14 December 1820 Isaac Hellmuth born – Pioneer of University Education in Canada #otdimjh


Bernstein writes:

Hellmuth, Isaac. The fact that the subject of this sketch was one of the three Hebrew Christian Bishops [257] of the last century—Bishops Alexander and Schereschewsky being the other two—invests his life and memory with a special interest for all workers for Israel.

Whilst Alexander spent his life in actively seeking “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” in various lands of their dispersion, and Schereschewsky the “other sheep” of the Redeemer’s fold in the heathen Empire of China, Bishop Hellmuth’s career was mainly associated with the promotion of the spiritual and intellectual interests of the sons and daughters of the Greater Britain beyond the seas.

Isaac Hellmuth was born at Warsaw, Poland, on December 14th, 1820. [His father’s name was Hirsch or Hirschmann, but this Hellmuth changed as a mark of the painful separation he experienced when he became a believer in Yeshua. He took his mother’s name, Hellmuth]. He was from early childhood instructed and trained “according to the perfect manner of the law of his fathers,” in Rabbinical schools of high repute, where he acquired great proficiency in Biblical and Talmudical learning. His parents gave him a thorough religious and secular education. He was sent at the age of sixteen to the University of Breslau, where he continued with success his studies in classical and Oriental literature.

At that time Dr. S. Neumann, a Hebrew Christian, and a missionary of the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews, was stationed at Breslau. Being also a professor at that University, he was more especially brought into contact with learned Jews and students, over whom he exercised great influence. It was through him that young Hellmuth had his attention drawn to Christianity. In 1841 he came to England, and was baptized in All Saints’ Church, [258] Liverpool, by the Rev. H. S. Joseph, a missionary of the same Society. Isaac had two brothers. When he was baptized his father cut him out of his will altogether. But, on his father’s death, his two brothers, although they themselves remained Jews, generously restored to their Christian brother his share of their father’s property.

[Isaac Hellmuth refused to talk about his early life, at least publicly, because he found the memory too painful. He attended rabbinical schools and was apparently expected to become a rabbi like his father.]

After remaining some three years in England, studying English theology under Hugh McNeile, Haldane Stewart and others, Hellmuth left for Canada in 1844, taking with him commendatory letters from many eminent clergymen, including one from Dr. Sumner, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury. Hellmuth’s ministerial life was principally spent in Canada, where he had a distinguished career, for many particulars of which we are indebted to “Bishops of the Day,” which particulars were most likely furnished by himself.


Hellmuth was ordained both deacon and priest in 1846 by Dr. Mountain, Bishop of Quebec. He received the Lambeth degree of D.D. in 1853, and the honorary degrees of D.C.L. from Trinity College, Toronto, and D.D. from the University of Lennoxville in 1854. He spent eight years as rector of Sherbrooke, Quebec, and as professor of Hebrew and Rabbinical Literature at Bishop’s College, Lennoxville, of which institution he was also vice-principal. His views were strongly Evangelical. He resigned his posts in Quebec on being made general superintendent of the Colonial and Continental Church Society in British North America.

The Bishop of Huron, Dr. Cronyn, had been much troubled [259] about Provost Whitaker, of Trinity College, Toronto, whose teaching he considered unsound, although the other Bishops of the province, on being referred to, upheld it. The Bishop, not satisfied, decided to establish at London, Ontario, a college more under his own control. This resulted in the formation and partial endowment of Huron College, which was opened in 1863 under the presidency of Dr. Hellmuth, who was also made archdeacon of Huron. His educational enthusiasm led him to start a college for boys, called Hellmuth Boys’ College. Recalling his efforts in its behalf, he said: “Twice I visited England to plead its cause, and through the liberal gifts of friends in the mother land, the grounds and buildings for the Divinity College were secured. Amongst the benefactors of this College, one valued friend, the Rev. Alfred Peache, endowed the Divinity chair with the munificent sum of £5,000 sterling.


“Huron College faithfully fulfilled its trust and served its designed end. Over one hundred devoted ministers of Christ’s Gospel have been trained within its walls, the majority of whom are labouring with success in our own Diocese, while the remainder have been called to occupy prominent positions in various other parts of our Dominion.”

