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Memorable Manitobans: Rögnvaldur Pétursson (1877-1940)

Cleric, businessman, editor.

Born in Iceland on 14 August 1877, he emigrated to the United States with his family when he was six years old, but later went to Winnipeg. He studied at Wesley College (now the University of Winnipeg) from 1896 to 1898 and then went to Meadville Theological school to train for the Unitarian ministry. He became minister of the First Icelandic Unitarian Society in 1903, ushering in a period of growth for the organization. Pétursson argued for the fundamental unity of religious experience, combining Icelandic mythology with Christian scripture, through the insights of modern philosophy and science. He played a vital part in the creation of the First Federated Church of Unitarians and other Liberal Christians in 1920.

Pétursson was the founding president of the Icelandic National League in North America, established to promote good citizenship and pride in ethnic heritage amongst Icelanders in North America. He organized the North American delegations to the millennial celebrations of Iceland’s Althing, the world’s oldest Parliament in 1930 and nearly a decade later, organized the Icelandic exhibition at the New York World’s Fair. In 1904, he launched the monthly literary magazine Heimir, of which he served as editor until 1910. A prolific writer, many of his works appeared in magazines and newspapers, and wrote Ferðalýsinger (Travelogues) in 1914, and a decade after his death, a posthumous anthology of his sermons and lectures, Fölger er foldin (Fair is the Earth), appeared. In 1928, Pétursson received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Meadville University, and in 1930, a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Iceland. In 1939, only weeks before his death, he was made a Grand Knight of the Order of the Falcon by the Icelandic government.

He died on 30 January 1940.


This profile was prepared by Kris Keen.

Icelandic Unitarians,

Page revised: 11 October 2008

Memorable Manitobans

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