Sommer, Pierre (1874-1952)
Pierre Sommer, the outstanding leader of the French-speaking Mennonites of France in the 20th century and their historian, was born 15 June 1874 at Herbéviller in Lorraine (Meurthe-et-Moselle) and died 23 April 1952 at Grand-Charmont (Doubs) near Montbéliard, where he had had his home since 1919. After his marriage on 13 May 1909, to Anna Kennel, he made his home on his paternal farm which he operated until into World War I, when he had to leave because it was almost completely destroyed in the fighting.
Sommer's education included two years at the Weierhof Mennonite school in Germany, and the high school (College) at Lunéville, France, from which he graduated in 1891. The winter of 1892-1893 he spent at the Weierhof school again, where he was much influenced by the teaching of Christian Neff, the local pastor. After four years of military service 1894-1898, he spent two years at St. Chrischona, near Basel, having been converted in 1898. He was chosen preacher by the Repaix congregation on 6 August 1899, and ordained as elder 26 May 1901, by Jacob Hege of Reihen, Baden. In the spring of 1927 he was chosen as traveling evangelist by the French Conference, in which capacity he rendered outstanding service, shepherding and reviving the scattered French-speaking groups, which were in a low estate.
Pierre Sommer's service to the Mennonites of France was outstanding in several directions. Unusual intelligence and warmth of personality, combined with a deep and sincere Christian experience and a spirit of aggressive action, aided by a training considerably above the average in his church, plus complete dedication to the cause of the Mennonite brotherhood, enabled him to render exceptionally effective service and exert unusual influence. With his close friend Valentin Pelsy, of Sarrebourg in Lorraine, and Pierre Kennel, of Montbéliard, his future brother-in-law, he organized the French Mennonite Conference in 1901, and with Pelsy was a dominant leader for the rest of his life. He was the founder and editor (to 1941) of Christ Seul, the French Mennonite paper (preliminaries 1901-1907, regular issue 1907-1914, 1927-1941). He wrote and edited a number of books, producing practically the only French Mennonite literature until 1945: Formulaire pour les Services du Culte à l'usage des Eglise Evangéliques-Mennonites de langue française (appeared as a supplement to Christ Seul in 1912; it was a minister's manual); Manuel d'instruction religieuse, containing the Zweibrücken (Elbing) catechism, the Dordrecht Confession, a collection of prayers, and a résumé of Mennonite history (Montbéliard, 1922); Precis d'histoire des Eglises Mennonites (Montbéliard, 1937, first part written by Valentin Pelsy in 1912). Sommer wrote a series of fifty carefully prepared articles giving congregational histories of all the existing and extinct congregations in France, a total of some 65, to which he prefaced a general introductory account. This valuable series was in effect a history of the Mennonite Church in France, though never collected and published in book form. It is found in Christ Seul monthly from April 1929 to February 1933, with two in November 1935 and August 1936, and one in June 1929 on "Our Family Names." Sommer also wrote a number of valuable articles for the Mennonitisches Lexikon, and served on the Editorial Council of the Mennonite Encyclopedia until his death. His son-in-law Pierre Widmer has continued in his line, serving as preacher, traveling evangelist, editor of Christ Seul, writer, and historian.
Widmer, Pierre. Pages choisies de Pierre Sommer précédées d'une esquisse biographique. Grand- Charmont, 1955.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 576. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Bender, Harold S. "Sommer, Pierre (1874-1952)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 25 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/sommer_pierre.
APA style: Bender, Harold S. (1959). Sommer, Pierre (1874-1952). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/sommer_pierre.