Peter Bannon, a Timothy

No. 8

In religious language, a “timothy” is one who becomes a minister or professional religious worker under the influence of an individual or church.  Most churches can boast of at least one or two.  First Christian can claim at least nine, and probably more.  Early in the church’s history, two young men who came to Iowa City to study at the University of Iowa became, at least partly through the influence of the church, Disciples of Christ ministers.  They were J. Madison Williams and Bayard Craig, both of whom returned at one time or another as ministers of our church.  Others in the 150 years of our history were Sara Hart, Ed McLaughlin, Abbie Fyten, Bill Coley, Bette Klein and Dennis Arnold.

There is another timothy whom few of you are likely to remember.  Peter Bannon was an Irish boy, born in 1912, who immigrated with his mother in 1928 and settled in Iowa City.  Sometime, probably not long after his arrival, he discovered First Christian Church.  This had a profound effect on his life.  Probably sometime in the early 1930s, or maybe earlier, he was baptized.  The officiating pastor would have been either Guy Findly or Caspar Garrigues.  As an undergraduate student at the university he was quite active in the church.  A number of articles in the Daily Iowan during this time indicate a leadership role, particularly with high school students.  He received his B.A. in 1936 and his M.A. in English literature in 1937.

Shortly after receiving his M.A., he was sent, in August of 1937 by the United Christian Missionary Society, to China.  He had received an appointment as English professor in the University of Nanking, a missionary school.under the auspices of the American churches.  However, even before Peter arrived in China, the Japanese attack on China had begun.  In November, because of  the deteriorating military situation, it was decided to transfer the faculty and staff of the University of Nanking to Hankow.  The Japanese overran Nanking in December and committed one of the great atrocities in history, the Rape of Nanking, in which it has been estimated that over 100,000 innocent civilian Chinese were slaughtered.  According to a cablegram sent on December 16, 1937, Peter had already been evacuated to Hankow.  Eventually the entire faculty and most of the students were evacuated to Chengtu in western China, well outside the war zone, where they continued to function as a school.

In 1938 Peter married Ruth Sparling, a Canadian teacher sent to China by the United Church of Canada.  Peter and Ruth remained in Chengtu and taught in the university until 1942, after the outbreak of World War II.    In 1942 they were withdrawn from China and returned to the United States.  Peter and Ruth returned to Iowa City where Peter resumed work on his Ph.D, which he received in 1943.  During this second sojourn here Peter and Ruth were kept busy lecturing about conditions in China.

After he received his doctoral degree, Peter was appointed an instructor in the UI English Department.  In 1947 he accepted a position as professor of English at Memphis State University, at which institution he stayed at least till 1974, and probably until his retirement.