In 1867 Dr. Hellmuth was made rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Dean of Huron. He used his large private means unsparingly in advancing the cause of higher education. In 1869 he launched the Hellmuth Ladies’ College.


The venerable Canon Christopher, rector of St. [260] Aldate’s Church, Oxford, thus alludes to this institution:—”He found that Canadian Protestants were sending their daughters to convent schools, because they did not know of any good Protestant ladies’ school. He established an excellent school for young ladies near his own house. I addressed nearly a hundred young ladies in this school in 1872. Some of these had to travel twelve days and nights from their homes to their school, in the absence of a railway from British Columbia.”

Dr. Hellmuth was chosen on July 19, 1871, by a large majority of the diocesan synod to be Bishop Coadjutor of Huron, with the title of Bishop of Norfolk and the right of succession. Dr. Cronyn died in the following September, and Dr. Hellmuth became Bishop of Huron. He had been consecrated in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, Ontario, on August 24, 1871. In 1877 the Bishop formed a scheme for a Western University in connexion with Huron College, subscribing no less than 10,000 dollars towards it. In the following year he attended the Lambeth Conference, and took confirmations for the Bishop of London in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. He came to England again, in 1880, to obtain funds for the Western University, which was opened on October 5, 1881, with a medical faculty in connexion with it. By 1881 the Bishop’s exertions had proved so successful that the S.P.G. aid was no longer required, and the diocese could rely on its own resources.

During the Bishop’s episcopate, which lasted from 1871 to 1883, great progress was made in every department [261] of diocesan work. The number of livings increased from 34 to 65; the number of churches from 149 to 207; and the clergy from 92 to 135. The Sunday schools rose from 110 to 166; and the communicants from 4,390 to 8,910. Dr. Langtrey, in his “Colonial Church Histories,”[14] says that the Bishop “devoted himself with great earnestness to his work, and soon became very popular throughout the country.” The Rev. Dr. Hurst, a resident of twenty years in Huron, thus referred to the Bishop’s labours:—”I can speak from personal knowledge of his liberality, zeal, and self-denying efforts to make his diocese an active mission field, and a model for higher Christian education—much at his own personal expense—in both of which God greatly blessed his instrumentality. His indefatigable and successful labours have been acknowledged by all parties in the Church.”[15]

The Bishop resigned the see of Huron in 1883 under somewhat peculiar circumstances. The Bishop of Ripon (Dr. Bickersteth) desired to have Dr. Hellmuth appointed his Suffragan under the Act of Henry VIII. Dr. Hellmuth, being informed that his title was to be Bishop of Hull, and that the letters patent could not be executed till he had resigned the see of Huron, formally resigned that see on March 29, 1883.

In his last charge, delivered before the Synod of [262] the Diocese, the Bishop’s broad and loving sympathies found vent in the following expressions:—”I am fully persuaded, as I said on a former occasion, that the glory of the Church is her assimilation to Christ. And never will her usefulness and her splendour reach their meridian until the love of a common Saviour shall bind together every heart and unite every hand. Envy, jealousy, evil surmisings and uncharitableness can only tend to weaken and scatter the resources of the Church and palsy her exertions; but, when through the abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit, arm shall be linked to arm, and heart to heart, and prayer to prayer,—when to love and serve Christ, and to anticipate heaven, and to save immortal souls,—when these shall be the grand and all absorbing terms of Christian communion,—oh, then, what a firm and powerful phalanx shall go forth from the Church of the living God against the powers of darkness and the enemies of men! For this oneness of aim I would again repeat, Pray, strive and labour.”

The news of the Bishop’s resignation was received with great regret throughout the Dominion, and a service of plate was presented to him with an address from the standing committee of the diocese.

