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Rodney J. Sawatsky

(President, 1994-2004)


Rodney Sawatsky

Born in Manitoba, Canada, Messiah’s seventh president Rodney Sawatsky left his own unique stamp on Messiah College.


As a well educated, highly experienced, and devout Christian man, this Canadian native had a lot to offer Messiah.


Sawatsky earned two master’s degrees, one in American history from University of Minnesota and another in American religious history from Princeton University. He later went on to pursue a Ph.D., also in American religious history from Princeton University.


Sawatsky later gained teaching experience, instructing history to college students at the early age of 21.


After his teaching days, Sawatsky became the director of academic affairs at Conrad Grebel College in Ontario, Canada. Over the years, he held a multitude of respectable positions and eventually becoming the college’s president.


In addition to all of these wonderfully qualifying experiences, his most striking attribute was his passionate and unwavering confidence in the power and faithfulness of God.


Undoubtedly, Sawatsky was a great fit for leading Messiah College into the 21st century. He was inaugurated in 1994.


At the heart of Sawatsky’s lifework as the president of this institution was developing an identity centered on Jesus and his love. In addition to his priority of keeping Christ preeminent, he advanced the meaning of academic excellence and community engagement. Sawatsky accomplished this lofty achievement through numerous outlets:

  • Reorganized the academic structure, dividing the College into five interdisciplinary schools, each with its own academic dean
  • Launched the Harrisburg Institute, a program linking urban learning and service through a living-learning community, coursework, and research.
    • Served as community housing for students in downtown Harrisburg
  • Opened the Agape´ Center for Service and Learning
  • Commenced a campaign to enhance the science program in pursuit of academic distinction in that field of study
  • Strengthened the resources and focus of the college ministries programs
  • Instituted the Ernest L. Boyer Center which was named and erected in honor of one of Messiah’s most distinguished alumni Ernest L. Boyer
    • Works to facilitate scholarship programs based on Boyer’s concepts and contributions
  • Secured in an overwhelming amount of external funds, including the Lilly Endowment which granted Messiah $2 million
    • Allowed the college to better equip students to explore the concept of their Christian vocation in their personal and professional lives


While these accomplishments are commendable, to say the least, Sawatsky saw more in store for the College. 

Rodney Sawatsky at Daystar University

Rodney Sawatsky at Daystar University's National Accreditation Ceremony in 1994.


Part of Sawatsky’s goal was to harmonize the college character with the language that accompanied it. He and his team of trustees, employees, and students redesigned the Messiah College mission statement to match its dedication to academic excellence, service, and, most importantly, Christ.  The new mission statement read, “Our mission is to educate men and women toward maturity of intellect, character, and Christian faith in preparation for lives of service, leadership, and reconciliation in church and society.”


In addition to identity and academic innovations, the campus was also being overhauled and enhanced. Jordan Science Center, Boyer Hall, and the Larsen Student Union buildings were built to accommodate the increasing enrollment. New and improved homes for the discipleship-centered Issachar’s Loft and the internationally-focused Rafiki House were established. Messiah’s new appearance also included new athletic fields.


Beyond language choice and building projects, Sawatsky peered into the heart of Messiah: the students. He wanted to emphasize the importance of educating the whole person: body, mind, and soul. He encouraged international study to bring understanding and reconciliation in a broken world. He promoted and highlighted the importance of engaging in the local community and embracing all forms of Christianity.


Sawatsky was responsible for molding Messiah’s image to be one of faithful Christianity, academic excellence, and cultural engagement.


With failing health, Sawatsky decided to retire in 2004 after a decade of loyal service. He passed away in December of that same year.


What was happening in the world during Rodney Sawatsky's presidency?

  • Rwandan genocide resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of its citizens. 
  • The Oklahoma City bombing occurred, a blast that posed the greatest terroristic act on American soil until 9/11.
  • NASA announced evidence of proof of primitive life on a Mars dating back to nearly 3.6 billion years ago.
  • The Roslin Institute in Scotland successfully cloned the first mammal, a sheep they named Dolly.
  • Winning four Golden Globes and a record of 14 Academy Awards, the film Titanic becomes of the American greats.
  • Benoit Lecomte became the first man to swim across the Atlantic Ocean, a 3,716 mile swim that took 72 days to complete.
  • The world planned for Y2K.
  • The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 launched a global war on terror.




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