and the Association of Pennsylvania Independent Colleges and Universities.


Born in Manitoba, Canada, Sawatsky was educated in both Canadian and American schools, including Canadian Mennonite Bible College (Manitoba), Bethel College (Kansas), and the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis). Besides earning his master’s degree in American history from the University of Minnesota, he obtained a second master’s degree and his Ph.D. in American religious history from Princeton University (New Jersey).

Sawatsky’s career has remained true to his key interests: religion, history and higher education. At the age of 21 he was already teaching history and Bible at Bethel Bible Institute (Alberta). From there he became a history instructor at his alma mater, Canadian Mennonite Bible College, following his graduate work at the University of Minnesota.

One year after completing his doctoral studies, he began his educational career at Conrad Grebel College, one of four church-related constituent colleges of the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. He began as director of academic affairs and assistant professor of religious studies and history, progressed to academic dean and associate professor, and later served as acting president and then academic vice president. He became president of Conrad Grebel in 1989.

During the course of his academic career, he was awarded several fellowships, scholarships and research grants. He used two of these awards for sabbatical leaves, during which he pursued research at Berkeley, California, and around the world. His research focused on the contemporary church and education, Mennonite identity, and new religious expressions including sects, cults and New Age spirituality. He also served as editor of the Conrad Grebel Review: A Journal of Christian Inquiry from 1987–1990. In addition to his teaching, research and administrative duties, he fulfilled many requests from a variety of organizations to lecture and consult, and from churches to preach and teach.

Sawatsky married Lorna Jeanne Ewert, an early childhood music educator, in 1964. They have three grown daughters Tanya, Lisa and Katherine who currently live in Canada.

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