On March 21, 1883, the Bishop of Ripon issued a Pastoral to his diocese, in which he formally announced the Royal assent to the appointment of Dr. Hellmuth as Bishop Suffragan of Hull. In the following May, nearly two months after Dr. Hellmuth’s resignation of the see of Huron, the law officers of the Crown discovered that the Act of Henry VIII. did not apply to [263] any one already in Episcopal orders, and that therefore Dr. Hellmuth could not become Bishop Suffragan of Hull. Bishop Hellmuth, who was thus placed in an extremely anomalous position, appealed to the then Governor-General of Canada, Lord Lorne (the present Duke of Argyll), who made representations to Mr. Gladstone, at that time the Prime Minister. In reply, Mr. Gladstone pointed out that the Bishop of Ripon still intended to avail himself of Dr. Hellmuth’s services as his Assistant Bishop or Bishop Coadjutor. Bishop Hellmuth then took up his work in the diocese of Ripon as Assistant Bishop, although the position was obviously very different from what he had been led to expect when he resigned the see of Huron. With the consent of Bishop Bickersteth, further representations were made to Mr. Gladstone, who replied expressing regret for the error which had been committed. By the death of Bishop Bickersteth, in 1884, Dr. Hellmuth’s position became still more trying, for his commission as Bishop Coadjutor ceased, and he made another appeal to Mr. Gladstone for some suitable preferment, but without success. He was rector and rural dean of Bridlington from 1885 to 1891, and perpetual curate of Bessingby from 1888 to 1891. In the latter year the Colonial and Continental Church Society gave him the chaplaincy of Holy Trinity, Pau, which he held for six years. He was subsequently rector of Compton-Pauncefoot, Somerset, from 1897 to 1899, when he retired owing to failing health. He passed away within two years, on May 28, 1901, at the advanced age of eighty-one. [264]

Bishop Hellmuth was the author of “The Biblical Thesaurus” (1884), a literal translation and critical analysis of every word in the original languages of the Old Testament, with explanatory notes and appendices; and “The Divine Dispensation,” a critical commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures. Amongst his minor contributions to literature may be mentioned two articles in “The Everlasting Nation”; one on “The Authenticity and Genuineness of the Pentateuch,” (1867) and the other on “The Spirit of Prophecy,” a luminous paper on the allusions in the Old Testament to the Messiah of his race.

The Bishop married, first, Catherine, daughter of the late General Thomas Evans, C.B., who died in 1884, and secondly, in 1886, Mary Louisa, second daughter of Admiral the Hon. Arthur Duncombe, son of the first Baron Feversham, and widow of the Hon. Ashley Carr Glyn, son of the first Baron Wolverton.

The Bishop, as was natural, ever evinced hearty and unbounded interest in the spiritual welfare of his brethren according to the flesh, and on many occasions advocated, from pulpit and platform, their claims to the Gospel. In the work of the London Jews’ Society he was especially interested. Towards the end of his life he frequently presided over the meetings of its Committee, amongst whom he was ever a persona grata. His solid learning, acquaintance with the languages and modes of thought of his own people, sound common sense, wise and prudent counsels, as well as his urbanity and courtesy, made him an ideal chairman. He had unlimited sympathy with those[265] engaged in what he regarded as a great and important work, for he could enter fully into its arduous character and numerous difficulties. Many a time did he pay a friendly visit to the Society’s House,—a delightful interlude in official routine—to encourage and to sympathize; on one occasion narrating the thrilling story of how, in early youth, he had found Him whom his soul loved. The Bishop’s sterling qualities of heart and mind, his confiding nature and buoyant temperament, and his bright and happy face, always infused sunshine wherever he went.

One who knew him writes:—”We cannot forego one personal word in grateful appreciation and loving remembrance of the charming personality of one, whom, during the latter period of his long and honoured life, we were privileged to call our friend. To know him was indeed to love him as well as to honour and esteem. His sweet and gentle nature, his amiable disposition, his beautiful character, his fatherly attitude, and his unfailing tenderness and sympathy, have indelibly associated him in our mind with the beloved disciple St. John, whose last words would have been natural indeed upon his lips, ‘Little children, love one another.’”

Reflection: Hellmuth’s life and ministry were marked with battles and controversy which Bernstein smoothes over in his account. But he was a pioneer, a visionary, a man of broad interests, an educationalist’s mind, and a spirit of endeavour, exploration and ambition. It is easy to see a combination of personal characteristics that resulted from his background, the traumatic experience of his family’s reception of his faith, and a desire to make his mark in the public arena. Yet God knows us better than we know ourselves, and asks that we use the gifts he has given us in the service of others, and to His glory. Hellmuth did so in abundance, and his legacy has endured and left its mark on University education in Canada to this day. He even has a page on Twitter!

