Joseph B. Hagey–Benjamin Eby’s Successor

Joseph Bergey Hagey had the misfortune of following Benjamin Eby, the charismatic, prosperous farmer, bishop, author who served as the Mennonite bishop in Waterloo County, Ontario for over 40 years, beginning in 1812. Hagey came from a poor family that had experienced bankruptcy in Pennsylvania. He became a farmer on his father-in-law’s land.

He was ordained as a minister at age 29, but does not seem to have been a strong leader. He waffled when faced with conflict, and was inclined to inaction as a response. He was bishop during a difficult period in Ontario Mennonite history, and may have died prematurely as a result of the pressures he faced.

Joseph Hagey has been fairly invisible in Mennonite history, though he great grandson is credited with founding the University of Waterloo.

See the full article and bibliography on the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.


Joseph Hagey’s tombstone in the Breslau Mennonite Cemetery. Photo by Scott Buschlen

Joseph B. Hagey: bishop and farmer; born 11 June 1810 in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania to Daniel and Elizabeth (Bergey) Hagey. He and his twin brother, Daniel, had an older brother, and a younger brother and sister. In 1832 he married Sophia Bricker (20 December 1810-4 November 1895). She was the daughter of Sam Bricker, famous for his role in raising funds in Pennsylvania to buy the German Company Tract (much of Waterloo Township) from Richard Beasley. Joseph and Sophia Hagey had six sons and five daughters. Joseph died 31 December 1876 and was buried in the Breslau Mennonite cemetery. It was said that three hundred carriages were part of the funeral procession, with one thousand persons in attendance at the service.


In 1822 Joseph Hagey came with his family from Pennsylvania after his father went bankrupt in business there. They lived on a farm just north of Cambridge (Preston). After their marriage, Joseph and Sophia lived on the farm owned by her father; they became the owners in 1837.

On 10 February 1839 Joseph Hagey was ordained as a minister, probably by Benjamin Eby, and on 31 May 1851 he was ordained as a bishop to assist the aging Eby. He served in the Hagey congregation as a pastor, but as a bishop carried responsibility for all the congregations in Waterloo Township. His years of service followed those of a very charismatic bishop, and Hagey never received the acclaim of his predecessor. In his later years he was faced with division within the Ontario Mennonite Conference. The division was sparked by a revival in Solomon Eby’s congregation in Port Elgin, Ontario in 1870, and a similar revival within Waterloo County. These Methodist-style prayer/revival meetings were often held in homes, and were not yet generally accepted within the Mennonite community.  Initially Hagey responded positively and baptized converts from the Port Elgin revival. However he then declined to baptize the Waterloo converts because of objections that arose within the conference leadership. Although another bishop finally baptized this group in 1871, the controversy festered and finally resulted in the division that created the Reforming Mennonites (later part of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ).

Although Hagey was not successful in maintaining peace in the Ontario Mennonite community, he was a peacemaker in spirit. He assisted several attempts to help settle a church conflict in Indiana as a participant and served as the nominal leader (as bishop) of an Ontario delegation that attempted to mediate the conflict. Joseph B. Hagey was a longtime leader in the largest Mennonite settlement in Ontario during troubled times; his failure to preserve unity does not diminish the magnitude of his service to the church. — Sam Steiner

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