Peachey, Paul (1918-2012)

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Paul Peachey: scholar and peace advocate, was born 10 October 1918 in a one-room log cabin in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, USA, a few miles north of the Mason-Dixon line, to Salome Bender Peachey (29 February 1896-22 June 1972) and Shem Peachey (26 September 1889-22 August 1973), members of the Conservative Amish Mennonite church. He was the second of 10 children. In the fall of 1941 Paul enrolled at Eastern Mennonite School. During the four years of study, he met Ellen Shenk (4 November 1923-26 April 2012) from Denbigh, Virginia, whom he married on 10 June 1945. Paul and Ellen had two daughters and three sons. Paul died 18 August 2012, less than four months after his wife, Ellen.

Since Paul's status as a seminary student had exempted him from the draft, he felt the moral obligation to do some form of church-related work. Beginning in February 1946, Paul served in Europe as a Mennonite Central Committee volunteer in relief and reconstruction work. In 1950 he became MCC director for Germany, and headed the emergency relief program. With a colleague Paul conceived and organized the European Mennonite Voluntary Service and PAX programs. He was also a founding member of the "Concern" group that first met in Amsterdam in July of 1952. At the same time, Paul moved to Zurich to study sociology at the University of Zurich. He was awarded a PhD in 1954. During his sojourn in Europe, Paul participated in numerous inter-Mennonite and ecumenical conferences and activities, including the Historic Peace Church conversations with the World Council of Churches and the Church Peace Mission. These discussions also resulted in the "Puidoux Conferences," which lasted for a decade. Along the way, he helped draft a significant document, "Peace is the Will of God."

In 1953 Paul returned to Eastern Mennonite College to teach sociology. Four years later he took an assignment with MCC to work in Japan as a "peace consultant to missions and churches." In 1960, after three years of service, the family returned to the United States and settled in Washington, D.C., where Paul served as executive secretary of the Church Peace Mission and arranged major conferences and studies in the East-West dialog in cooperation with the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

In the fall of 1967, after two years of part-time teaching in the sociology department at Catholic University of America, Paul was offered a full-time position, which he held until retiring in 1987. During his long tenure at Catholic University, Paul conducted many research projects, he helped organize an "interdisciplinary program of peace studies," and he participated in numerous peace initiatives including the Christian Peace Conference, which expanded and morphed into "Christians Associated for Relations with Eastern Europe."

Meanwhile, in 1976 Paul and Ellen, along with three other couples, created the Rolling Ridge Retreat Center, located on land donated by Quakers Henry and Mary Cushing Niles in the wilderness in the Blue Ridge Mountains just south of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The center—whose stated purpose was "nurturing persons and communities"—was the site of many retreats, and it provided a context for many of Paul's studies, papers, and publications. The Peacheys lived in the first residence in summer of 1985 until November 2001, when they retired to Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community in Harrisonburg. Paul Peachey was deeply devoted to his wife, Ellen and his five children. His monograph Leaving and Clinging: The Human Significance of the Conjugal Union (2002) reflects his devotion and loving relationship.

Paul's academic career and scholarly work was wide ranging. His articles appeared in at least 15 journals spanning America and Europe, including the Mennonite Quarterly Review (10 articles and 14 book reviews). In addition to his PhD dissertation, he published four monographs, several booklets, three edited volumes of research at Catholic University of America, and over a dozen chapters in other books, including the important "The Modem Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision" (1957) and "Towards an Understanding of the Decline of the West" (Concern #1).

Paul Peachey was a man of deep faith and strong convictions. His overarching concerns were the unresolved tension between "creation and grace," between this world and the eternal, a theme he often referenced. He was deeply concerned about the compromises in the Mennonite Church, and especially its institutional forms. Indeed, it was often difficult for Paul to conform to traditional church structures and practices. In his autobiography he noted: "My decision to step outside the Mennonite denominational enterprise was not a response to a more attractive offer elsewhere. Rather I chose this change of direction on the premise that first of all I should do no harm. If something constructive resulted, this would become evident in due time" (A Usable Past, 127). Yet ironically, he spent his entire professional career working within many religious and secular institutionalized organizations.

In his writings or relationships Paul was often philosophical, theoretical, and abstract—always engaging big and basic issues. Although it was not always fully clear what he meant, Paul cared deeply about our human plight. Although where he wanted us to go was not always convincing or clear, many persons were richly influenced by Paul Peachey. Though he would humbly deny it, his was a prophetic voice.


“Ellen Elizabeth Shenk Peachey.” Find a Grave Memorial. Web. 29 May 2016.

“Paul Peachey.” Find a Grave Memorial. Web. 29 May 2016.

“Paul Peachey.” Swiss Anabaptist Genealogical Association (SAGA). Web. 29 May 2016.

Peachey, Paul. A usable past?: a story of living and thinking vocationally at the margins. Telford, Pa.: Cascadia Publishing House, 2008.

Peachey, Paul. Leaving and clinging: the human significance of the conjugal union. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2001.

Redekop, Calvin W. “In Memoriam: Paul Peachey (1918-2012).” Mennonite Quarterly Review 87 (January 2013): 3-4. This GAMEO article is derived, with permission, from the MQR memorial article.

Books by and about Paul Peachey

Peachey, Paul. Die soziale Herkunft der Schweizer Täufer in der Reformationszeit : eine religionssoziologische Untersuchung. Karlsruhe, Germany : Verlag Heinrich Schneider, 1954.

Peachey, Paul. The church in the city. Newton, Kan. : Faith and Life Press, 1963.

Peachey, Paul, ed. Biblical realism confronts the Nation : ten Christian scholars summon the church to the discipleship of peace. Scottdale, Pa. : Published in association with the Church Peace Mission by Fellowship Publications, 1963.

Peachey, Paul. Who is my neighbor? : Christian compassion in the welfare society. Newton, Kan. : Faith and Life Press, 1964.

Peachey, Paul. Peace, politics, and the people of God. Philadelphia : Fortress Press, 1986.

Peachey, Paul, et al., eds. Abrahamic faiths, ethnicity, and ethnic conflicts. Washington, D.C. : Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 1997.

Peachey, Paul. Leaving and clinging : the human significance of the conjugal union. Lanham, MD : University Press of America, 2001.

Peachey, Paul. A usable past? : a story of living and thinking vocationally at the margins. Telford, Pa. : DreamSeeker Books, 2008.

Vogt, Virgil. The roots of Concern : writings on Anabaptist renewal 1952-1957. Eugene, OR : Cascade Books, 2009.

Author(s) Calvin W Redekop
Date Published May 2016

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Redekop, Calvin W. "Peachey, Paul (1918-2012)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. May 2016. Web. 12 Apr 2024.,_Paul_(1918-2012)&oldid=135168.

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Redekop, Calvin W. (May 2016). Peachey, Paul (1918-2012). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 12 April 2024, from,_Paul_(1918-2012)&oldid=135168.

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