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Prayer: Thank you Lord for the faith of Isaac Hellmuth, and the fruit his endeavours. Thank you that you are the God who works all things together for good to those who love you and that nothing can separate us from your love. Help us to show the dedication to vision and its achievement that Isaac Hellmuth showed, and may we too rejoice in what you accomplish of your purposes through the little we have to give. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.

Other materials:


By: Fr. William Cliff, BA’89, MDiv’92 – Wednesday, August 6, 2003

It is the rare soul in any age that can look to the future and see potential; what can be, rather than the problems, trials and obstacles that stand in the way of a great idea. The Right Reverend Isaac Hellmuth, second Bishop of the Diocese of Huron, was such a man. A thoroughgoing evangelical Anglican Christian unwilling to compromise his religious principles, Hellmuth understood the Church’s duty to education and the development of the whole person. And while the execution of his plans often left people disgruntled and angry (for uncompromising prelates rarely garner universal admiration), his legacy is a tribute to his remarkable powers of persuasion – the cajoling, begging, threatening, wheeling and dealing required to convince the people of his day that London needed a university.

It may come as a shock that our modern secular university was born of the church, born of the theological arguments that marked 19th-century Canada. The Church of Ireland influenced heavily the new Diocese of Huron, founded in 1857, and it had a fiery, Irish-born Evangelical bishop at its head – London pioneer Benjamin Cronyn. He decided a theological college should be founded in London to ensure there would be enough priests for the Church of England in his diocese who were trained according to his evangelical opinions. The college would stand in opposition to many “high-church” principles being taught at Trinity College in Toronto. Thus, Huron College was founded in 1863 – after Bishop Cronyn had found in Isaac Hellmuth the right man to head up this new endeavour.

Isaac Hellmuth was a rare combination even in 19th-century circles. Born in Poland of Jewish parents, his father was a rabbi and Hellmuth himself trained to be a rabbi. While being educated at the University of Breslau, his religious convictions changed in conversation with missionaries from the Lutheran Church and the Church of England. Disowned by his father for his conversion, Hellmuth took his mother’s name and moved to England. To this day, his father’s name remains unknown.

Arriving in Canada in 1845 and looking for a future within the Church of England, Hellmuth found his life’s work, beginning in Sherbrooke, Quebec, as Rector of the parish and as a professor of Hebrew for the fledgling Bishop’s University in nearby Lennoxville. Respected as a lecturer and a professor, he was also proficient in raising funds for Bishop’s, generating £1,000 one summer on a fundraising tour. Hellmuth’s single mindedness assisted him in his fundraising activities, but it also cost him in goodwill; following a dispute with other faculty members (the details of which are unknown), he resigned his chair at the university, and later his rectorship in Sherbrooke, to become General Secretary of the Colonial Church and School Society of London, overseeing their work in British North America.

It was during his travels for the Church and School Society that Hellmuth met and became friends with Benjamin Cronyn – who had a problem. Cronyn wanted clergy for his diocese, and he wanted his own college to train them. But he wanted teaching that he felt he could trust from a professor he agreed with, and he needed someone who had the connections and the ability to raise the funds to found a school. All these needs came together and were met in Isaac Hellmuth.

So in 1861, Hellmuth set off for England to raise funds for this new college and once again found himself embroiled in controversy. He was accused of casting aspersions on Bishop’s University, and much ill will was fostered in the religious press in both Canada and the U.K. when Hellmuth was accused by Bishop Fulford of much wheeling and dealing and enriching of himself. Hellmuth fired back that he had no recourse to the ecclesiastical courts to have his reputation restored as the one who was his accuser was also the judge: the Bishop. The controversy finally died down when Bishop Fulford refused to be drawn into any further discussion. To one Alfred Peache, a priest of the Church of England and another man of uncompromising Evangelical convictions (who would later become Western’s chancellor), this was enough to prove Hellmuth’s point and so he endowed the new Huron College with £5,000 of his own money. As proficient at begging as lecturing, Hellmuth soon had raised enough funds to open and operate the College.

