Our History & Mennonite Heritage
The Mennonite New Life Centre of Toronto grew out of the migration experience and pacifist tradition of the Mennonite Church. The story of the Mennonites is marked by forced migration from central Europe to Russia, and later on to North and South America. Over the centuries, many Mennonites were brutally persecuted for their open opposition to violence and affirmation of the separation of church and state.
This experience has inspired a special concern for service and solidarity with refugees from around the world. Heavily involved in sponsoring Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s, Ontario Mennonites later began to look for opportunities to support a new wave of refugees coming from Latin America. After an initial period of research and needs assessment with the Latin American community in Toronto, the Mennonite New Life Centre was founded in 1983.
Over the years, the founding vision of service and solidarity with refugees and displaced peoples has led the Mennonite New Life Centre to reach out to new refugee and immigrant communities, adapting and expanding our programs to respond to diverse needs and aspirations. At each step of the way, the New Life Centre has worked to build a caring and inclusive community, where the ideas and contributions of newcomers are respected and valued. Together, newcomers and neighbours, we support each other, learn from each other, and take action together for a more just and compassionate society.
1983: The Mennonite New Life Centre comes into being under the leadership of founding directors Adolfo and Betty Puricelli.
1986: A Board of Directors is formed, with representation from supporting Mennonite churches.
1987: In partnership with the St Clair O Connor housing project, the Mennonite New Life Centre opens a reception centre to offer temporary shelter to refugees arriving in Toronto.
1992: The Mennonite New Life Centre launches our LINC Program, to support refugees and immigrants in learning the English fluency needed to be successful in Canada.
1996: The Mennonite New Life Centre moves to 1774 Queen St E, a building shared with two Toronto Mennonite churches. Around this time, the New Life Centre begins to respond to a new refugee movement from the former Yugoslavia.
2004: The Mennonite New Life Centre extends settlement services in Mandarin to a growing Chinese immigrant community.
2006: The Mennonite New Life Centre conducts a visioning process, identifying community engagement, employment and mental health as strategic priorities. Work begins on the development of the Newcomer Skills at Work Project, which combines employment mentoring and civic engagement strategies to support newcomers in contributing their skills to the labour market and their voice to the political process.
2007: The Mennonite New Life Centre opens a new office at 2600 Birchmount Rd, bringing its language and settlement services to a growing number of immigrants choosing to settle in Scarborough.
2008: The Mennonite New Life Centre celebrates its 25th anniversary by launching our first two internships for internationally trained psychologists, strengthening our mental health supports for refugees and immigrants struggling with different kinds of stress and trauma.
2009: The Mennonite New Life Centre opens a new office at 2737 Keele St, deepening its relationship with the Latin American community while also reaching out to a diverse multicultural clientele.
2010: The Mennonite New Life Centre launches the Bridge Training Program for Internationally Trained Psychologists and Allied Mental Health Professionals, to support immigrant professionals in transferring their skills to the Ontario labour market.
Our Mennonite Heritage
The Mennonite New Life Centre originates in a strong tradition of peace and service work by Mennonite churches. Mennonite history is marked by a long series of migrations and movements driven by religious persecution, as well as the desire to maintain a distinct way of life based on values of peace and non-violence. Mennonites therefore have a strong concern for immigrants and refugees, particularly the most vulnerable.
Beginning in the 1500s, Mennonites moved in large numbers from Europe to Russia, and then from Europe and Russia to North and South America. The first Mennonites to come to Canada arrived from the United States in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Among them were families who chose to leave their homes during the American War of Independence, refusing to participate in a conflict which threatened their pacifist beliefs. A large group of Mennonites settled on agricultural land around Waterloo, Ontario. During WW1, American conscription brought another wave of Mennonites to the Canadian prairies. The largest migration occurred in the 1920′s, when around 20 000 Mennonites fled the violence of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. WWII brought another 12 000 Mennonites from the USSR and Germany, many of whom settled in urban areas, especially Winnipeg, Manitoba. In recent decades, most Mennonite migration to Canada has been from the US, Mexico and Paraguay. There are also increasing numbers of Chinese Mennonite churches in Canada.
The Mennonite church grew out of the Anabaptist movement, a continuation of the Protestant Reformation. Mennonites believe in the separation of church and state. They believe that baptism and church membership should be a voluntary expression of faith. For Mennonites, Jesus is the One sent by God to bring reconciliation between the Creator and a broken world. For this reason, working for peace and reconciliation is central to Mennonite faith. Mennonites also emphasize the connections between faith, words and actions. They are well known for their efforts in disaster response and international development. Mennonites also give great importance to community and mutual support.
Drawing on the inspiration of our Mennonite heritage, the New Life Centre seeks to be a place of community and mutual support for newcomers of a wide range of cultural and religious backgrounds. We welcome refugees from all sides of world conflicts, striving to be a place of healing and reconciliation. Services like art therapy offer victims of violence an opportunity to express and grieve their losses, while seeking hope and purpose for the future. Advocacy work gives expression to our call to build a better world, where violence and injustice would cease, and a better Canada, where all newcomers might experience compassion and fairness.
At the New Life Centre, we show our compassion for newcomers in practical ways by answering questions, helping with immigration needs, teaching English. Our goal is to serve, not to convert. Clients are encouraged and supported in giving expression to their own values, and their own dreams for the future. Together, we build community, a place for the voice and participation of all.