Niswander, Catherine (1884-1979)

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Catherine Niswander, b. 10 January 1884, was a General Conference Mennonite (GCM) missionary in Chicago, IL; Portland, OR; and Philadelphia for 53 years. Born in Bluffton, Ohio, Niswander graduated in 1911 from Fort Wayne (Indiana, USA) Bible Institute and attended Bluffton College. At the urging of William S. Gottschall, her minister at First Mennonite Church, in Bluffton and member of the General Conference Home Mission Board, she began serving as city missionary in Chicago, together with W. W. Miller, superintendent. The mission began as a rescue mission, but the following year moved to a neighborhood of homeowners in West Englewood. Niswander surveyed the area door-to-door (making as many as 581 calls in one year), invited children to Sunday school, taught Sunday school, and managed mission finances through seven ministerial changes at First Mennonite Church as it was later named.

In 1928 she was transferred to the Alberta Community Church, Portland, OR, to help start a new congregation. Niswander was the only full-time worker in Portland during her nine years there. An anniversary booklet from the First Mennonite Church in Philadelphia, where she later served, listed her as "superintendent" in Portland. She did all the pastoral functions there except preaching. Most of the preaching was done by visiting ministers or seminary students. When the Home Mission Board decided to send two men to Portland as ministers, Niswander was transferred to Philadelphia in 1937.

During almost 13 years at First Mennonite Church in Philadelphia, Niswander did visitation and organized children's classes and Bible schools. On occasion, when pastor J. J. Plenert was absent, she also preached on Sunday morning. Then until her retirement in 1967, Niswander served the Germantown Mennonite Church in Philadelphia.

When she began her work, Niswander was one of a number of single women serving as urban missionaries. However, by 1942, she was the only such missionary for the General Conference Home Mission Board.           

Catherine Niswander died 25 February 1979 in Bluffton, OH.


Barrett, Lois. "City Mission Worker: Catherine Niswander." Full Circle, ed. Mary Lou Cummings. Newton, KS: Faith and Life, 1978: 176-183.

Barrett, Lois. The Vision and the Reality: The Story of Home Missions in the General Conference Mennonite Church. Newton, KS: Faith and Life, 1983: 86-89, 101-109, 136-37.

"Catherine Niswander." Mennonite Weekly Review (17 May 1979): 11.

Author(s) Lois Barrett
Date Published 1987

Cite This Article

MLA style

Barrett, Lois. "Niswander, Catherine (1884-1979)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 24 May 2018.,_Catherine_(1884-1979)&oldid=76386.

APA style

Barrett, Lois. (1987). Niswander, Catherine (1884-1979). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 May 2018, from,_Catherine_(1884-1979)&oldid=76386.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 634-635. All rights reserved.

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