He was hired as a professor of Rabbinical studies and Old Testament and named Huron’s first Principal, where a primary part of his job was to raise funds for the College in England and promote the cause of Evangelical Anglicans in Upper Canada. Money was always short but enough men were ordained that the fledgling Diocese began to grow, as did the College.

In 1871, Hellmuth was elected as Benjamin Cronyn’s successor thus becoming Bishop of the Diocese whose clergy he had been training since 1863 – while also continuing to be a lightning rod for controversy. Repeatedly, he butted heads with those who might oppose him in any great or small work. But it is in the founding of the Western University of London, Ontario, that we clearly meet the visionary and the single-minded, uncompromising prelate.

To understand Western’s founding, one has to return to an age where the accepted colonial policy of the day was to have just one strong university serve all students of the region in Toronto. Whether it was begun as an idea of the faculty and alumni of Huron College or his own idea, Hellmuth saw that a university also needed to be founded in London, so he pledged $10,000 of his own money and whatever else he could do to procure a charter for the new school. The London community was not unanimous in believing that a local university was a necessary thing, and the papers were filled with letters to the editor both in support of and in opposition to the idea. The enabling legislation met stiff resistance, but wove its way through committees of the legislature – no doubt assisted by the fact that Hellmuth was married to the sister-in-law of the Minister of Education. The bill granting a charter for Western was eventually authorized in 1878, but only after an impassioned speech by Premier Oliver Mowat.

The next controversy arose after the Huron College alumni agreed to purchase the defunct Hellmuth Boys College, which would later stand in good stead when Huron College was made the Faculty of Divinity of the new university. The fact that in acquiring Huron College (and with it the old Hellmuth Boys School), the University also gained a fully equipped building while the Bishop unloaded a piece of real estate he was keen to be free of, and that he also managed to become chancellor of the University at the same time, caused some tongue-wagging in letters to The London Free Press. But, as usual, Hellmuth’s detractors were met with facts as put forth by his keenest supporters, and the controversy passed.

Modern graduates of Western tend to be unaware their alma mater was originally a church university and that its first Faculties were Divinity and Medicine, which operated side by side in the same building. Its first teachers were clergymen of the Church of England, and its first chancellors were the Bishops of Huron. In fact, in the beginning the Faculty of Arts closed down for a time, which seems a long way away from the massive institution of learning, with some 190,000 alumni from 130 countries around the world, that has grown from its church roots. Hellmuth worked tirelessly to see that the fledgling university survived. However, consistent with his pattern, he didn’t manage to retire and leave his life’s work without a controversy.

Hellmuth tendered his resignation very suddenly in 1883 after procuring for himself a position in England. The Bishop of Ripon had appointed him Suffragan Bishop (Assistant Bishop without right of succession) in the Diocese of Ripon, and Queen Victoria had assented to the appointment. With a farewell to the Synod and Western, he left for England and was immediately embroiled in another administrative controversy, this time through no fault of his own. The letters appointing him to assist the Bishop of Ripon were ruled invalid and his title and responsibilities had to be changed. Another misfortune befell Hellmuth when his wife, Maria, died. It was during this time that he resigned as Western’s chancellor and turned his attention to caring for the parish of Bridlington, where he died in 1901 and was buried in the priory churchyard.

Like many great men, Isaac Hellmuth suffered personally for his drive and ambition. But the overarching legacy of his career was that the vision he had for education, his desire to develop this part of the world, and the university he dreamed of, all came to fruition. Hanging in the Great Hall is the portrait of the little man from Poland dressed as a prelate of the Church of England. He still presides over our University from his painted vantage point, as his legacy has grown beyond even his own vision, beyond even what he could, as the scriptures say, “ask or imagine.”

And, if you look closely, he is smiling.

Bill Cliff is a Chaplain at Huron University College. He is grateful for the work of A.H.Crowfoot’s Biography of Hellmuth “This Dreamer,” and J.J.Talman’s 1963 history of the founding of Huron College, and the late John Gwynne-Timothy’s 1978 history of Western. Thanks also to Diana Coates in the Diocese of Huron Archives at Huron University College, Jan Van Fleet of the University Secretariat, and The Reverend Dr. Douglas Leighton of the History Department of Huron University College.


About richardsh

Messianic Jewish teacher in UK
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