Like most of his generational peers (he was born in 1918), World War II would shape Paul Peacheys life in ways beyond his imaginings. When Selective Service was implemented in 1940, he registered as a conscientious objector (CO), a status subsequently approved. Though growing up in a rural Amish-Mennonite family without high school, he had learned meanwhile that now being beyond high school age, he might enroll in a two-year junior college Bible course at Eastern Mennonite School (EMS) in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
In the fall of 1941 he did so, not knowing what his registration under Selective Service might entail. There he soon learned that "pre-professional examinations," successfully passed in his home state, would qualify him for regular college admission. Two months later came his order for Selective Service induction. When he reported this to EMS, the dean observed that the four-year college Bible course offered there had just been approved by Selective Service as seminary-equivalent. Given the importance of churches in society, and hence of trained clergy, both seminaries and pastors were being deferred from military service.
Mennonites as yet had no regular post-college theological seminaries, hence this substitution. Largely on the spur of the moment, Peachey transferred to that four-year program, but with some discomfort. Though dedicated to Christian service, being a professional clergyman for him was not an option. The four years of World War II, 1941-45, coincided with his college years, both ending in May 1945 After marriage and honeymoon in June, he began graduate school that summer in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.
In early September, after wars end in Japan, he was invited by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to serve on its postwar emergency relief staffing in Europe. While staffing policies at the beginning of that program did not permit his bride Ellen to accompany him on that assignment, a year later she did join him. Unfolding during those years was likewise the first-time publication of legal records and other writings of Anabaptist movement from sixteenth century. The possibility of historical/sociological studies in the context of that project in the future likewise beckoned.
Eventually he and Ellen were transferred by MCC to the French occupation zone of West Germany, where emergency relief efforts were still peaking. Their stay was extended to 1951. During that time, Peachey also studied at the University of Basel (Switzerland), then of Frankfurt (Germany). With wife and infant daughter he then moved to Zurich, Switzerland, where he completed graduate studies. This included a sociological dissertation analyzing the interplay of social and religious factors in the rise of Anabaptist origins in Switzerland, 1525-1540.
Retrospectively it can be said that for Peachey, these war and postwar years contained the germ of all that followed. Working with MCC, from 1946-1951, among the ruins and the victims of World War II, drew him into the conversations between the Historic Peace Churches" and mainline Christian traditions regarding the Christian pacifist challenges to the prevailing just war reasoning and practice.
Paradoxically perhaps, while those years deepened has Anabaptist roots, they also placed him practically at the interface of the Anabaptist believers church and the mainline denominations of Christendom, both Protestant and Catholic. During the second half of his career, from 1967 until his retirement in 1987, he served as a sociology professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Throughout those years he continued participation in both ecumenical and academic bridge-building efforts in the Cold War and beyond, until the late 1990s. Thereafter, with his wife Ellen, he spent fourteen "retirement" years as cofounders of the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Community, some sixty miles northwest of Washington, D.C., until their move to Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where they now live.
© 2007 by Cascadia Publishing House