Founders of Conrad Grebel laying the cornerstone in 1963Conrad Grebel University College was chartered in 1961, taught its first classes in 1963 and dedicated its first building (a residence for 106 students) in 1964. Ontario Mennonite leaders established Grebel when more Mennonite young adults were attending secular universities for training in specialties not available at traditional Mennonite colleges or bible schools. The possibility of an affiliated college at the University of Waterloo allowed Ontario Mennonites to provide post-secondary education with a relatively small financial investment. Conrad Grebel University College added “University” to its name in June 2001 to recognize its graduate program and to differentiate itself from community colleges.

Crucial visionaries in founding Conrad Grebel College included Norman High, Harvey Taves, John W. Snyder, Henry H. Epp and Milton R. Good. J. Winfield Fretz began service as Grebel’s first president in 1963, and made an impact in the Ontario Mennonite community far beyond Grebel.

The Ontario Mennonite leaders initially envisioned a residential college for Mennonite students studying at university in non-theological disciplines. They expected that Conrad Grebel’s teaching would be limited to religious knowledge and such other liberal arts courses as would be negotiated with the university. However, Grebel’s teaching program rapidly expanded, with an academic office and classroom building added in 1976.

Students at Grebel

Grebel’s undergraduate students are registered at, and receive their degrees from, the University of Waterloo. Grebel established its own Graduate Theological Studies in 1987; these students receive a Master of Theological Studies (MTS) degree from Conrad Grebel University College. Ontario provincial funding has typically provided half of Conrad Grebel’s income through grants and undergraduate tuition fees; the remainder comes from residence income, donations and endowment income, as well as other sales of services.

Mennonite students have usually filled half the spaces in the residence, but the percentage of Mennonite students in Conrad Grebel academic courses is much less than 10%. This difference has created some dissonance between the residence and academic programs throughout Conrad Grebel’s history. At the same time that it has reflected the unique mission of Grebel, it has intersected with the very diverse student body of a large provincial university.

A more detailed history is available on the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online website.